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Suddenly, Duncan went low, digging his shoulder into Miguel’s gut and plowing over and under. He tossed Miguel over his back and sent him at least ten feet into the air. Miguel landed with a hard crack of wood, despite the heavy mats. Impossibly, he was on his feet in an instant, charging back as the two of them went toe-to-toe like two heavyweight boxers with no survival instincts. Fists clenched, they exchanged blow after blow until they were both bloody, until Miguel suddenly grabbed Duncan’s arm, dipped and spun, tossing him over his shoulder.
Duncan came up grinning, mouth dripping blood, fangs gleaming as he took several running steps and flew into the air, his feet hitting Miguel’s chest in a one, two, three pattern that sent the dark-haired vamp flying backwards to land flat on the mat with another backbreaking thud. Or maybe not backbreaking for a vampire, because Miguel came to his feet again, laughing like a lunatic.
“You’ve been practicing, old man” he said, assuming a defensive posture once again.
“That’s lord old man to you, youngling. And maybe you’re getting lazy,” Duncan taunted.
“Words are cheap, my lord,” Miguel growled. And it was Duncan’s turn to laugh.
He was still laughing when he happened to glance over and caught sight of Emma. He lifted a hand, palm out, to stop Miguel, then tilted his head slightly as he took in the unlikely sight of Emma standing in his gym wearing her somber gray suit and high heels. He grinned at her, his hard muscled chest heaving, gleaming with sweat, drawstring gi pants hanging low on narrow hips to reveal a hard, flat abdomen and just a glimpse of that sweet narrowing of muscle into a man’s groin.
Emma stared, her mouth dry and her heart twisting oddly in her chest. She wanted. And if the hunger on Duncan’s face was anything to go by, he wanted her right back.
Or maybe he was just hungry. As in blood. She watched warily as Duncan prowled over to her, his hips rolling bonelessly like a big cat’s, his gaze raking up and down her form before settling on her face with a lazy, slow blink of his eyes.
“Emma.” His voice was a seductive purr that turned her name into a caress.
She wet her lips nervously, and then caught herself, refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d rattled her. “Hey,” she said, pleased by how normal her voice sounded. “You wanted me here an hour after sunset. Here I am.”
“Here you are,” he repeated, his eyes dipping to scan her figure once more. “You look very lovely this evening.”
“Oh. Well, thanks.” It was such a Southern gentlemanly thing to say, the kind of thing young men of breeding learned in cotillion class. Emma didn’t know if he really meant it, or if he was only being polite. Although, polite wasn’t the word she’d have used to describe the way he was looking at her. No, nothing polite about that at all.
“I brought clothes to change into,” she told him, determined to take control of the conversation again . . . if she’d ever had it in the first place. “I wore these to the burial this morning and—”
A look of genuine dismay crossed Duncan’s face, and he took a sudden step closer, brushing the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “Forgive me,” he murmured. “I was thoughtless. How are you?”
Emma blinked up at him, feeling the heat of his big body, inhaling the clean, masculine scent of his sweat. He was so close and her heels were so high that if she raised up the tiniest bit, their lips would touch. “I’m fine,” she whispered. “Mister Pettry was very kind.”
“If you need more time, this can wait. You needn’t—”
“No,” she said immediately, cutting off the rest of his words. “I want to do this. I need to do this.”
His full lips curved slightly, and she thought she saw something like respect in his eyes. “Very well,” he said. “Louis will show you to a room where you can change.”
He looked beyond her to where the other vampire waited. “One of the guests rooms, Louis, with a bath. You know better than I do what’s available. And then get Ms. Duquet set up in the security center with the headshots and a computer. Phoebe will be by later to work with her.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Duncan stepped back, turning away from her to catch a towel that Miguel tossed at him. He rubbed it over his face and neck, and she noticed a very slight pink tinge to his sweat.
“I’ve got to shower and change myself,” he said, then lifted her hand, barely touching the back of it with his lips. “We’ll see each other again soon.”
Emma tucked her hand in the pocket of her jacket to keep it from trembling as she watched Duncan stroll from the room, followed by Miguel. The other vampires had moved out onto the gym floor and were engaged in more rapid fire bouts of fighting. She couldn’t have said what the particular discipline was. She didn’t know enough about any of them. Her only experience with martial arts had been two weeks of a disastrous class she’d taken in college. Every inch of her body had ached—no, ached was too kind a word for how she’d felt. Her body had hurt, and she’d finally decided there had to be a better way of staying fit.
