Viehl, Lynn-Darkyn (Juliana SS) 01-03 - Worthy, Willing, Wanted, page 4
Someone buzzed the intercom and called Samantha outside. She returned a few moments later and addressed her partner. “We don’t have the gun or enough evidence to hold her. Turn her loose.”
“No.” Her partner took her arm. “If she’s–”
Rafael escorted me out of the room and out into the reception area. I saw Neal Gregory standing and arguing with the desk sergeant, until he saw me and rushed over.
I felt like the girl in a floaty dress who runs in slow-motion across a sunlit, wildflower-speckled meadow towards her lover. It didn’t help when Neal wrapped his arms around me and pressed my head against his shoulder.
“What happened?” Before I could answer, he put me at arm’s length and touched my lip. He glared at Rafael. “She’s bleeding, for God’s sake. What did you do to her?”
“It was an unfortunate accident. You should take her home.” He turned and walked away.
Neal drove me home, and hammered me with questions the entire way.
“How could they know you were involved?” he demanded after I told him what had happened at the station. “There was nothing linking you to the murder.”
“Except my DNA under Eric’s fingernails.” I winced and touched my sore lip. I couldn’t feel the split anymore. “And my fingerprints on his eyelids.” I glanced at him. “I don’t remember closing his eyes after I murdered him.”
“You didn’t. Shamaras did.”
“The vampire and I have identical fingerprints?” I asked, heavy on the irony.
“It’s a little complicated. Shamaras will take care of it,” Neal said as he pulled up into my yard. “Do you need help getting ready?”
I stared at him. “Neal, I was just arrested for a murder I committed, and bitch-slapped by a psychic cop who knows I did it. I don't think I’m exactly in the mood to go to the vampire party.”
“It’s not a party, it’s a presentation,” he said. He got out and followed me to the door. “Jules, it’s too late to cancel.”
I discovered the door was locked and reached up for the spare key I kept tucked on top of the door frame. “Don’t call me Jules. Better yet, don’t call me at all. I quit.”
“Let’s get this over with,” Neal said, tugging me around.
I opened my mouth to ask what, which made it a lot easier for him to kiss me. Not politely, not peckishly, not even gay-boyfriend chastely. He gave me the works. Mouth, teeth, tongue, everything.
He kissed me like the world was about to end. Like we were the only two people left on it.
And then he got serious and kissed me the way a woman is kissed only once or twice in her life, a kiss so passionate it makes actual sex dull in comparison. The kiss that breaks her heart, gathers up the pieces, and steals them out of her chest. The kiss that destroys everything.
He broke it off when I groaned, which was a good thing, because all I could think to do in response was rip off his clothes and wrap myself around him like a python. Once I finished begging him to make me his personal body slave forever.
“Sometimes I hate that son of a bitch.” He stalked off into the kitchen.
I stood there for a minute, panting. When I could talk, I asked, “Why did you do that to me?”
“He told me to.” Things began banging around and water ran. “I didn’t believe him.”
I went into the kitchen and avoided throwing myself at his feet. Barely. “Explain to me what the hell that was, right now.”
“I was testing you. This. I wasn’t going to do it, but I wanted to be right for once.” He filled my sink with hot water, squirted some dishwashing liquid in it, and rolled up his sleeves. “I was happy with the way things are with us. Were.” He turned as he reached for the first plate in my stack of dirty dishes, and I saw on his face the same frustration I felt. “I told him this was bad idea.”
“It felt pretty good to me.” I sat down to hide the fact that my knees were crumbling and I couldn’t make sense of a gay man giving me the best kiss of my life. Maybe he’s not gay. “Are you bi or something? Is that it?”
He rinsed the plate and put it on the dry rack next to the sink. “It’s not about the sex. Not really. It’s about him. Us.” He started scrubbing out my copper teakettle. “Do you want a normal life, Juliana?”
“I have a normal life.” Up until Neal kissed me. All bets were off now.
