Full Moon Rising
Chapter Five

 Keri Arthur

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Awareness drifted in and out, as if I were caught in a fragmented dream. Voices swam around me. Lights as bright as the sun burned into my eyes. Something cut my arm, and pain seared deep. Farther down, cold touched my stomach, sliding around like ice. The pain in my arm eased. Then, for a while, there was nothing but darkness
When the fragments gradually returned, they formed a picture of rising pleasure. I drifted on silk, writhing and moaning, my skin on fire and every muscle screaming with pleasure. Hands stroked me. Heat filled me. Every inch of me quivered under the relentless assault, until I couldn't even breathe because the need for release was so strong
I woke, to discover it was no dream. Talon was on me, in me, and I had the oddest sensation that I'd just been betrayed in some basic way. But the thought quickly fled as the convulsions began, curling through me like a tidal wave and pushing me into rapture. He came with me, but still he pounded into me, as if determined to ensure that every last drop of his seed spilled into me
Eventually, he collapsed and rolled to one side. "You are amazing, little wolf."
I didn't feel amazing. I felt confused. Looking around revealed red walls instead of blue. Bedroom furniture rather than office. When had we moved there? I glanced at the clock on the bedside table, and saw it was close to eight-thirty. An hour and a half had passed and I couldn't remember any of it
"We're in your bedroom?"
He turned on his side and rested his hand on my belly. "We've also been in the living room, the games room, and even tried the kitchen, because you said you were hungry."
There was an ache behind my eyes and a bitter taste in my mouth. I frowned and rubbed my forehead. "This is going to sound strange, but I can't remember any of it."
He grinned. "I think the champagne went straight to your head. You were pretty damn wild for a while there."
He was rubbing my stomach, his gesture possessive more than sexual, and for some reason, it disturbed me
I grabbed his hand and threw it off me, and even that small movement had an ache rippling through my muscles. He obviously wasn't lying about the number of times we'd made love. But he was lying about something, I was sure of it
I flipped the silk sheet aside. "I need a shower, then I have to go."
"En suite's to the right." He paused until I found the right door, then added, "Come back later tonight."
I turned on the taps, then, once the water was steamy, stepped into the shower. "As I told you before, I promised to be with Misha tonight."
"So come back afterward."
There was no way I was coming back to this house. It might contain the warmth of many colors, but it was cold. And I had the uneasy feeling something beyond sex had happened here, something I should remember
"I promised Misha I'd stay with him."
"Then I pray something distracts him, because I want you to be mine, and only mine, this phase."
"Exclusive?" The thought made my body ache more than it already was. "I don't think so."
"Just one phase, not forever. I have a desire only you can fulfill."
I snorted softly as I washed off the soap. "Me and your seven other lovers."
He walked in as I turned off the taps. He tossed me a towel, then crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame. "The others haven't hair your magnificent color. Nor do they have your strength."
"Which is why I imagine you have seven of them."
He grinned. "And they certainly don't have your lushness. I want that lushness. I want - " He stopped, and his sudden smile was distant
I had the strangest feeling that at that moment, he wasn't really with me, that he was lost somewhere in dreams that just might have dire consequences for my health. Which was daft. Talon was often ruthless, but I didn't think he'd hurt me
"What I want, I get, little wolf."
He wasn't getting anything more from me. Not this evening, anyway. I tossed the damp towel into the hamper, then said, "Are my clothes still in the office?"
"And that is?"
"Just down the hallway."
There was amusement in his expression, cold calculation in his eyes. I liked neither, and wasn't sure why. I'd seen both often enough in the last two years. Talon was an extremely successful businessman, and arrogance had always been a part of his makeup. Until very recently, it had never bothered me
He followed me up the hall, a heat I could feel but not hear. I found my clothes, and the folder was with them, but before I could get dressed, he slipped behind me, his hands snaking around my waist to pull me back against him. He was hard again. He might be a wolf, but his hunger and his rate of recovery were definitely abnormal
"Let me go, Talon."