“You ready, Ms. Duquet?”
Emma jerked her head around to stare at Louis. Apparently, she’d been daydreaming. Gosh, she thought. I wonder why?
“Thanks, Louis,” she said out loud. “And please, call me Emma,” she added as she followed him back down the hallway. After about ten steps, she thought to ask, “Who’s Phoebe?”
“A friend. She works with the FBI. Duncan called her out to Leesburg the other night. I isolated some video composites, and Phoebe’s running them through some identification software she has access to.
Emma didn’t remember seeing a woman among Duncan’s vampires, but there was a lot about that night that was a blur. “I didn’t meet her, did I?”
Louis stopped long enough to give her a weirdly intense look. “No,” he said finally. “She arrived after you were gone.”
He started walking again, and Emma frowned at his back. Was there something she’d missed? Maybe Duncan and Phoebe were more than just friends. And maybe Louis was close to Phoebe and resented the obvious sexual tension between Duncan and Emma. Or maybe Emma was letting her imagination run around in her head like a schizophrenic yappy dog.
Yeah, that was probably it.
After going back to the waiting room to retrieve her things, Emma picked up her purse and laptop, while Louis carried the gym bag upstairs for her. It wasn’t all that heavy, and Emma could have done it herself. She’d learned long ago, however, to let guys carry things if they wanted to. Truth was, she kind of liked men who were still gallant, who opened doors and who offered their seats to women. She drew the line at car doors, because she felt too silly sitting there like a lump while the guy ran around the car. But she didn’t mind the other stuff. It was nice. So, she let Louis carry the gym bag to a bedroom on the second floor. He dropped it at the foot of the bed and backed quickly out of the room.
“We’re working right down there,” he said, pointing. “Join us whenever you’re ready. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks,” Emma said. “I won’t take long.”
“No rush.” He gave her a toothy grin. “We’ll be here all night.”
Emma chuckled dutifully, waiting until he had disappeared down the hall before closing the door. She looked around. It was a nice room. Sort of dated and frilly, and not really to her taste, but the furniture was beautiful and everything was clean. And there was an en suite bathroom. She hurried in that direction, having been in such a rush to make it out of the Capitol building before anyone stopped her, that she’d ignored that particular necessity.
Washing her hands afterward, she stared at her reflection in the mirror over the sink and wondered why any man, much less one with Duncan’s looks and sheer masculine charisma, would give her a second glance. She looked awful. Too many nights with too little sleep had put circles like dark, purple bruises under her eyes. And they were all the more obvious because her skin was pale and drawn. She hadn’t bothered with mascara this morning. She’d known it would just be cried off, but she had naturally thick eyelashes, so that part wasn’t too bad. Even her lipstick was gone, probably chewed off on the way over here. Her face was one big, pale blotch with tired eyes, and it was topped off by a dark tangle of messy hair. Lovely.
She sighed and turned away. She had a hair brush in her bag, and a bit of lip gloss couldn’t hurt either.
It was only a matter of minutes before the Jimmy Choo pumps had switched places with her Nikes in the gym bag, along with her neatly folded office clothes. She finished tying her shoes and crossed to the bathroom to study her reflection once again. She looked better. Not great, but definitely better. She wore a faded pair of denims, loose enough to be comfortable, but tight enough that she knew they looked good on her. Emma worked hard to keep in shape and didn’t mind letting it show. What was the point otherwise? Along with the denims, she wore a white, long-sleeved, cotton t-shirt, and a zippered hoodie to keep her warm just in case. She tucked the tube of lip gloss in the side pocket of her hoodie and left the rest of her stuff where it was.
She opened the door and turned in the direction Louis had indicated. She could already hear a steady buzz of conversation and clicking computer keys, occasionally punctuated by vicious swearing in a variety of languages. She followed the noise about halfway down the hall to another bare-walled room, this one much smaller than the gym downstairs. It was probably intended as a bedroom, but it now held a mishmash of tables and desks set at haphazard angles with no obvious pattern. Computers and other equipment sat everywhere, and the various kinds of cables slinking between them were a disaster waiting to happen as they snaked and twisted from desk to desk and all over the floor. Although, maybe vampires didn’t have to worry about falling on their asses like she did.
She frowned. If this was their security center, she wasn’t that impressed. She’d expected something more professional from Duncan’s team, or at least more orderly.