“Then just do this thing tonight and let it go, and it’ll stay normal.” He turned the kettle upside down and ran a dry hand towel around the inside. “We’ll never bother you again, and you can paint and sit on the beach and grow old and be happy.”
Whatever he was talking about, he was dead serious. “What if I want you?”
He shook his head. “You can’t have me.”
I could have him if I touched him again, I felt sure of it. I just wasn’t sure I’d survive the experience. “I might have believed that before you kissed me.”
“You’d have to give up everything, everything that matters to you, your independence, your identity, your whole life here.” He gestured around with a rinsed water glass. “All this, gone forever, and you can never come back to it. And you don’t just get me. You get him, too.”
All that, just for sex? “What if I don’t want him?”
Neal dried off his hands and came over to crouch in front of me. “You have no idea what you’d be getting into, and I won’t let you do it. I can’t, Jules. It would be worse than what Eric did to you.” He pressed a damp hand to my cheek and kissed my forehead before he stood. “The driver will be here at sunset to take you to Marco. I’m sorry.”
Because I’d only seen Neal Gregory three times in my entire life, because I was afraid, and because I couldn’t imagine what would be worse than what Eric Locke had done to me, I let him go.
I put on the dress, the jewels, the makeup and the shoes. I kept my hair loose and down and spritzed a little White Linen on my wrists. The mirror told me I looked fabulous, which was good, because after what had happened with Neal, I felt like a pile of old dried-up kelp.
The driver, a smiling older man with a European accent, came to the door at sunset and escorted me to a long white limo. I expected it to be empty, but found Shamaras waiting inside.
He took his time inspecting me before he said, “You take my breath away, Juliana.”
I refused to admire the beautiful cut of his tux, or the perfection of the white tea rose pinned to his lapel. Whatever he had done to Neal to make him reject me was going to ruin my life. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
We didn’t talk as the driver took us to Fort Lauderdale beach. There we stopped in front of a nightclub named Infusion. Some of the younger artists I knew liked to hang out here, but I’d never gone through the black nail polish and spiked leather stage.
“You’re meeting the vampire lord at a goth club?” I asked Shamaras.
“He owns it.” As the driver opened the door he climbed out and offered me his hand.
I ignored it and got out on my own. The heels he’d had me wear gave me a couple of inches, which made me feel better, until I remembered I was wearing real diamonds at a beach where it was always mugger’s happy hour.
“Did Neal tell you how this will be?”
“Yeah, he did.” I didn’t look at him as I stepped to stand at his left side. “Don’t worry. Fangs flashing won’t freak me out.”
Shamaras smiled a little. “Stay close to me, and you’ll be fine.”
A big, all-business bouncer stepped in front of Shamaras when we got to the entrance. “We’re closed for the night.”
That was my cue for the one thing I was supposed to say. “Lord Marco Shamaras to see Suzerain Lucan.”
I must have pronounced it right because he pivoted and opened the door. I spotted the gun he tucked back into his hip holster as we passed by, but I didn’t say anything. Neal had warned me that there would be a big show of weapons. It still didn’t prepare me for t
I heard myself gulp.
“Be strong,” Shamaras said.
Be strong. I was ready to be anywhere else.
“They say when the world comes to an end, only the cockroaches will survive,” a deep, vaguely British voice said as some of the swordsmen stepped aside. “I think I’ll put my money instead on you, Marco.”
The man who came toward us looked like Brad Pitt on steroids. He wore head-to-toe executioner black, and it suited him perfectly. All he needed was the black hood and a big shiny axe.
I almost stepped in front of Shamaras before I remembered Neal’s warning. Say nothing, do nothing, and stick to Shamaras’s side like his Siamese twin.
“Suzerain Lucan.” Shamaras bowed. “May I present my tresora, Juliana?”
I was supposed to perform a modified curtsey. Neal and I had practiced it. Only I was too busy staring into the polished chrome eyes and wondering how many more seconds I had to live.
