Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 14
Tim wasn’t much better.
And Rho was still too young in vampire years to rise and shine at twilight.
He couldn’t blame them for their collective grumpiness. Every member of the team was balancing delicately on a precarious edge, torn between the need to find the Kamens and the inability to expel frustrated energy. Well, without causing physical pain to each other.
And they’d been stuck like this for days.
Pulling himself off the floor, he squinted and glanced around the room. His eyes burned from lack of sleep and his back ached from the hard floor, but he ignored his body’s protests as he stood up to stretch out his spine.
If sleeping on the floor sucked, then sleeping during daylight hours was impossible. He must have woken up once an hour since sunrise, his body throwing a toddler tantrum about the change to his internal time clock.
Eldon waved a hand at the door, and it opened without a fuss. He stepped through the doorway and tilted his head, listening.
The sound of sliding locks from the main warehouse door was faint but distinct. What could anyone want in there? He stepped out of his makeshift bedroom before he realized a very important trinket he’d left behind.
Eldon pivoted to reach into the bag leaning against the door and pulled a Glock from his duffel. No point in being stupid. Both hands on the gun, he stood up again slowly and peered around the corner of the doorway.
Still no one there.
Yet every instinct went on high alert. They’d only been here a short time, but something about this felt… abnormal. How absurd was that? He’d only known these people for a few days and already he considered their presence normal. Maybe lack of interaction with other movers was turning his brain to mush. Or the spell worked differently than he thought.
Shaking his head to refocus his thoughts, he pressed his back against the wall and forced his body still. His heart beat loudly in his chest, his muscles tensed like a soldier taking his first step into combat. One foot over the other, he crept down the dark hallway. His gun led the investigation around another corner.
No one there, either.
A muffled rumble came from the door to his left. Obviously, Tim wasn’t awake yet. The wolf snored like a freight train.
He stepped quickly toward the noise still coming from the main warehouse entrance. That room had become headquarters, the place where they’d spent these past several days milling over possible suspects and strategy. Every time someone started a disagreement, they’d had to split into separate rooms to avoid a massive migraine.
Which was unbelievably irritating. They still had so much to accomplish, and that binding had done nothing but set them further and further behind. He didn’t need to be reminded again that the whole spell had been his idea. The tattoo on his palm and the tingling whenever his teammates entered a room reminded him every day.
And still they didn’t have a plan.
God, he wanted to be home. To sleep in his soft bed and suck back a glass of Macallan and see his sisters, so long as they didn’t nag him to death. Maybe even if they did.
He’d never admit it out loud, but he missed them already. He missed giving Jess lectures about coming home too late and telling Adelle to clean up her potion-making messes. He missed watching his sisters run the store, as their mother had all those years ago. Being away from them was harder than he’d thought it would be.
“What are you doing?” a female voice asked.
Eldon wheeled around, finger teasing the trigger of his pistol. Familiar icy blue eyes met his. He lowered the weapon. “Damn, Preshea. Don’t you know better than to sneak up on someone with a gun?” He’d been so lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t heard her come up behind him.
“Not when they’re snooping.”
He lifted a finger to his lips and spoke in a whisper. “Not snooping. I heard something.”
She raised a brow. “Investigating?”
“That’s the idea.”
“I’ll check the perimeter.”Nodding, she closed her eyes.
“What are you—”
Gold particles trickled through the air and Eldon blinked against the shimmering dust.
Chirp. Chirp chirp chirp chirp chirp.
He glanced down then bit his tongue to keep from busting out laughing.
At his feet sat a tiny bird, glaring up at him with those same pale eyes. Preshea had taken form as a black and white warbler, the contrasting feathers striping her little body. She preened for a moment before stretching out her wings.
Surely she didn’t plan on—
Preshea took to the air, flapping her wings sporadically before landing into a solid, steady rhythm. She landed gracefully on a window near the ceiling then slipped out of a hole in the glass and disappeared.
Well, wasn’t that convenient. He headed down the hallway and slammed his hand into the wood door. It flung open, just in time to catch a fully dressed female heading out of the warehouse.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Eldon waved a hand to flip the light switch on the wall.
Rho spun to face him and hissed. White fangs flashed as she dropped into a crouch, a dagger in her right hand, her stare completely lethal and inhuman. But she wouldn’t hurt him. He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but he did.
The bird flew from his shoulder and landed beside him on the floor.
He raised his hands in mock defeat. “No need to get fangy. I was just asking you a question.”
Rho took several deep breaths before sheathing the dagger. She rose slowly, her incisors returning into their smaller, human form. “None of your business.”
“Sorry, wrong answer. Try again.” They’d already agreed not to leave without backup. Where did she think she was sneaking off to?
