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Raphael grinned back at him. “We’ve got to get going. There’s your vengeance to see to, and then we must rejoin the others.”
Vengeance, Duncan thought. He straightened and faced his new master. “I’m ready, my lord.”
* * *
Washington, D.C., present day
Vengeance. It was the first thought Duncan had as he woke the next night. He couldn’t bring Lacey back for Emma, couldn’t take away the pain of her death. But he could bring vengeance against those who had wronged her.
Falls Church, VA
Emma sat perfectly straight, hands folded together in her lap. It had taken two days to get everything ready. Two days to arrange a proper farewell for the only person in the world who’d really mattered to her. The funeral director had been very kind, but there were so many decisions to make, things she’d never have thought of on her own.
But despite the rush, despite the stress of arranging the funeral so quickly, it was all beautiful. And perfectly Lacey. The music, the flowers, even the casket with its bronze embellishments and beautiful mahogany wood.
The soft swell of some of Lacey’s favorite music muted the murmur of whispered conversations all around her. It had been difficult to find the right songs for tonight. Lacey had always been a rock and roll kind of girl, her music better suited to roaring down the highway with the windows open and music blasting.
Emma smiled sadly at the memory, and smoothed her skirt with nervous fingers. She’d worn her best black suit, her gray silk blouse, even the black Jimmy Choo pumps she’d bought on a dare from Lacey and then never worn, because they were too nice for work. And since Emma never went anywhere except work, they’d sat in her closet, still in the box, never worn until tonight. Lacey would have loved that the Jimmy Choos had been broken out for her funeral.
Emma closed her eyes, unable to bear the sight of the casket any longer. She’d half expected Duncan to show up, but she was glad he hadn’t. She didn’t think she could deal with any vampires right now. Even knowing it wasn’t his fault, that blaming him for what Victor had done would be like blaming the guy next door for what someone across town had done. She still wasn’t ready to face him. Not yet.
The burial wasn’t until tomorrow; that would be private, just between her and Lacey. But Lacey had so many friends, and they’d all called Emma, wanting to participate somehow, to say good-bye. So, the funeral director had suggested this memorial. He’d called it a viewing, but Emma had refused to permit an open casket. Lacey would have hated that.
Emma had arrived early and stood by the door at first, shaking hands, staring at faces she didn’t know as they said all the right things. They were Lacey’s friends, not hers. Lacey had always been so much more social than Emma. She’d made friends so easily.
And one of those friends had helped kill her. Actually, probably more than one, from what Duncan had said.
But the people here tonight didn’t know that. They all thought it was an accident. That Lacey had lost control of her car and spun off the road on her way to visit someone back home. Of course, Lacey didn’t have anyone back home. There was no back home. But these people didn’t know that either.
Emma opened her eyes and stared straight ahead, sitting on the bench in the front row where she’d taken refuge, unable to cope with anymore well-meaning strangers. She couldn’t take one more understanding smile, one more delicately dabbed tear, not even one more gentle handshake.
She wanted to die. She couldn’t imagine living with this pain, this horrible emptiness. Lacey was gone, and Emma was left horribly, impossibly alone. The weight of her grief bent her back until she was bowed in half, until she thought it would crush her. She’d lost before—her grandmother, her mother, even the father she’d never known.
But Lacey wasn’t supposed to die. Not Lacey. Emma studied; Emma worked. But Lacey lived. It never mattered where they found themselves or how little money they had, Lacey had always found something to celebrate, to laugh about, to dance for. She was the sister Emma had never had, the only friend she’d ever needed, her family.
And she was gone.
Emma closed her eyes again, afraid if she moved, if she so much as blinked an eyelid, she’d fall apart, scattering into tiny pieces that no longer knew how to put themselves together. How could there be an Emma with no Lacey to make her whole? She choked back a sob and wondered if this night would ever end.
She knew the moment he arrived. Felt the warm blanket of comfort reach out to her frozen soul, felt the safety of his presence long before he made his way down the aisle to sit next to her. He didn’t reach out, didn’t touch her. It was almost as if he, too, knew she might shatter and disappear.
A single tear slid out from under her closed eyelids, and she reached blindly for his hand. He took her hand and more, gathering her close, his arms coming around her warm and strong as her head sank onto his shoulder, as her tears finally came, soaking the wool of his fine suit.