One blond eyebrow arched. “Ah, it seems that we are to be civilized. Forgive me, I am somewhat out of practice.”
Shamaras inclined his head. “One does what one must to survive, my lord.”
“You have done better than merely survive. Your girl here is as lovely as her name.” He lifted a hand encased in black velvet, and ran a finger across the diamonds at my throat. Something made a strange vibration run across my skin, almost as if his touch made the jewels shiver. “Quite fearless, too.”
“Suzerain Lucan.” I grabbed skirt and bobbed.
He waited until I straightened, and then tugged on a piece of my hair. I almost jumped until I realized he was freeing it from where it had gotten caught in one of the necklace links. “So tell me, Juliana, how do you enjoy serving the oldest male whore in the world?”
I felt Shamaras’s hand curl around mine, and that chased off most of my nerves. I got rid of the rest by smiling and staring deliberately into Lucan’s ghost-filled eyes.
“I wouldn’t know,” I said politely. “I don’t serve you.”
Lucan took a step back and peered down at me for most of eternity. Then he smiled, and laughed. “Fearless and ferocious. An excellent choice, Marco. You must meet my tresora, Burke.”
“Welcome to Fort Lauderdale, Lord Shamaras.” A small, nervous-looking man came around and bowed to Marco before he offered me his hand. “Juliana. I’m Herbert.”
As Lucan and Shamaras stood staring at each other, Burke introduced the rest of the men in the room. Most of them had long Hispanic names, and after the twentieth I was glad I didn’t have to remember them. Finally all the introductions were made, and Lucan gestured to a table that had been set with wine glasses and candles. “Come, sit down. We have much to discus.”
“My lord, if I may, could I borrow your tresora for a few moments?” Burke asked Shamaras. “I would show her the view from the penthouse and catch up on family news.”
I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave Shamaras alone with Lucan, and I wasn’t part of Burke’s family, so I was confused. “I can see it another time.”
Shamaras bent down and murmured, “It will be well. Go with him.”
I followed Burke to a small elevator, and rode with him to the top floor of the building. The doors opened to a beautiful private suite and the best view of Fort Lauderdale beach I’d ever seen.
“Would you care for some wine?” Burke asked as I walked over to the windows.
“No, thanks.” I wished I had some paint and a canvas, though. “How long have you been doing this?”
“All my life. Some questioned my choice to come here, but I wanted the challenge of helping to establish a new jardin.” Burke came to stand beside me. “When did you choose Lord Shamaras?”
“Not too long ago.” If he asked questions I couldn’t answer, I decided, I’d ask to use the ladies’ room. Then I’d try to find the nearest exit.
He nodded. “Some lords can be more difficult than others, I think, but that is the way of the powerful ones. I have never heard of your master before tonight.”
“He’s a very private man.” I guessed.
He took a sip from his wine glass. “Nor have I or any of the other tresora in America heard of you or your family name.” He faced me. “Are you his kyara, or did he hire you to play the part?”
I controlled a wince. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You made several telling mistakes. Speaking out of turn, staring directly at my lord, and that moment when you almost stepped between them. The worst was when you returned my lord’s insult. Lucan is new to rule, and he has never occupied a proper Kyn household. He does not yet realize that a true tresora would never speak so to a Kyn lord.” Burke smiled. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, by the way.”
I braced my hands on the windowsill. “Are you going to tell him?”
“It is not my duty to verify your identity, but I thought I would caution you, which is why we really came up here.” He patted my hand. “My lord’s seneschal will be arriving shortly, and I fear that he does know the difference between a genuine tresora and an imposter.”
I gnawed at my bottom lip. “Maybe we can leave before he gets here.”
“Or perhaps, Burke,” a familiar voice said from behind me, “you can explain why you’ve allowed a Brethren assassin to infiltrate the jardin.”
Detective Suarez didn’t give me time to explain. After Burke tried to tell him that I was Shamaras’s tresora, he grabbed me by the arm and marched me back to the elevator.