"Tell me why you won't stay with me." His breath caressed my neck, and a second later, his teeth grazed my earlobe. This time, it wasn't pleasure that shuddered through me, but annoyance
"Because I don't want to." I elbowed him hard enough to force a grunt. He backed away, and I got dressed. "And because occasionally it would be nice to have a bit of foreplay before sex."
He crossed brawny arms, his expression an odd mix of amused tolerance and steel. "I thought you liked it hard and fast."
"I do. Sometimes. But it would be just as nice to take some time."
"Then meet me for breakfast. We'll eat, flirt, fool around some, then do the hard, passionate sex."
I hesitated, but the truth was, the moon had me in its grip, and when that happened, it was simply easier to be with partners I knew than starting afresh with strangers. And as much as I enjoyed Misha, Talon was right. Misha couldn't do to me what Talon did to me. Couldn't satisfy me in the same way. It was an addiction all right, but his type of danger was far different from the one Jack was trying to force on me
"I don't know."
"Then let's agree to just breakfast, and we'll see what happens from there."
I hesitated again, but only briefly. Addiction or not, I couldn't walk away from Talon. Not when the moon rode me like this. "Where?"
"The Kingfisher, in Collins Street."
The Kingfisher was one of Melbourne's boutique hotels, and from reports, spectacular. It also wasn't that tall, scraping in at nineteen floors. "Okay. But I also have to go to work and I'm not sure how long I'll be there. I can't give you a definite time." But not because of work, and not because of Rhoan. I needed time to recover from his demands
"So call," he said, as he escorted me to the door
But before I could escape, he pulled me close and kissed me. There was nothing gentle about it - it was a possession, an affirmation of right, and left me both shaken and stirred
Yet relief was all I felt as I drove out the gates, and the sheer depth of it made me determined that I was never coming back to his house. And maybe, just maybe, it was a sign that after the current moon phase, Talon and I should part ways
I glanced at the time, saw it was close to nine, and dug around in my bag to find the phone so I could call Misha and tell him I had to stop by work. There were several voice messages waiting
I hit the replay button, and Misha's rich tones filled the air. "Hate to do this, Riley, but it looks like I won't be able to keep our date tonight. My sister's had a car accident, and I've been called home. I could be gone for over a week. Keep the car until I get back. I'll call you."
The message had been recorded just after six - which wouldn't have been that long after I'd blanked out after drinking Talon's fine champagne. I hoped Misha was okay. Hoped his sister was okay. Wished he'd left me a number so I could get in touch with him
I hit delete, then moved on to the next message
"Riley, it's Quinn." The warm, sexy lilt in his voice caressed my skin as sensually as a touch. What was it about this vampire that affected me so? I didn't even know him, and yet I'd wanted him, even before the fever had hit. Which was strange, because I'd never felt an attraction that strong to anyone who wasn't a wolf
"I'm not sure why you're running from me, but I am a friend of Rhoan's, and I seriously believe you're both in danger. We need to talk."
He paused, and I could hear music in the background. It sounded like Presley's "A Little Less Conversation," which probably meant he'd been at the Rocker when he called
"Meet me on the Casino steps at eleven." He hesitated again, then added, "There's more going on than what you think. Meet with me. Please."
The call intrigued me, that was for sure. But until I'd talked to Jack, there was no way in hell I was about to risk going anywhere near Quinn
I drove to work. Jack looked up from the computer screen as I entered, and his gaze widened
"Darlin', you look like shit."
"Thanks, boss. That's always nice to hear."
He rose, grabbed my arm, and pushed me into the chair. "No, I mean it." He caught my face in his large hands, and stared at me. "Your irises are the size of footballs. Have you taken something?"
"Champagne that didn't agree with me."
"This is more than that." He grabbed the phone and ordered a medical team down to our floor, pronto. "I'll get them to take a blood sample, because I think you've been drugged."
Only one person really had the chance to drug me, and really, why would he bother? He was getting what he wanted. Yet I remembered the memory loss, and, as much as I didn't want to, I wondered
"It's just a bad reaction to champagne." I wasn't sure who I was trying to convince - myself or Jack. "It's happened before."