He whispered meaningless words as she cried, holding her together as she shuddered with grief. He was an island of calm in a world she didn’t understand anymore.
She couldn’t say how long they sat there. She’d long ago stopped crying; her body had no more moisture left for tears. Finally, she lifted her head, brushing aside her tangled hair. She should have been embarrassed, but she wasn’t. He offered her a perfect, white handkerchief. She stared at it, then raised her eyes to his. Who carried a handkerchief anymore?
He looked back at her. “I’m old-fashioned,” he explained, seeming to know what she was thinking, as always. But for some reason, the idea no longer bothered her. It was simply who he was. He was Duncan, and vampire or not, he was a very good man.
He kissed her forehead, his lips warm and firm. “They’ll pay, Emma,” he murmured. “I promise you.”
Others had offered sympathy, had told her what a great person Lacey had been, how much she’d be missed.
Only Duncan had offered her the one thing she needed. Vengeance.
Emma unlocked her front door and pushed inside. It was dark. She still hadn’t remembered to leave a light on, still expected Lacey to be home first. She sighed and started across the room to the light switch, but Miguel beat her to it.
“Thanks.” She ducked her head, a little embarrassed at his kindness after she’d thought such terrible things about him.
Duncan lifted his chin in the direction of the door, and Miguel left, pulling the door closed behind him, although Emma was sure he wouldn’t go far. He might no longer believe that she had dastardly plans for Duncan, but he didn’t completely trust her either. Or maybe it was like Duncan said; he just didn’t trust anyone. That was something she could understand.
“Emma,” Duncan said with barely controlled impatience. “I want you to come home with us. You shouldn’t stay here alone.”
Emma turned to him with a rueful smile. He’d made the same argument to her all the way home, but her answer hadn’t changed.
“I appreciate that, Duncan. Honest. But . . .” She gazed around the softly lit room. It looked so inviting, comfy almost. She and Lacey had thought themselves incredibly lucky to have found this place and they’d been happy here. But Emma knew she’d be moving as soon as possible. There was no way she could stay in this house with Lacey gone.
She sighed. “I have to get up early tomorrow. There’s so much to do, and the burial—”
“So, reschedule the burial for tomorrow night, and I’ll go with you.” He cupped her cheek in one hand and lifted the other to brush a lock of hair from her eyes. “You don’t need to do this alone.”
That was the rest of the argument he’d made on the drive from the funeral home. Actually argument wasn’t even the right word. He’d simply told her how it was going to be. Or he’d tried to, at least. Emma had a feeling Duncan wasn’t used to being told no. But he was going to hear it this time. Because burying Lacey was something she did need to do alone.
“I’m sorry,” she said gently, “but no. I’m going to say good-bye to Lacey in my own way. Then I need to go to work. I haven’t been there since—” She broke off, not knowing what words to use to describe the events of Lacey’s death. She shut her eyes as a newly familiar pain squeezed her heart. Would the day ever come when she wouldn’t feel this terrible ache at the thought of her murdered friend? Would she someday be able to remember the joy they’d shared without being forced to remember how it all ended?
“I haven’t been to the office in a few days,” she amended, meeting Duncan’s narrowed gaze. “I need to find out when they expect me back, and make some excuse for leaving early so I can work with you every night until we find Lacey’s killer.” She linked her fingers with his and held on tightly. “You haven’t changed your mind, have you? You’re still going to let me help?”
Duncan tilted his head in assent. “I keep my promises, Emma. All of them.”
Emma blew out a relieved breath. “I’m counting on that.”
“But you won’t change your mind and come home with us—reschedule the burial.”
She gave him a lopsided smile. “No. But I’ll come to the embassy, I mean the house, tomorrow night, and I’ll be ready to work.”
He frowned, clearly unhappy, but then gave a minimal shrug that was more an expression than a movement on his part. “As you wish. I’ll expect you tomorrow evening, then. One hour after sunset.”
“I’ll be there, boss.”
Duncan didn’t smile. He was staring at her intently, his eyes flaring with emotion. Emma leaned closer, drawn to his raw power, to the danger concealed beneath that civilized exterior. His gaze skimmed her face, settling on her mouth, and she surrendered to the sudden, burning need to lick her lips. He took a half step forward, and her heart began to pound. His big hand curved over her hip possessively, tugging her closer still, as he lowered his head. And Emma forgot how to breathe.