“My lord Rafael, I believe there has been some sort of mix-up,” Burke said, trying to follow us in.
“No, Herbert, there hasn’t. Stay here and let me deal with this.” Rafael punched the button for the bottom floor and shoved me against one wall as soon as the doors closed. “How did you find the jardin?” he demanded as he searched me.
“I came here with Shamaras. I’m here with him.” All the air left my lungs as he jerked me around and slammed me into the wall. “Ask him. He’ll tell you about Eric. He’ll tell you everything.”
“What did you do, follow this Shamaras here from Europe? That was very bright of you. The first thing a refugee Kyn does is check in with the territorial suzerain.” Rafael braced an arm that felt like a lead baseball bat across my throat and leaned in. “Did you make him believe that you killed Eric Locke for him, instead of for the billions left to the Brethren? Is that how you gained his trust?”
“I’m not working for the Brethren.” I wheezed in some air. “Ask Marco.”
Rafael dragged me out of the elevator and across the nightclub, and shoved me onto my knees in front of Lucan and Shamaras. He took a gun out of his shoulder holster, pulled back the slide and held it against my head. “This woman is a Brethren operative, my lord. She use a dying human to win Lord Shamaras’s trust, and through him gain access to you.”
Lucan rose and looked down at me. “It seems your girl is somewhat more ferocious than either of us imagined,” he said to Shamaras.
“Juliana is a victim, not an assassin. Eric Locke tortured her and tried to trade her for my blood,” Shamaras said. “When I refused and he tried to kill me, she saved my life. I asked her to come here tonight and pose as my tresora. She does not know anything about us or the Brethren.”
“That is what she might wish you to believe, my lord,” Rafael said. “We know how fond the Brethren are of using torture to condition their operatives.”
“If she was tortured,” Lucan added. “It could have been a ruse, to convince you that she is an innocent.”
“Rafael? Why didn’t you tell me Lucan was receiving?” Samantha Brown strode into the room, stopping as soon as she saw me. “What the hell is she doing here?”
I glanced up at Rafael. “I’d say I’m about to get shot in the head.”
Everyone started talking at once. Everyone except Shamaras, who edged around the table and got behind Rafael. I st
Don’t be afraid, Juliana.
Shamaras moved, and Rafael jerked. The gun fired. The next thing I knew I was flying across the floor and slamming into some chair legs.
Men shouted, metal clanged, and Samantha Brown appeared over me, wrenching chairs off of me.
Blood spilled down my face from a gash on the top of my head. That hurt, but not as much as my arm. I’d already been shot once, so I recognized the deep, blazing agony eating my arm from the shoulder down.
“Hang on, honey.” She knelt down beside me, fumbled her way out of her jacket and bundled it around my arm.
“Don’t hurt him,” I told her, blinking hard as blood seeped into my right eye. “He didn’t do anything to Eric. It was all me.”
“Now you confess.” She used the end of the jacket’s sleeve to wipe my face before she pushed the hair on top of my head out of the way. Her palm felt hard against my scalp. “This one isn’t too bad. It just . . . needs a couple . . . stitches . . . ”
Her eyes glazed over as she fell silent and held her hand over my head. We sat there like that for what seemed like hours while she stared through me. Then she picked me up in her arms and carried me through a crowd of angry, shouting men and put me on the meeting table.
“The Brethren did torture this girl. Eric Locke gave her to them to see if they could make her talk. It was a test of her worthiness to serve Marco.” Samantha’s voice stayed quiet, but the men stopped shouting and started listening. “It almost killed her, but she passed. She also got away from Eric before he could finish the deal. In the end she had to shoot Eric to stop him from killing Marco. She’s not an assassin, or a spy, Lucan. She’s just an innocent girl who let the wrong guy buy her a latte.”
“How can you read all that from her blood?” I heard Lucan say. “She’s not dead.”
Samantha said something, but Marco was there, picking me up from the table and carrying me out of the nightclub to the limo. He held me on his lap and gave the driver directions in a language I didn’t understand.
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