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Then, he was gone. Within minutes, the rumble of his silverback sounded, idled, and then roared up the street. I stood and listened until the motor faded completely away.
Eli was going after Victorian. Just like that, up and gone. Really? How would he even know where to look for him? I wanted to beat the hell out of Eli, and it was a helluva lot easier to stay pissed than it was to mope about his leaving. I didn’t have time for that, so pissed seemed the better route for me. After climbing in and out of the shower, I pulled on the dress Eli had so sexily discarded hours before, then grabbed my purse and pumps. At the double doors I paused and glanced over my shoulder at the rumpled bed. The clock read 4:58 a.m. With what seemed an involuntary muscular action, I drew in a deep, long breath, taking in Eli’s scent to litter my lungs, my taste buds, my memory. I knew what he did, he did for me. I also knew, somehow, he wouldn’t find Victorian. Not easily, anyway. The other invading my mind? How could Eli find him if we didn’t even know who he was? Eli had an explosive character. His emotions ran high in everything he did. When he was pissed, he was pissed. When he was happy, he was elated. And when he loved, man, he seriously loved. So it really didn’t surprise me that he’d taken off in an angry cloud of dust to find the two things causing me misery. It didn’t console or take away the edge I already felt inside. Within my rib cage, my heart ached—my fucking heart—and a hole had begun to tear, ragged inside my chest. Who knew what would happen? I hated that it all mattered enough to me that I felt pain. Angry, I closed my eyes briefly, breathed, then shut the doors and started down the corridor.
Philippe Moreau, the Duprés’ butler, stood in the kitchen, a white cup and saucer in his hand, and a kettle on the stovetop. Dressed in a long navy robe and slippers, he turned at my entrance. Aged eyes regarded the dragons inked into my arms, the angel wing at the corner of my eye, and then, met my gaze full on. “Will you have tea, Ms. Poe?” he asked, in a very proper and French manner.
“No, thanks, Philippe,” I answered, and headed to the door, where I paused. “Eli’s gone,” I said, not really knowing why I did.
“He will return,” Philippe said comfortingly, as though he knew.
I nodded. “My brother?” I asked.
“He is in the game room with the others,” Philippe answered. “Shall I call for him?”
I shook my head. “That’s all right. I’ll call later.” No sense in dragging Seth home on a Sunday morning and making him suffer my badass mood. I had supplies to order for Inksomnia, some designs to go over with Nyx later, and a few things to pick up from the store—a typical Sunday. Seth might as well stay with Josie and the guys and have a little fun. “Later, Philippe,” I said, then pushed out of the kitchen’s screen door and into Savannah’s early morning.
The sun wasn’t up yet, but a dim, hazy glow hung in the air as I made my way to the Jeep. Thick fog wafted over Monterey Square and slipped through the live oaks, swallowing the black iron streetlamps along the walkway. Barefoot, I tossed my pumps and purse into the passenger side of the Jeep.
And into the lap of a body that wasn’t there a half breath ago.
“Where ya goin’?”
I jumped and sucked in a breath. Luc grinned, and I glared at him. “Don’t do that, Dupré. God. You’re gonna give me a freaking heart attack.” I slipped behind the wheel.
He grinned wider. “I know CPR. I’d save you. So? Where?”
I looked straight ahead. “Home. I got a business to run, you know.”
“At five a.m.?”
I jammed the keys into the ignition, but before I could start the Jeep, Luc’s hand stilled mine. I sighed. “He left.” I glanced at him.
A slight breeze caught his crazy hair and tossed it across his forehead. He pushed it back and met my gaze in the dim light. “Yeah,” he said gently. “I know. He asked me to ride along.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t need a babysitter anymore.” I turned the Jeep’s engine over. “I’m not a helpless mortal, Luc. I can take care of myself.”
Luc grinned. “He said you’d say that.”
“Well,” I answered, glancing at him, “Seth will be with me this time. And as far as we can tell, there is no threat close by, right? The newlings have moved on.”
“Seth is here. And the newlings have moved on. For now.”
I frowned. “Preacher is right next door. I’ll be fine.” I pointed. “Get out.”
Luc didn’t budge.
“Don’t you have a girlfriend or something?” I asked, knowing full well he did not. “Seriously dude—you’ve gotta move out of your parents’ house, or no decent chick will have anything to do with you.”
He grinned. “That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Nyx. Is she involved?”
I put the Jeep in reverse. “No way, Dupré. I wouldn’t want her mixed up in all of this.”
Luc leapt out and was at my door before I could blink. He met my gaze with a sincere one. “Would you have held back from Eli, had you known what you know now?”
“No.” I didn’t even have to think about it.