In fact, this was the second time in as many months, though on the other occasion it hadn't happened so quickly. But I'd lost several hours, at least. I was going to have to stop drinking Talon's fine champagne, because it definitely didn't agree with me
The medical team came in, took what looked like enough blood to supply the guardians downstairs for several days, said they'd analyze it straightaway, and left
Jack sat on the edge of the desk. "You asked me earlier if I'd ever done a check on Gautier. Was it only to see if he had a brother or did you want more information?"
I leaned back in the chair and studied him for a moment. "This is another of your lures, isn't it?"
He grinned, confirming my fears. "A taste here, a taste there, and you'll be hooked before you know it."
I shook my head. "It's not going to happen. I'm not a killer."
He just raised an eyebrow. "Then you don't want to know any more about Gautier?"
I sighed and rubbed my aching head. "Of course I do."
"You knew he joined the Directorate about eight years ago?"
I nodded. He'd apparently arrived a year before Jack and two years before me. "And?"
"It appears that up until nine and a half years ago, Gautier didn't even exist."
I stared at him. "Impossible. I've seen his file. He has birth certificates, passports, citizenship cards, the lot, and everything was checked."
"Forgeries, one and all." His computer screen beeped. He rose and walked over to it
"How can you be sure?" I asked
"Because we have a very sophisticated system running here now, and there's nowhere you can't go if you have the access."
And Jack obviously had the access. Interesting. As the head of the guardian division, he'd naturally have access to more files than most, but his words suggested there was no place he couldn't go. Which, in turn, meant he either knew how to get around the system monitoring or that he had carte blanche when it came to access from the director herself
Which begged the question - why Jack and not the other directors? Because the others didn't have it - they always came to Jack when they wanted information about particular aspects in the guardian division
I studied him a minute longer, then said, "But the same system would have checked his credentials when he first joined."
"Actually, no. His acceptance was handled higher up, then rubber-stamped down to us."
"How far up?"
He glanced at me. "Alan Brown."
Who was Director Hunter's second-in-command, and yet another vampire I didn't like. "You think he was pressured into accepting Gautier?"
Jack glanced at the screen again. "They've found no matches for recreational drugs," he said, then added, "Right now, I'm not sure what to think."
Somehow, I doubted that. I'm sure he had lots of thoughts about what was going on - he just had no intention of sharing them with me just yet. I tapped my fingers against his desk. "What would anyone have to gain by getting Gautier accepted here? He's an utter bastard, but he's also our best guardian, and has hardly set a foot wrong work-wise."
"Everyone knows Gautier wants my job, and eventually, the director's job. Maybe that's the plan." The computer screen beeped again. "No response to known prescription drugs."
Geez, the lab boys weren't kidding when they said they'd get on it straightaway. Either they'd cleared all the analysis machines just for this, or they'd had nothing else to do
"I told you, it was just a reaction to the champagne."
"Maybe." He didn't sound convinced. "They're going to run through listed experimental drugs. Could take a while, though."
I shrugged, then added, "I doubt if Gautier would get the director's job. I think the old cow has plans of being in that seat for several centuries."
Amusement creased the corners of his eyes. "I know for a fact she has. Which leaves my job."
"But for all intents and purposes, you only oversee the guardian division. You're not the true power here, she is."
"True, but I have control over missions, and that alone might be all Gautier wants. The power to go after whom he pleases."
That thought sent a shiver down my spine. "Don't you dare leave, Jack."
"Believe me, I have no plans to do so."
"Good." I hesitated again, half-wondering if by even asking any more questions I was dragging myself further into Jack's world. "Did you ever discover if he has any kin?"
"No. He apparently came from Perth, but nobody there seems to remember him."
"And no one here thought that odd?"
"Apparently not."
But Jack had - and had done nothing except watch and wait. I wondered who else he was watching. "What about the shooter?"
"It appears he doesn't have a past beyond five years ago."
That raised my eyebrows. I mean, what were the chances of two almost identical people also sharing a lack of background? "What are the police saying? They automatically do DNA testing when the remains are unrecognizable, don't they?"
"They do, but they're not saying anything because I put a hush order on it."
"Why? Okay, he resembles Gautier and he shot me, but hell, werewolves are always getting shot by crazies."