She tightened her hands into fists at her sides. “It’s none of your business where I’m going.”
He shook his head. “Again, wrong answer. You’re not very good at this game.”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
He folded his arms across his chest. “To the contrary. You took an oath binding yourself to this team. Your business is our business.”
Rho scowled. “That’s such bullshit. We can’t be stuck together forever.”
“I’m sorry, were you not there for the binding?” He tilted his head to the ceiling and tapped his chin with a finger. “What was that spell again?”
“Get off my ass.”
He ignored her. “That’s right. Something about each shall not let the other die.”
“I heard what was said.”
Rho turned on a heel and marched toward the door.
Yeah, not going to happen.
Eldon rushed behind her, slamming the door shut just as she cracked it open. She turned around to glare up at him, brows pinched in anger.
He smiled. She could glare all day long if she wanted to. She wasn’t leaving without backup.
She rolled her shoulders back and tilted her chin up. “I said, get off my ass.”
“Can’t do that, since technically I’m not on it.” His eyes narrowed as he ran his gaze along the length of her body, before locking his stare on her slender face. “But none of us are leaving.”
Her knuckles turned white as she clenched her fists. “I have to go take care of something.”
Eldon reached out to tap the ley line beneath his feet and to the right. An angry, defiant vampire was hardly what anyone needed right now. He’d control the situation if he had to, but he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Although given her posture and proximity to weapons, he couldn’t exactly rule it out.
“Not by yourself, you’re not,” he said.
“That’s so stup
His eyes narrowed. “What did you just say?”
She glanced at the floor and shook her head. Her nostrils flared in anger but she didn’t say anything.
He’d caught her red-handed. “You’ve been sneaking out, haven’t you?”
“It’s not like I—”
“I don’t care what it’s like,” he cut her off. “We had a deal. No one leaves alone. No one.”
The sound of wings flapping caught Eldon’s attention and he glanced up to find Preshea descending to the cement floor.
Preshea took her human form on the ground to his right, fully clothed and fully pissed off. She tossed Eldon a sideways glance. “Perimeter is clear.” Her stare turned to Rho. “And I saw that. You think you’re the only one who wants to get out of here? I have shit to do, too, princess.”
Rho’s eyes darkened. “Stay out of this.”
“What’s going on in here?” Tim’s voice bellowed across the room as he appeared through the empty doorway. “I feel like a woodpecker made a nest in my skull.”
Preshea smirked. “Our beloved little vampire wants to go on a field trip. Mover busted her mid-escape.”
Tim’s brow furrowed. “Rho, where do you think you’re going?”
Rho rolled her eyes. “Seriously, I haven’t had this much supervision since my parents were still alive. And I was fourteen.”
“Tough shit, Goldilocks. If I’m not allowed out, neither are you,” Preshea said.
Rho’s brows lifted. “Oh, really? So are you volunteering to be my breakfast?”
Oh, hell. He hadn’t considered Rho’s… dietary restrictions. As far as he knew, blood was a requirement for vamps, and there weren’t any loopholes. The choices were eat or go insane. And a blood-starved vampire certainly didn’t belong anywhere near their mission. Or him.
Rho snorted. “That’s what I thought.” She turned toward the doorway.
“Wait a second,” Tim said firmly.
Rho froze at the command. Eldon turned to stare at the wolf, amazed at his own body’s response to the order. He’d originally thought the Alpha bond only worked in the wolf pack setting, but clearly that wasn’t the case. Being Alpha wasn’t a popularity contest, it was a birthright.
Tim rubbed the scruff on his unshaved chin. “This issue isn’t going to go away, and you’re not running around downtown Austin at night, alone. We’ll have to figure something out.”
“I’m perfectly capable—” Rho started.
“It’s not open for debate.” Tim winced, as if the nest in his skull was growing to accommodate more birds. “Not for any of you.”
“I’m not snacking on my teammates.” Rho settled her hands on her hips.
“Then we bring someone in.”
Rho glowered at him and shook her head. “You know we can’t bring people here, even humans. It isn’t safe. For any of you.”
“True,” Tim conceded.
She was right. The Collective had warded this place using communal magick, and the team had agreed to stay here for safety. The only place Eldon could think of that might be more secure would be his family’s safe house, and that was only because he had a complex warding system and the best security system money could buy hardwired into the infrastructure.
Until they understood who their enemy was, they couldn’t know who to trust. But if she wasn’t alone when she fed…
“Why can’t we send someone with her?” Eldon blurted.
Three heads snapped up to stare at him, varied levels of surprise flittering across their faces. Rightfully so. He’d practically just volunteered for some one-on-one time with a vampire. Sure she’d saved his life once, but that could have been a fluke. What if she was too young to control herself?
“Not a bad idea,” Tim answered.
