Page 19

 D.B. Reynolds

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Emma bit her lip as she fought for control. She wasn’t going to cry. Tears wouldn’t bring Lacey back. Nothing would. Emma’s job now was to see Lacey properly buried. Then she’d find whoever had done this . . . and kill him. She had a gun and she knew how to use it. You didn’t grow up where she had and not learn how to shoot. She even had a membership at a shooting range in Virginia. No sense having a gun if you couldn’t hit anything with it. She didn’t get out to the range as often as she would have liked, but her aim was good enough. And up close and personal, it wouldn’t matter.
Either way, Emma wasn’t going to wait for the police. Police were too easily bought off in this town. Besides, if they’d taken her more seriously when she reported Lacey missing, maybe her best friend wouldn’t be dead right now. Who knew how long she’d been buried in that—
But, she wasn’t going to think about that. She was going to hold it together long enough to convince Duncan she was okay, and then the killer had better start looking over his shoulder, because she was going to make someone pay.
“Emma?” Duncan said softly.
Emma raised her eyes to his. He looked worried, but there was no need. She was fine. Finer than fine. She was cold purpose.
“Duncan,” she said, proud of how even her voice was, how calm. Duncan appreciated calm. “You don’t need to worry about me. I’m fine.”
Duncan’s watchful gaze seemed to freeze, and for a moment Emma thought she saw a deep bronze glow replace the warm brown of his eyes. In that moment, she was convinced he knew what she was doing, what she planned to do tomorrow and the next day. But then he blinked, and she persuaded herself it was impossible. A figment of her always vivid imagination.
“I’m sorry, Emma.”
“You’re very kind,” she said, drawing on Grandmama’s teachings. A platitude for every occasion. Anything to cover up what you’re really feeling, so no one ever has to suffer the embarrassment of a genuine emotion.
Duncan’s eyes narrowed into a scowl. “Stop that.”
She glared at him. “Stop what?”
“Stop shutting me out with your proper Southern manners.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m a vampire lord, Emma. You can’t fool me.”
“Good for you,” she shot back. “I’m a human, and I’m doing the best I can.” Who the hell did he think he was anyway? If she wanted to pretend her heart wasn’t breaking, if she needed to believe it, who was he to tell her she couldn’t?
“Fine.” He stood, shoving the heavy table out of his way as if it weighed nothing at all. He turned his back, ignoring her for a moment. She could tell he was angry and trying to control it. Some men would have slammed a fist into a wall, or maybe thrown something. Duncan was too controlled for that, but there were still signs. He wasn’t the only one who could read body language. She and Lacey had survived seven years in foster care. She was a damn expert at reading body language.
“There are some things you need to know,” he said finally, but without turning.
“Where’s Lacey’s body?” she asked instead.
That brought him around to stare at her. At first she thought he wouldn’t answer her question, but then he said, “At a funeral home in Falls Church.”
She frowned. “Why there? Won’t the police—”
“There won’t be any police.”
Emma stood, abruptly just as angry as he’d been a moment ago. Forget that she’d been planning to shut out the police and pursue her own revenge. She wasn’t going to let him cover this up and pretend nothing had happened.
“What do you mean no police?” she demanded. “You and your vampires murdered Lacey. The police will make Victor come back and—”
“Victor’s dead.”
Emma froze, suddenly confused. “But, how? I mean, when?”
“Four nights ago.”
She frowned, counting back. “But that means the first night I came to see you at the embassy—”
“It’s not a fucking embassy,” he snarled, “and yes, he was already dead. That’s how it works with vampires.”
“How what works?” she insisted, not at all put off by his mood. She wanted answers.
He started to respond, then caught himself and said, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that vampires were involved in this crime, and vampires will take care of it.”
“What does that mean?” she persisted, feeling like snarling herself. “So Victor’s dead. Great, fantastic. That’s one down—”
“Five down,” he interjected. “He had bodyguards.”
“Five then,” she snapped. “I don’t care. If they had anything to do with Lacey’s—” She choked on the word, and had to force herself to keep going, stoking the flame of her anger to keep moving forward, to get it done. “—with Lacey’s death,” she continued calmly, “then they deserved to die. But they weren’t the only ones.”
“You’re right. They weren’t. But I know who was, and I’ll take care of it.”
Emma gazed at him, struck dumb for the first time. He already knew who killed Lacey?
“I’ll take care of it, Emma. I promise.”
“I want to be in on whatever you’re going to do.”