"As I said before, I don't believe in coincidences. Especially when Gautier seemed to know about the bullet wound. Why else would he have touched your shoulder like that when, in all the time you've been here, he's barely done more than exchange insults from a distance?"
I blinked, remembering the watchfulness in Gautier's eyes. He had been looking for something. And though he was a vamp and could smell blood as easily as I breathed, the fact that I'd shifted shape to help the healing along then taken a shower meant there was no blood - fresh or otherwise - to smell. And barely healed wounds weren't visible in infrared. "It might have been dumb luck."
"Dumb luck has nothing to do with anything Gautier does. So the next questions are, why did the shooter resemble Gautier, how is he connected to Gautier, and why did he shoot you?"
I shrugged. "Maybe he just hates werewolves."
Yet that wolf had called me by name - and how had he known where I lived? With Rhoan and me both working for the Directorate, our apartment wasn't listed in the any of the phone directories. And it didn't make sense for Gautier to have given him the information. If Gautier wanted me dead, he'd do it himself - and with sadistic pleasure
"That doesn't explain the likeness," Jack said
No, it didn't. "So you think they could be related, despite the fact we can find nothing about either of them?"
"Not related by birth, but certainly connected."
"Connected how, then?"
"I think it very likely the shooter, at least, is a clone."
I stared at him. "They can't make clones - not ones that survive to adulthood, anyway."
"It's possible someone has, because your shooter is not the only dead person in recent weeks to resemble Gautier. And Gautier himself resembles a man who died some years ago. Plus, we discovered a lot of growth accelerant in the shooter's remains."
"What about DNA?"
"We haven't tested any against Gautier's yet."
"Why not?"
"Because we don't want him suspicious. We plan on taking some samples for testing during his regular physical."
Which was due in the next day or so, if I remembered correctly. "I guess you haven't talked to him, then?"
"No. At this stage, we're merely watching him. We're hoping he'll lead us to whoever is behind all this."
"That's a big risk, isn't it? What if he gets suspicious and runs?" The last thing we needed was Gautier off the leash. Just the thought sent a shiver down my spine
"If he runs, he'll be killed."
Somehow, I didn't think it would be that simple. "So why does accelerant imply cloning?"
"Accelerant - at least in the tests currently being done on animals - is used to fast-track growth so the scientists can see what problems the clone might have when it reaches middle years."
"Where are the animal rights activists on that one?" I muttered. "Is there any evidence of accelerant in Gautier's blood?"
"None at all - it would have been picked up in the six-month physicals."
So, he was either who he said he was, and the clones a mere coincidence, or he was somehow the source of the clones. Because if the dead man Gautier resembled was truly dead rather than vampire dead, then surely he couldn't be the source of Gautier and the others. "Do you think Moneisha is behind the clones?"
"We doubt it. It hasn't the facilities as far as we know."
"But Rhoan was investigating it?"
"No, he was checking a report that prostitutes were regularly disappearing from the St. Kilda district, and reappearing a week or so later, totally disoriented and having no idea where they had been."
"Human or nonhuman pros?"
"If someone is trying to clone, maybe they need DNA samples to play with."
"Very likely."
His expression was that of a teacher pleased with the progress of a difficult student, and that irritated. Yet until I'd actually gotten Rhoan out, I'd have to put up with such expressions. And after all, time would tell which of us was going to win this particular battle
Still, I felt an insane urge to irritate him back. "There's something about the attack I should tell you - I didn't actually kill the shooter. Quinn O'Conor did."
"I was wondering when you'd get around to telling me that."
I raised my eyebrows. "You knew about Quinn?"
He nodded. "I saw the security tapes."
"Vampires in shadows don't show up in normal security tapes."
He grinned. "No. But the rail system underwent a recent upgrade that included infrared systems being installed side by side with standard security. It's helped catch a number of criminals."
"That was kept rather secret, wasn't it?"
"Sometimes the public just doesn't need to know."
"Tell that to the civil libertarians." I pushed up from the chair and walked across to the machine to grab a coffee. "Why was Rhoan investigating Quinn O'Conor?"
Amusement touched his lips. "Oh, you are good."
"Was it the dead vamp found in his cargo plane?"
