“Why do you insist on pulling reactions from me?” I asked furiously, and moved my hand to knock his. It was then I felt exactly what he’d been talking about. The hardness wasn’t him; it was the silver blade strapped to my thigh.
“See?” he said, his eyes growing warm. “I make you do nothing. You’ve had the power to kill me all along.” His voice was a whisper against my skin. “You have the power now.”
“How can I kill a dream figment?” I asked, my fingers brushing the blade.
“I am not a figment,” he returned, brushing his lips across my cheek. “I interject myself here; you keep me here. Everything we share is real.”
“You make me keep you here, just like you make me feel,” I said. “Just like you keep me from prodding you further about what you told Eli. Mind control’s a bitch when put to you like that, right? Sort of takes the romance out of things. So, to change the subject, what do you know of the ones who attacked me? What did you tell Eli?”
Victorian’s body stilled; he grasped my chin and lifted my face. “What do you mean by ‘attacked’ you?”
I blinked, surprised at his animosity for whoever attempted to hurt me. It seemed … genuine. I guess it had happened after Eli had left him. “Three vampires, two of them newlings, made it inside my apartment and attacked my friend and me. I took two of them out. Luckily, my brother came in and took out the last one. That one nearly got me.” I tilted my head in question. “You know nothing about it?”
Anger, and maybe even a little hurt, flashed over Victorian’s features. “Of course I didn’t know anything about it. Why would I want to hurt you?”
I stared at him. “One of our friends with tendencies has the ability to sense vampires miles and miles away—yet he didn’t sense these until they were literally at my apartment. He thinks it had something to do with Romanian magic.”
Victorian stared down at me, hurt. “I am not the only Romanian vampire in existence, Riley,” he said quietly. “And I’d never hurt you. I wish you’d believe me.”
I stared, not knowing what to say.
He leaned down then and brushed his lips over mine. “To convince you, I’ll release you from this dream, instead of your Eligius rescuing you from it, like always.” His mouth lingered against mine, before whispering, “I shall see you soon. …
With a start, I sat up.
Lamplight filtered in through my balcony window, and the TV’s low hum met my ears. I glanced at the clock.
No more than five minutes had passed since the last time I’d checked.
With a heavy sigh, I lay back down and stared up at the ceiling. Confusion webbed my brain. I knew I didn’t want Victorian. Yet despite what the Duprés thought, I felt he wasn’t evil—not like his brother.
As I closed my eyes for the third and hopefully final time, I saw the hurt etched in Victorian’s face behind my lids.
I knew then I’d made my mind up about him.
And it wasn’t the same opinion the Duprés had. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that yet.
Three more thoughts crossed my mind before slumber claimed me—even if for only a few hours. One, the murder I’d witnessed had taken place in Charleston. I’d visited Savannah’s sister city only a few times, mostly for art conventions, and I hadn’t strolled the gardens while there. But I did remember the pineapple fountain. It was a city landmark. It was also that girl’s grave. We’d be going there soon, I was sure of it.
Two, I was feeling drained. I don’t mean I’m-having-my-period-with-no-energy drained. It was more like an every-time-I-witness-a-murder-it-saps-life-out-of-me drained. It made me feel … weird. Angry. Edgy. It was taking me longer to recover after each vision, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Three, a fight was coming—another war, and this one was way different than the one in Bonaventure. There’d be more vampires. There’d be more bloodshed.
Don’t ask me how I knew; I just did. And I really hated that.
“Terror made me cruel.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re not going to get this—I don’t get it myself. But I’m brutally honest to a fault, so why hide a confession? I’m attracted to Victorian. Now, don’t get your panties all wadded up. I don’t mean boom-chick-a-wow-wow attracted. He’s beautiful and sexy as damn friggin’ hell—I’ll give him that. But no—that’s not how I mean. I mean … shit. I don’t know what I mean. It’s hard to explain. Don’t misunderstand me, please—Eli is my heart, my soul, even though I can’t admit it out loud yet, and the more he’s away from me, the more pissy I become, which equals, in my book anyway, the more I care about him. Despite the sexual dreams I always seem to be involved in with Victorian, that’s not how I feel about him. A kindred spirit—that’s it! I feel sort of a kindred spirit with him. Does that make sense? Probably not. It doesn’t, even to me. And I’m pretty sure Victorian would hate it. He’s made no qualms about his intentions with me; he wants in my pants. Probably more, but it ain’t happening. All I know is that, while it irritates me to the point of wanting to hit someone that Victorian intrudes his kinky self into my dreams, I don’t want him dead anymore. I just don’t feel that he’s evil. As a matter of fact, I’m positive he’d help me, if times called for his help. And I’m pretty sure all that sets Eli’s ass on fire.”
