Secret Santa
Page 10

 Sierra Dean

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“Is this a dream?” I demanded.
The girl shook her head and continued to drift down the block, her spirit so weightless she could be carried on the whim of a winter draft.
Now I was torn. I’d followed her out here believing I was dreaming, but now that I was exposed to the cold and standing barefoot wearing only a chemise, I was pretty sure it was real. Which meant I could either go after her, or go back inside and pretend it hadn’t happened.
A gust blew down the street, rustling the hem of my nightgown and reminding me that in spite of my resistance to cold and the lack of snow outside, it was still December.
The girl had stopped moving a few apartments away and was staring at me with mute patience. Her dress billowed in the wind as if she were still real.
What the hell, I decided.
If Sig—who never seemed to wear shoes anywhere—could navigate the city barefoot, then I could as well. Behind me on 9th, traffic whisked past at a normal clip, but here on West 52nd we might as well have been alone in the universe.
“Okay,” I told her. “I’m coming.”
A few of my neighbors had Christmas lights strung up on their fire escapes or balconies, or glinting from inside their windows, lending the street an eerie festive quality that didn’t mesh with what I was doing.
I traipsed after the ghost, but she didn’t stir. She waited for me near the stoop of the dark apartment, and when I reached her she motioned upwards. A zigzagging sprawl of rusted iron fire escape snaked up the front of the building.
When I looked back at her she was still pointing up and nodding.
I grumbled, chiding myself for not thinking to put on underwear, and then hopped up on the concrete handrail. The bottom rung of the fire escape was a good ten feet up, and it had been a long time since I’d needed to do anything quite so physical. In the last six months most of my athletics had been restricted to running or bleeding.
It’s only ten feet. You can do this.
I crouched low, closing my eyes to concentrate. I pictured the fire escape, pictured myself hitting it, then with one last steadying breath I jumped.
The iron smashed into my ribs and I scrambled to get hold of the grated floor, my grasping hands snagging one of the rough bars before I fell. I was left dangling, holding the fire escape with one hand while I swayed beneath it catching my breath.
My ghost was on the platform now, staring down and motioning for me to follow her still.
“Persistent little thing, aren’t you?”
Turning my body so I faced away from the fire escape, I swung backwards and forwards like a trapeze artist gaining momentum. Once my legs came higher than the height of my arms, I propelled them back over my head and let go.
I landed on my knees, skinning them on the metal. I hissed and gave the ghost an unhappy look as blood oozed to the surface.
Once again she pointed up.
At least this time I could take the stairs.
When we reached the roof, all of New York was laid out before us, sparkling like a Christmas fairy tale.
The ghost stood on the edge of the rooftop, and even though she was already dead, my stomach churned nervously to see her perched so close to falling. She was staring east and turned to look at me over her shoulder. Her tiara glittered in the moonlight.
“What do you want me to see?” I pleaded, moving to stand next to her. With her ghostly hand, she touched my cheek, and a chill stung me. She motioned again, her hand coming right through my face so I could see which way her finger pointed.
“Long Island?”
The chill left me, and when I looked at her she smiled. Then a breeze skirted the rooftop and she broke apart like fog, vanishing into the night.
Chapter Ten
“Tell me exactly what she said.” Desmond was kneeling in front of me while I sat on the edge of my pink bathtub. He was dutifully cleaning my ravaged knees, getting out slivers of rust before my body healed itself.
He wore his black boxer briefs and a rumpled gray tank top, and his hair stuck out in all directions. Seeing him like this stirred my blood with something different than simple lust. I put my hand on his muscular shoulder and squeezed when he removed a shard of metal from my skin.
“She didn’t say anything. She was a ghost.”
He dropped the washcloth onto the floor and rocked back on his heels, crouching before me with a predatory stare. It was easy for me to forget there was a monster in him, but sometimes he let it drift to the surface. In those moments he could scare the hell out of me. He didn’t have to say anything else.
“She wanted me to see Long Island,” I told him.
“I don’t know.” And I really didn’t. I knew where she’d died. I could step out my front door and see the school. So she wasn’t directing me to anywhere that would hold clues to her death. But there was something across the river she wanted me to know about, something I had to look for.
I’d searched all of Manhattan, so maybe it was time to start looking farther afield.
Desmond got to his feet and pulled me up with him. He brushed my tempest-strewn hair behind my ears. In turn, I tried to pat down his own wild waves.
“Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”
I looked down at my knees—already mostly healed—then back to him.
“Okay,” he admitted. “Stupid question.”
“Trust me, I wish I knew what she wanted. Long Island isn’t the most helpful clue.”
“Well, we’ll be there tomorrow night. So if your ghost wants you to see anything in and around Sunnyside, she’s in luck.”
I faked a smile, but he wasn’t buying it.
“I’m going to give you an early Christmas present. I think it’ll cheer you up,” he said.
I nestled closer and palmed his package, my eyes going innocent and inquiring.
“You’re insatiable.” He laughed, letting me fondle him for a moment before gently pushing my hand away. “But I think you’ll like this more.”
I snorted. “Unless you’ve cloned yourself and we’re about to have a very confusing three-way, I doubt it.”
Immediately I wanted to take the words back. Desmond and I had been in a massively confusing threesome, only he didn’t know about it. I’d discovered one hell of a doozy side effect from my vampire connection with Holden, and had spent six months trying to forget our little mental ménage.
Leading me by the hand, Desmond took us into the living room and guided me to the loveseat.
“Stay,” he commanded with a smirk, then vanished down the hall.
“Who taught you to be so bossy?”
His rumbling chuckle preceded him back into the main room, where he stood in front of me with his hands behind his back. There was a wicked glint in his eyes.
“Pick a hand.”
“You’re kidding me.”
Desmond huffed and tapped his foot on the carpet. I held out a little longer, crossing my arms and leaning back into the couch, pretending not to care. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to give in, I sighed and pointed to his right arm.
He showed me an empty palm. Now I was both curious and annoyed, so I indicated his left side.
He handed me a wood box, then stepped back and hugged his chest, watching me. It was like a cat dropping a dead bird at your feet and hanging back to see if you’ll praise it.
The box was a little over a foot long and made from a lightly stained teak, engraved with two cranes taking flight. In spite of the delicacy of the box itself, the package had a decent weight to it, which I balanced on my palms as I opened the gold clasp with my thumb.
Inside, nestled amongst the folds of black velvet, was a dagger. It shone silver under the ceiling light, and I gave it an exploratory poke.
“Steel,” he said, which I confirmed when my finger didn’t get all rashy.
The blade was two-sided and had an old-fashioned vibe about it. The handle was wound in black leather, and a red tassel dangled from the base.
“So pretty.”
“Well, I figured you might need something for days when the katana is a bit too…conspicuous.” Some men buy jewelry. My man went for the heart and bought weapons.
I held the knife up to the light and twirled it in my hand, testing the weight. It had a nice heft. I didn’t like to be in such close range in a fight, but my life had been saved by a switchblade once, so a pretty dagger could only be an improvement.
Under the velvet was a leather sheath with two thin bindings I could use to fasten it to my leg.
“Thank you.”
“Not much good against a ghost, I know…”
“It’s perfect.”
There must be a lot of good jokes that start with two vampires walked into a bar, but later that night when Brigit Stewart and I found ourselves at a Chelsea club called Thirst, I wasn’t in a laughing mood. This girls’ night out was all business.
Well, business and a gin martini or two.
Brigit tapped her high heel against the leg of her barstool. We were checking out guys, but not in a way I should have felt guilty about. I had too many men as it was. I wasn’t on the prowl to add anyone else to the compound Big Love style. We were here in a strictly professional capacity.
Though I’d been promoted to the Tribunal, she was still my ward. And more than that, I would always feel responsible for her. I hadn’t made her a vampire, but the one who had hadn’t taught her how to exist as one. That was up to me.
The girl with a pulse.
Around us, the club pulsed with a life of its own. A new Kanye West single threatened to earworm me if I could only stop feeling the bass in my skull. Scantily clad girls ground their pelvises against every available surface—boys, other girls, poles. It was a jackpot of skeeze.
The men weren’t much better. There was so much hair gel, aftershave and Ed Hardy here I wondered if we’d teleported to Jersey by mistake.
“What about that one?” I pointed to a buff, vacant-looking brunet.
“Ugh. No. Geez, does being in a relationship, like, ruin you for seeing hotness?”
The hour was closing in on midnight, and I’d left Desmond to sleep. My nocturnal schedule meant I was wide awake and still needed to blow off some steam after my ghostly encounter. So I’d called the one friend I could count on to be up for a late-night cocktail.