"Very good," he murmured, then nodded. "Turns out that vamp was a half-breed." He looked at me, and I knew, right then, that I'd been on the money before. He'd known all along what Rhoan and I were. "But one born in the lab, rather than naturally, like you and your twin."
I swallowed, but it did little to ease the dryness in my throat. "How long have you known?"
"Practically since you joined us."
And we thought we'd been so careful
His smile was gentle. "Riley, I'm over eight hundred years old, and I've seen an awful lot in my time. I've met your kind before - you even have a name, do you realize that?"
The only name I knew was freak, and even then, until that man shot me, I'd only ever heard it in whispered tones from those in my pack who thought I was too young to understand
"Dhampires," he continued. "The offspring of newly turned vamps, born to women who are usually attacked and raped in the vampire's first hour out of the grave, women who somehow survive. A one in a million chance."
"Our mother was a wolf."
"And I'm supposing she was in moon fever, because a werewolf would certainly best a newly risen vampire."
She had bested him - when it was over and his dying seed had somehow created life. "Why haven't you ever said anything?"
"Because I respect your right to privacy." He hesitated. "Though I have to admit, your birthright is part of the reason I want you on the team with Rhoan. I don't think either of you has tapped your full potential."
"And I want the whole picket fence and bundles of babies scenario, Jack, not long nights filled with bloodshed."
"Actually, I want you and Rhoan to form the start of a daytime guardian division. Right now, we are somewhat hampered by our ability to hunt only at night."
"Right now, your wants aren't even registering on my radar." I began to pace, taking care not to spill the lukewarm brown muck the Directorate had the cheek to call coffee. The moon was rising and I didn't have to see it to know it was happening. The power of it burned through my veins. "So why did a dead half vamp make you decide to investigate Quinn? There's nothing unusual in vamps occasionally dying on cargo planes, especially if they get their timing or packing wrong."
"This vamp suffocated."
I swung around to look at him. "Vamps don't really need air to survive, so how did he suffocate?"
"He was only half-vamp, remember."
"So he was too dumb to put airholes in the coffin?"
Jack grinned. "Actually, he had too much air."
That raised my eyebrows. "How can anyone have too much air?"
"He was half merman, that's how."
"A vampire merman?" I couldn't help the note of incredulity in my voice. "Why in hell would anyone want a cross like that?"
"I think hell had a lot to do with it. A hell run by fanatics determined to breed the perfect killing machine."
"I can't imagine a merman willingly being a part of research like that." They don't even like going to the doctors, for heaven's sake
"I don't think willingness has anything to do with what is going on here."
"So why were you investigating Quinn?"
"It was just routine. He owns several pharmaceutical companies in Australia and the U.S. Of the ones here, the biggest is in Sydney. Sydney is where that vamp was headed."
"That doesn't mean he was headed to O'Conor's labs." I took a sip of coffee and screwed my nose up at the bitter taste. Still, with my head continuing to pound and my stomach beginning to growl over lack of food, bitter coffee was better than nothing
"As it turns out, he wasn't, but we still had to check. Especially since Director Hunter wanted Quinn in on the investigation."
I swung around to look at him. "What?"
Jack smiled. "The older vampire community is not a huge one. There are, perhaps, fifty vampires worldwide who have survived to reach their millennium years - and to do so means they are either extremely powerful or extremely canny. Quinn is both."
And for a vamp over one thousand years old, he was also very well preserved. "Why would she want him on the investigation, though?"
"Because he was already seeking the origins of the lab-made dhampire and the Gautier clones, and it is infinitely better if we pool resources and work together."
"Just how many clones are there?" That there might be more than two was a scary thought - and I could only hope they didn't all have a desire to shoot me with silver. "And why would he be investigating them? He's a businessman, not a cop or guardian."
Jack grinned again. "O'Conor's been many things over the years. A businessman is only the latest incarnation."
"That doesn't answer the question, Jack."
He nodded. "The truth is I can't actually stop him from investigating this, so it's better to have him working alongside us."
I frowned. "Throwing his ass into one of the cells upstairs would certainly stop him."
"The cells wouldn't hold me, let alone Quinn. Not with the sort of mind-power he's got."