Luc smiled and pushed off the door. The yard lamp cast a yellow glow down on him, and I studied the severe similarities between Luc and Eli. Other than the dark blond, crazy hair, they looked very much alike—same disturbing eyes, same cut of jaw, same mouth. Well, almost the same mouth. “Your mind, then, is open game for me. That way I’ll know if you’re in trouble,” he said, grinning, and gave a confident nod. “Yeah. I think I like this plan better, anyway.”
I shook my head and glanced over my shoulder to back out. “I hate this plan. I think this plan sucks.”
Luc laughed. “It’s either this plan, or the one where I come babysit you full-time.”
I scowled. “Fine.”
“Excellent,” he said, grinning. I’ll drop by later. And don’t worry about Seth. He’s cool. And Riley,” he said, his face serious. “He’ll be back. Soon.”
Turning the Jeep, I rounded the graveled circle drive by the kitchen entrance and pulled up next to Luc. “I know he will. And seriously, thanks. I mean it.”
“No prob.” He leaned over and tapped my temple with a forefinger. “I’ll be right here.”
“That’s such a comfort,” I said, gave a half-forced grin, and pulled out into the square. Deciding to get myself together and grab a coffee, I headed to Skidaway to the original Krispy Kreme, where I got in a fairly short line of die-hard Kremers who wanted that first, fresh, hot batch of doughnuts of the morning. Being the JFJ (junk food junkie) that I am, I ordered a dozen regular glazed (they melt in your mouth) and a large coffee with cream and sugar, then headed back home. I listened to the relative silence of early Sunday morning in Savannah as I made my way back to Inksomnia. Eli had started teaching me how to concentrate, to filter out all the extra sounds I could now hear, and hone in on just my immediate surroundings by focusing on one single sound. I wasn’t totally good at it yet, but at least now I wasn’t going nuts. When he first taught me, I had to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and concentrate so hard that my brain hurt. It was like being in a large convention room with two thousand people, all of them droning. Finally, I did it, and it was a relief. It wasn’t easy to turn on and off, and sometimes it took me a few minutes to achieve control, but I was getting better, and I could now do it without squeezing my eyes shut. I mean, Jesus. It was kinda funny at first, but I quickly grew sick of hearing people humping and moaning all the friggin’ time. God, they were having sex everywhere. I felt trapped in a porn dream. So this morning, after I shut out the other unwanted noises, I found everything was pretty calm, as it used to be before I had two strigoi bloodsuckers try to drain my life force. Light traffic; somewhere, a dog barking its head off, and, in the distance, a semitruck grinding its gears and chugging along the bypass—these were normal sounds.
I should have realized this was the beginning of a sonot-normal day.
By the time I pulled onto the merchant’s drive and parked the Jeep behind Inksomnia, it was a few minutes after six a.m. Preacher and Estelle’s light in the kitchen flickered on, so I crossed the cobbles to their back door. The haze was brighter outside now, but the sun still hadn’t cracked over the city. I knocked lightly, and in seconds Preacher came to the door. The beam of light that shined behind him revealed his usual long-sleeved plaid shirt tucked neatly into a pair of worn dungarees and a big smile. He and Estelle always got up early, so I knew I wasn’t intruding. When his gaze lit on the Krispy Kreme box, the smile grew.
“Oh yeah, dat’s my girl right dere,” he said, then kissed my cheek and pulled me into the small foyer. “Was cravin’ dem tings earlier. Almost went out myself to get dem.” He lifted a brow. “Don’t let your grandmodder see ’em. She says da sugar makes me act all crazy.” He chuckled softly.
“I heard dat, ole man,” Estelle hollered from the kitchen. “Riley Poe, you git in here and bring dem tings wit you. Dat ole man acts crazy widdout da sugar, dat’s right. Sugar makes him crazier.”
I smiled at Preacher. “Yes, ma’am.” I flipped open the box. Preacher lifted a doughnut out and in two bites had it gone. I shook my head, grabbed one myself, took a bite, and headed for the kitchen while my surrogate grandfather licked his fingers. I set the box on the table and sat down.
“I hope you left room in dat bottomless pit of a stomach for some magic,” Estelle said with a fake scowl, inclining her head toward the simmering pot of tea on the burner. She grinned and glanced at the doughnut box. “You save me one now, dat’s right.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “And yes, ma’am, I have plenty of room.”
Estelle bustled over, wearing a hot pink Da Plat Eye T-shirt and a multicolored brush skirt, with a knotted head wrap to match. She smelled fresh, like Dove soap and something … herbal from the shop. Satin ebony skin shined in stark contrast to her white smile. “Drink up, Riley Poe. Don’t want dem Duprés lookin’ at you like you was a pork chop.”