“Not it!” Preshea said quickly.
Tim grimaced. “That leaves you and me, mover.”
Eldon glanced over at Rho. Her shoulders were hunched forward, waist-length blond locks hiding most of her face. She traced her shoe along the concrete, brushing designs into the dust at her feet, as if she were hiding from something. Someone. Maybe everyone.
“It’s fine,” Rho mumbled.
This vampire was a strong warrior, not a delicate little girl. Why was she acting so timid? He couldn’t fault her for trying to be responsible. Even if he didn’t agree with her approach, he did agree that she needed to take care of herself. Yet here she stood, knowing full well her teammates were repulsed by the very thought of spending time with her. Never mind actually feeding her.
A thought struck him.
She wasn’t acting afraid or upset because no one wanted to escort her. She was ashamed. There wasn’t a thing she could do about what she’d become, and she was living with the cards she was dealt. All things considered, she was adapting to their world well.
He’d been told vampires were evil for as long as he could remember and he’d believed it. Not because he knew it to be true, but because he’d never asked why. The first time Rho had come to his home, he’d been an ass. Why? Because she wasn’t a mover? Because she was transformed into something she didn’t want to be? Judging by the shame on her face now, he couldn’t imagine this would be something she chose for herself.
Eldon cleared his throat. “I’ll do it.”
Preshea shook her head. Rho’s wide, shocked eyes met his.
“Are you sure?” Tim asked. “You’ll be alone. With a vampire.”
Eldon shrugged a shoulder. “If she wanted to kill me, she would’ve done it by now.” He hoped.
Rho blinked. “Um, thanks.” She focused on her shoe tracing a line in the dust. “Can we go now? I need to eat soon. Like, really soon.”
He nodded. “Let me take a shower and then we’ll go. I’ll pick up some real food—the human kind, not the blood kind—while we’re out.”
Preshea’s eyes brightened. “Mmm, get me a burger. And fries. And a soda.” Her lips curved into a smile. “And a blended ice cream thing with Oreos.”
“How do you stay so small when all you eat is junk?” Tim asked.
She gave him a smug smile. “Good genes.”
“Yeah, right,” Tim muttered as he headed out of the room, smiling.
Preshea followed behind him, rattling off her favorite ice creams based on her own personal rating system. “First there’s mint chocolate chip, then cookies and cream, rocky road, buttered pecan—”
Eldon glanced down, realizing he was only in boxers and a shirt.
“Good rule of thumb, mover man?” Rho chuckled and shook her head. “Don’t blush in front of a vampire.”
Don’t tease a hungry vamp. Good call. “Sorry about that.”
“Just hurry up and get ready. I’ve already waited longer than I should.”
He nodded, heading straight out of the room and toward his office sleeping quarters. Time to hit the shower and get ready for the day. He had a vampire to feed.
Rho shoved the door open and stepped outside. The humidity coated her skin, giving her that icky, slimy feeling despite the shower she’d just taken. So much for doing her hair.
She pulled the ponytail holder off her wrist and twisted her mane into a messy bun. As she crossed the street, the sky rumbled a reminder of another impending storm. In the past five days it hadn’t stopped raining once.
And people thought Texas was a desert.
Eldon followed close on her heels, his pulse taunting her with every step. God only knew why he’d volunteered to tag along while she trolled for dinner. She certainly didn’t need a babysitter.
Drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she tried to calm her nerves. The hunger
“So,” Eldon spoke up. “How are we going to do this?”
The gold-toned streetlights reflected off the wet pavement, bathing the streets in deceptive beauty. They were close to a strip of bars, but she had plans to scour the alleyway behind them. Night Storm was miles away and she couldn’t risk such a public feeding without a little cover. Her human mind control only worked on those she touched.
She stepped over a puddle without slowing her pace. “We aren’t going to do anything. I’m going to find dinner, and you’re going to stay out of my way.”
He snorted. “No need to be rude about it. I’m doing you a favor.”
Like hell he was. “The only thing you’re doing is being a pain in my ass.” She took a right around a street corner, narrowly avoiding the smokers standing outside of a hole-in-the-wall dance hall. Clanking beer bottles and country music streamed into the night, and she caught herself singing along to Garth Brooks.
He picked up his space and spoke quietly behind her. “You think I want to be here?”
“I think you have some twisted, morbid curiosity about vampires and you’re trying to get your rocks off on watching me eat.”
He grimaced. “You think I want to watch you suck the life out of someone?”
Rho stopped in her tracks and turned slowly to face him. “You think that’s what I do? Kill humans?”
Eldon took a step back. “When you want to.”
“Shows how much you know.” No wonder he didn’t care for her race.
“That’s what vampires do.”
She tilted her head. “You think I’m a murderer?”