A chill ran down my spine. "The Directorate is shielded. No one is supposed to be able to use mind-abilities within these walls."
"Most can't, and the cells will hold all but a very few."
But not him, and not Quinn, obviously. It was an almost scary thought that the two vamps I'd felt so comfortable with were far more dangerous than Gautier ever could be. "Why is Quinn investigating the clones?"
"He saw - and stopped - one in Sydney sometime ago. Apparently the clone was the image of a friend he'd thought dead."
Meaning the friend was the image of Gautier, if this "friend" was the dead man Jack had mentioned earlier. Part of me couldn't help wondering if the poor guy had been so depressed about his looks he'd killed himself. "A vampire friend, I take it?"
Jack nodded. "Quinn's also an old friend of Director Hunter. He recently contacted her about the matter - a professional courtesy, as he'd heard Moneisha mentioned while investigating and intended to come down to Melbourne and look into the matter further. Which is why she told me to bring him in on our investigations."
"Her okay doesn't make it legal to have a civilian involved in a Directorate case."
"In matters of civil safety, the Directorate can enlist whatever help it deems necessary. And it does give us the chance to intercede before he does anything illegal."
Somehow, I didn't think Quinn would be too bothered about legalities if push came to shove. "He left a message on my phone. He wants a meet tonight."
Jack nodded. "He contacted me once he'd regained his full memory. For the time being, I want you to work with him."
"Do you think that wise? I mean, if he's as powerful as you say, might he not be using his abilities to bend you to his will?"
"Director Hunter trusts him implicitly, so I must also."
"Director Hunter isn't infallible, as evidenced by the fact she had no idea her vice president rubber-stamped Gautier's entry into the Directorate."
Jack grinned. He seemed to being doing a lot of that lately, and it was somewhat disturbing - if only because I suspected it meant he was extremely happy about how things were going when it came to his plans for me
"Suspicion is an excellent habit for a guardian to have, you know."
So was knowing when to retreat - which was exactly what I intended doing just then. Besides, it was nearing eleven, which meant I'd have to get moving if I wanted to meet Quinn. "Tell me about Moneisha."
He glanced at the computer screen, said "Moneisha, information portable," and a second later, a tiny chip sealed in plastic appeared. He picked it up and handed it to me. "All current information we have. Once you and Quinn have read it, destroy the chip."
I shoved it in my pocket. "Will do."
"Keep me updated."
I nodded and left. When I climbed into the car, I saw the file Talon had given me. A quick flick-through revealed nothing more than what I'd already seen. He hadn't even tried to do a thorough search on Quinn, and that was annoying. I didn't ask much of either of my mates, but when I did, I expected a little effort expended
I shook my head, threw the folder down on the seat, and headed down to the Casino parking lot. It was close to eleven-thirty by the time I loped toward the Casino itself. Once I'd reached the main entrance of the big building, I swept my gaze across the people milling there. Humans, wolves, shapeshifters, and vampires, but none of them the man I was looking for. I turned, checking the surrounding area
And found him not far away, sitting on the steps that led down to the quay. I walked over and sat down beside him, close enough that I could feel the warmth of him, but not quite close enough that we were touching
"I didn't think you were coming," he said, voice conversational
He'd actually showered and donned some clothes since I'd last seen him. His hair was indeed black, and so thick and silky my fingers itched to run through it. The coat I'd given him had disappeared, and he was wearing a burgundy sweater that hugged his lean form and framed his angelic features, and black jeans that seemed to emphasize the athletic strength of his thighs. He was sexy covered in mud, but the clothed version... wow
"What happened to the coat?" An inane thing to say, but my brain was too busy battering down my hormones to think of anything more intelligent
He glanced at me, eyes darker than the night itself, and totally unreadable. "I left it at my house to be washed. Blood from your wound had soaked into it."
I raised my eyebrows. "So you do have a house here?"
He nodded. "In Brighton."
It figured. Toorak was only for the would-be billionaires, like Talon. "I talked to Jack before I came here."
"Then you know I mean you no harm."
"Well, no. I know you're currently helping the Directorate's investigations, but I very much suspect you'll do your own thing if it happens to suit you better."