“A woman’s mutilated body was found in the city’s pineapple fountain early this morning by city workers. An autopsy is being performed. Next, a new cannon for the battery? No, says Charleston’s historical society. More details at six.”
I shook my head and glanced at Phin, who sat perched on the kitchen counter, watching me eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Sunlight streamed in from the window, making his short buzzed hair glow golden at the tips. “I hate being right,” I said. “I knew I recognized that fountain.” I was on edge, pissed, and uncertain … about everything. “Does Eli know what’s going on here? Victorian is not the threat—it’s him. That monster. Whoever he is.”
Phin’s gaze softened. “Yeah, he knows, and he trusts us to keep you safe until he returns—which should be very soon. And he thinks otherwise, Riley. He believes Victorian is a full threat. I’m not positive why you feel otherwise, but please, don’t be fooled.”
It wasn’t as if I wanted to jump up and leave Savannah. I had a business to run, and I’d more than once dumped my share of work onto Nyx’s shoulders. No offense to Nyx, and pardon my arrogance, but people sought me out. The ones who made an appointment with me wanted art by me in particular. Not all, but some. Okay, most. It’d be like having gone to OCC to have a custom chopper made and you didn’t get Pauly Sr. or Pauly Jr., or even Mikey. You got a fine craftsman, but not the one you wanted. It was my job, my career, and I enjoyed giving people one-of-a-kind body art. I hated ditching my customers again. Yet one thing I knew for damn sure was that I couldn’t bear the thought of innocents dying at the hand of that motherfucker. I couldn’t bear watching it—damn, almost participating in it. Something had to freaking give.
“It will give,” Phin said, his gaze direct, assured. “And we have a contact in Charleston. A small group of guardians, if you will. They’re not ready for us yet. When they are, we’ll go. Until then, I watch your ass, you carry on your business, Seth gets tutored by Mama. Period.”
I narrowed my gaze. “You could have just asked me. You don’t have to go fishing inside my noggin, ya know.”
He wagged his blond brows. “What fun would that be?”
“A group of guardians?” I asked, curious. “This sitaround-and-wait crap is sounding a lot like what happened here. Why can’t we just pack silver, rush Charleston, hook up with the gang, and kick ass?”
Phin sighed, frustration etched in his forehead. “It’s never that easy. First, we don’t step on each other’s toes. They’re a prideful street gang, and some of the members have been guardians of Charleston for centuries. Very rough around the edges and prefer to handle their own problems. Still governed by Preacher’s family, though. They watch over the city. Like Savannah, they haven’t had trouble in a long, long time. And I’m not frustrated.”
I narrowed my gaze. “They’re not doing such a hot job lately,” I said. I knew Preacher had kin in Charleston, and some in Buford and Edisto. I did not know he had a rough gang of vampiric guardians acting in the same manner as the Duprés.
“All had been calm until the Arcoses were released,” Phin said, rubbing his hand over his hair. “I’m pretty sure the trouble’s being caused by newlings created by the brothers. And the ones they’ve created. It’s a snowball now.”
“I guess you’re right,” I said, although I didn’t agree with him on one brother. “Well, if they don’t get a grip soon, we’ll have to go whether they call us or not.” I stared hard at him. “I don’t like what I’m seeing, Phin. I don’t. And for the sake of sounding selfish, I’d really rather not be the eyeballs of a vicious killer. Know what I mean?”
Phin slipped off the counter and placed a hand on my shoulder. “I know, Ri. Hang in there. We’ll get through this.”
After dumping a few cups of Gullah tea in my system, I pulled on a pair of faded jeans, an Inksomnia T-shirt, and Vans, and I ran Chaz to the vet. The sweet dog was acting normal, but moving a little more slowly than usual. The vet checked him out and assured me he was okay, probably just a little sore, and to let Chaz monitor his own activity. I felt sure the main thought that ran through Chaz’s head as he whizzed through the air was What the hell? Since it was an old building, the drop hadn’t been as drastic as it could’ve been, but it made me sick to think of that bloodsucker throwing Chaz off the balcony.