“Absolutely not.”
She raised her chin defiantly. “Think again, vampire. You don’t want me to go to the police? Then I want on the inside. You give me what I want, you get what you want.”
Duncan was suddenly right in front of her, towering over her, crowding her with his sheer size and strength. That cool reserve of his was gone, and in its place was something ice cold and deadly, and absolutely lethal. This was the real Duncan, the vampire powerful enough to command others, and she knew instinctively that he could kill her with a thought.
“You have no idea what I want,” he said deliberately. “Be very careful, Emmaline.”
She swallowed hard. Her heart was tripping so wildly it was climbing up her throat. “Okay,” she whispered, then steeled her courage and glared back at him. “But I still want in.”
He stared at her a few seconds longer, and then a tiny smile curved his lips upward, there and gone almost before she could see it.
“Very well,” he agreed.
Emma couldn’t have been more shocked. He was agreeing?
“You have a deal,” Duncan continued smoothly. “I’ll expect you at the embassy, as you call it, one hour after sunset every night until this is finished. And I’ll expect you to work just like the rest of us.”
“All right,” she said, her thoughts stumbling as she tried to switch gears. He was going to help her find Lacey’s killer. Or rather she was going to help him, but what mattered was that he could do it much faster than she could alone. And once he pointed her in the right direction, she’d take matters into her own hands. After all, vampires slept all day long. There’d be nothing he could do to stop her.
Duncan was studying her closely, and she quickly blanked her thoughts, busying her mind with efforts to remember when the sun went down and how she could convince Sharon to let her leave work early every day for a while.
“When do we start?” she asked
Duncan’s gaze softened. “Take a few days. Bury your friend. The men we want, the ones responsible, won’t know that we found Lacey’s body. There’s no reason for them to be suspicious, no reason for them to run. And even if they do, I’ll find them.”
Emma stared up at him, believing him, knowing he would help her get justice for Lacey.
Lacey. Grief swelled inside her without warning. She wanted to be alone. She needed to be alone, to bury her face in a pillow and keen the pain of her loss where no one could hear it. Duncan’s face blurred, and she blinked away her sudden tears. There was one last thing she needed to know.
“Could you give me the name of the funeral home, please? I need to make arrangements for my Lacey.”
* * *
Duncan closed the door behind him, listening as Miguel and the others settled down for the day. Doors slammed and voices quieted until there was only silence. He stripped off his clothes, letting them fall to the floor. They held a reek of death that would never come out. He’d have them burned with the trash tomorrow.
Crossing the room, he checked the windows automatically, making certain the blinds were drawn, the heavy drapes closed tightly. He was tired tonight, both body and mind anguished by the atrocities he’d uncovered, but even more by the weight of Emma’s grief. It had touched a place in his soul, an old wound that was so scarred over it was barely there anymore. It was that gut-wrenching loss of someone so dear, someone you’d have gladly given your life for. A pain he’d buried so long ago, he’d persuaded himself it was truly gone.
But Emma’s grief had brought it all back . . .
* * *
1862, Stones River, Tennessee
He lay in the mud, listening to the screams of the men dying all around him, and the soft moans of the ones too far gone to scream. The sun had set some minutes ago, though it seemed much longer than that. He’d watched the red glow on the horizon, and wondered how much of that color was the sun and how much a mist of blood from the day’s brutal fighting. God knew there’d been enough blood spilled today to color a thousand sunsets. His only consolation was the knowledge that the dying had been on both sides of the battle line, and that was small consolation indeed. More comforting was the certainty that at least his fighting was over.
He wasn’t screaming, not yet, but he feared he would be before long. He lifted his hands, daring to look down at the blood-soaked tatters of his filthy uniform, and groaned at what he saw. He was no surgeon, but he’d seen enough slaughtered animals to know what he was looking at. He’d been gutted as surely as a pig in summer. His skin was sliced open, his intestines bulging outward in great loops of gray, grayer than the uniform he’d been given only weeks before. The coat had come from a dead soldier, someone he’d never known. He’d shivered when they’d handed it to him, wanting no part of a dead man’s clothes. But these were troubled times. If you rejected the gray, no matter the reason, people looked on you with suspicion in these parts. This was Tennessee where there were nearly as many for the Confederacy as not, and it didn’t matter what you said. It mattered what you did. So Duncan had taken the gray jacket and shrugged it on, feeling as if death itself was settling into his bones. And he hadn’t been far wrong.