He smiled his seductive smile, and my hormones did an excited little shuffle. "You do read people well."
"Meaning, of course, that I'm right not to trust you fully."
"I didn't say that."
Didn't deny it, either. "Jack wants me to work with you tonight."
"Meaning you've found Rhoan?"
"He's at Moneisha."
"Moneisha? That's surprising."
I did up my coat. The chill coming off the river was seeping into my bones, and the warmth flowing from Quinn wasn't enough to combat it. The goose bumps prickling my skin were threatening to become mountains
"Why? I thought you were investigating Moneisha yourself?"
His dark gaze met mine. "Jack told you?"
"Yes. And it annoys the hell out of me that you simply didn't come out and tell me you were working with the Directorate. Rhoan might be rescued by now if you had."
"I couldn't remember the truth - only various bits and pieces of it, originally - and by the time I did remember it all, you'd run."
"Well, naked vampires camping out on my doorstep or following me home do tend to raise suspicions."
"I had to be sure you were who you said you were. As I said before, Rhoan never mentioned you." His gaze came to mine, his expression briefly curious. "You cannot be lovers."
"No, we cannot." I didn't bother going any further. The fact that we were twins was something he didn't need to know. Though if Jack had guessed, surely Quinn, who was apparently far older, would as well. "Tell me what you know about Moneisha."
I had the information chip Jack had given me, but was interested in seeing just how free with information Quinn was going to be. Jack might trust this vampire implicitly, but I wasn't so inclined
"My investigations have led me to believe we have two branches of research happening - one doing cloning, one doing the crossbreeds. On the surface, neither seems to be connected to the other. While I doubt Moneisha is behind either, I think it is part of the chain. There's certainly a lot more going on behind those walls than what is being reported."
"I'm going in there tonight to get Rhoan out."
He raised an eyebrow. "Alone?"
"Jack suggested I take you."
"Someone covering your back is always a good idea."
Having this vampire covering my back wasn't such a good idea. Not when the moon was riding me so hard. I glanced at my watch and saw it was nearly twelve. "Look, do you mind if we continue this conversation inside?"
"You're cold?"
"Starved more than cold. I haven't eaten anything since breakfast."
He rose and offered me a hand up. His fingers were warm against mine, gentle yet strong. It was all too easy to imagine those hands on my body, caressing and teasing
Though his expression remained flat, the surge of his desire washed over me like a summer storm. He might have his shields up on full to protect himself from my aura, but that didn't stop the awareness zinging between us
"What would you like to eat?" he said softly
You. I cleared my throat and stepped away a little. The night was much colder without his touch. "A burger would be good."
He nodded and, ignoring the slight space I'd put between us, pressed a hand to my back and guided me forward. Heat flared where his fingers rested, rolling through the rest of me in waves
"There's a nice restaurant down near the Swanston Street end," he said, his voice a musical caress that made me want to sigh
"Do nice restaurants sell burgers and fries?"
"This one does. Tell me what you discovered about Moneisha."
"Security is tight, and they apparently have infrared cameras."
"That's going to be a problem."
I took the microchip from my pocket. "Information and floor plans."
He smiled. "Then perhaps we should grab take-away and make our way to my office."
"You have an office close by?"
He pointed to the white building that dominated the skyline a block away. "My office is on the top floor."
I looked up... and up. "And you don't get height sickness?"
I certainly did, but it didn't have anything to do with my dual heritage. It was an end result of being thrown off a mountain when I was a pup. Why the fear manifested in buildings, I have no idea, especially when I could still climb mountains and be fine as long as I didn't go near any cliffs
He raised an eyebrow. "Do you?"
"Then perhaps we shall keep to one of the lower floors."
"Unless you want me puking over your undoubtedly nice carpets, that could be a good idea."
He nodded. We reached the restaurant and he bought me a burger, fries, and Coke, refusing to let me pay for it. I sipped the drink as we moved on to his building. Security let him in after an eye scan, and we took the lift to the tenth floor. Another eye scan later, and we were in a section that consisted of endless rows of desks. He led me through them and into an office at the far end
I was tempted to hand him one of the French fries, but didn't think he'd see the humor in it right then. So I handed him the microchip and sat on the edge of the desk, one leg swinging as I munched my food. The screen popped into existence after security confirmed his identity yet again. He slipped the chip into a slot and it disappeared into the depths of the desk. A second later, floor plans appeared
"Where did you feel Rhoan?"
I pointed a greasy finger at the appropriate wall and the screen shimmered slightly. "There's about six feet between the walls and the roof, but there's a camera close by and I would imagine it's infrared."
"There's another entrance here." He pointed to a spot just past where I'd found Rhoan. "And a small guardhouse."
"That might be a good point of entry, if we could distract the guards."
He nodded. "They have laser sensors here and here." He indicated the two spots. "And it looks as if they also have sensor beams set one foot above the outer wall."
"Crude, but appropriate." Amusement flirted with his lips again as he leaned back in the chair and studied the plans. "Though one foot leaves enough room to get under if you are aware of its presence. If Rhoan is still in there, it's going to take some planning to get him out."
"What do you mean, 'if'?"
"They've got cameras. They would have seen you walking around the perimeter."
"So? They wouldn't know me from a bar of soap."
"If Moneisha is involved in making either the crossbreeds or the clones, that may not be true." He studied me for a moment, dark eyes flat and somehow chilling. He reached into the pocket of his jeans. "I found this on that werewolf who shot you."
He dropped the small button into my palm. I looked at it, not sure what to make of it. My confusion must have shown, because he added, "It's a camera. A very powerful, very experimental, camera."
"They watched me being shot?" I couldn't believe anyone would be so... I stopped the thought. I worked with guardians, so yes, it was certainly possible to believe someone would be bloodthirsty enough to enjoy something like that
"He never intended to shoot you in the heart. He wanted to maim, not kill."
I took a quick swig of my Coke and regretted it the minute it hit my already churning stomach. "They couldn't have known you were there, and if you hadn't have been, I would have died."
"True. But he also had a small medical kit on him, meaning he could have been intending to retrieve the bullet himself."
"So why shoot me, then patch me up? What was the point?"
"Maybe they wanted to watch your reactions."
I went cold. "But that would mean - "
"If they're holding Rhoan for what he is," he said gently, "then they undoubtedly suspect what you are, too."
"But no one - " I broke the words off. If Jack had guessed, maybe others had too. "There's nothing on our birth certificates, and we've told no one." I fixed my gaze on him. "I can't believe Rhoan told you."
"He didn't. I guessed. Werewolves generally do not make good guardians because they cannot sense the dead. Yet he has senses as keen as my own." He paused. "And you blurred in an effort to avoid that bullet. Something else werewolves cannot do."
I slipped off the desk and began to pace. "What I don't get is the why? They're creating their own freaks. Why would they need me or Rhoan?"
He caught my hand as I passed him, stopping me in my tracks. "You are not a freak."
There was anger in his voice, in his eyes, as if the mere idea I could think such a thing offended him greatly. I found myself smiling. "Easy for you to say. You're just a common old vampire."
"And you are a miracle of existence. Never think otherwise."
My smile grew. "You know, I could really get to like you."
His sudden grin was devilish. "Does that mean I get to dance with you sometime soon?"
"It just might." Once I'd gotten Rhoan out. Once I knew for sure Quinn was playing it straight
"Good." His gaze went back to the floor plans. "I can think of two reasons why they might want you and Rhoan. First because you both appear to have integrated your dual heritage very well."
I went back to pacing. It was better than sitting still. Or sitting close to a treat I wasn't able to sample just yet. "And the second?"
He looked at me. "Your almost identical looks."
That stopped me. "What?"
"All the clones so far have been the image of the guardian known as Henri Gautier."
"Apparently so."
"Meaning they come from the one source."
"The friend you thought was dead."
He nodded. "Well, the dhampire found in my plane looked nothing like Gautier, meaning he came from a totally different source material altogether."
"Yeah, so?"
"So what if they don't know, or believe, that dhampires can be born naturally? What if they think you and Rhoan are lab creations? Successful lab creations that they didn't create?"
I stared at him as the implications sank in
If that were true, my brother and I were in deep shit