Page 38

Unlike the Panic Room, the Morgue was under new ownership; it prevented me from having an in—and part of me felt thankful. One Kelter was all I could handle. I suppose I didn’t need an in anyway. The club was dark and thumping. I stepped through a veil of smoke and moved through the crowd to a vacant spot near the wall. Phin rounded on me and lowered his head to my ear.

“We’ll spread out and see if we spot any of the hoodies,” he said. “Let’s give it forty minutes, tops. Then we’re out.” The look he gave me was grave. “If you need me, just think it.”

“Right,” I said, and watched the Dupré brothers split up and disappear into the crowd. For a Monday night, it was a heavy mix. People were jammed into the Morgue like sardines, and as I edged the perimeter I scanned the clubbers and began to weave into the center. The dark interior and flashing lights made it pretty difficult to see any sort of distance, so I moved in and out of the dancers and fought off several groping hands, my sights set on the opposite side of the club. A hand to my crotch—yes, my crotch—stopped me abruptly, and I reacted. I grabbed the wrist taking privileges and yanked upward, and I separated the offender from the tightly knit group of people around me. A young guy, maybe nineteen or twenty, with burred black-dyed hair and a silver mesh sleeveless shirt stared at me with cold, almost black eyes. The side of his neck was inked with a massive wad of barbed wire; in the center was a naked woman, clinging to the wire, a look of terror—or ecstasy, I couldn’t tell which—on her face. It was a shoddy art job, in my opinion.

The guy pushed toward me, his face close. “I know what you want,” he said in what he probably thought was a seductive, turn-me-on, throaty voice.

I dropped his arm. “I doubt it,” I said, and turned away. “Freaking perv.”

From behind, he pressed into me and grabbed my hips to hold me in place.

“I mean, I know who you’re looking for,” he said against my ear, and then a hot wetness crept over my lobe as he licked it.

I stopped and looked at him over my shoulder. “Is that right?” I said, repulsed but hiding it. “And what exactly do you know?” Maybe he’d seen Seth or one of the boys. It was worth checking out.

“This way, babe,” he said, and nudged me forward through the crowd; the whole time, his hands stayed gripping my hips. “Hands off,” I growled, and he laughed but removed his hands. As we moved, I continued to search faces, but no one seemed familiar—not even Phin or Luc appeared. Finally, we broke free, and when we did the guy totally took me off guard and shoved me against the exit door. In the next second he was pressed against me and we were falling through the door, into the alley. With a heavily booted foot he kicked the door closed behind us and was on me, my front slammed into the bumpy painted concrete of the building, and this guy was grinding his hard crotch against me, mouth buried against my neck, one hand feeling my breasts, the other one groping my crotch. “It’s me you’re lookin’ for, right?” he said, grunting in my ear.

Oh, Poe. You dumbass.

“Wrong,” I ground out, and he merely laughed. He had me pinned pretty good, but I was a tall girl, strong and athletic; I pulled my legs up while he sucked on my neck, wedged the balls of my feet against the wall, and pushed hard. We both fell back, and I leapt up. Before he could get off his ass, I’d kicked him in the jaw, and his head jerked back; he spit blood from his mouth. “Bitch,” he growled, and spit again. “Stupid bitch.”

Adrenaline must have kicked in, because he jumped up like a cat and lunged for me. He never made it. A figure moved so fast from the shadows and grabbed him by the throat that my brain hardly had time to process it. I watched the perv’s body fly against the Dumpster and hit with a heavy thud. In the next second, Eli emerged from the darkness, his face a mask of fury, his eyes lightened but not yet opaque. He moved closer but did not touch me.

“What the hell are you doing, Riley?” he said, his voice dark, angered, shaking with rage. “What?” Those light eyes regarded me, held me captive. I couldn’t have looked away if I’d tried. Thankfully, he did. He grasped his neck with both hands and looked skyward. “Tu me fais mourir,” he muttered in French, and of course I had no idea what it meant. “You’re killing me,” he clarified, and then drew a deep breath and looked at me. “You. Are. Freaking. Killing. Me.”

I glanced toward the Dumpster. The perv hadn’t budged. “You didn’t kill him, did you?” I asked.

Eli’s face became even more infuriated. “No. But I should.”

I would be lying if I said my heart wasn’t soaring at seeing Eli. It’d only been two days, but it’d felt like forever. Pretty mushy coming from me, and I can promise you—it took some getting used to. I didn’t want to care about him. It made zero sense and made everything much more complicated—especially since Gilles had pretty much given me fair warning to back off.

“He did what?” Eli asked, moving closer.

I turned my back and headed for the door. “Oh my God, Eli—stay out of my head.” No sooner did my hand grasp the metal than Eli was behind me, stopping me, and the memory of our night together, with him crowding my body like he was now, made my head swim, my senses heightened. My heart raced at the thought of him touching me, and my breath quickened at how he had touched me. I didn’t dare move.

“I’m sorry I left, Riley,” he said, close to my ear. “I had no choice.”

I made myself breathe, and steady my voice. “Yeah. I know.”

Just then, Phin entered the alley from the street side; he cast a quick glance at the guy lying against the yellow Dumpster and stared at me. “Why didn’t you call me?”

I shrugged. “I had it. Besides—he led me to believe he knew who I was looking for. I thought it was worth a shot to check out.”

Phin rolled his eyes and threw his hands up. Yes. A vampire rolled his eyes. “Never do that again. Besides—we just spotted three of the kids.” Phin glanced at Eli. “They were with a new kid—a little older, but not more than eighteen. A total badass. They’re headed down to the river. Lots of warehouses down there. Luc’s on them.” His gaze returned to Eli. “Lots of gangs hang out down there, too. Glad you’re back.” He slapped his arm.

“Well, let’s go, then,” I said, and turned up the alley. A steely grip stopped me, and I turned to stare at Eli. “What?” I asked, hiding the thrill that shot through my arm at his touch. He couldn’t possibly read every thought I had.

“You stay with me,” he said flatly.

I could tell there’d be no arguing, despite the fact that being close to him made me want him all the more. I’d have to get over it and deal. “Fine,” I answered. “Then, move your ass. I want to see where my brother’s been hanging out.”

Eli stood there, his face unreadable, and stared. It certainly would be nice to have that mind-reading ability, because he was like a stonewalling poker player. I had no idea what he was thinking. Might be a good thing, now that I thought about it.

“Oh-kay,” Phin said sarcastically. “Let’s go.”

We moved through the shady treelined streets of the historic district, past tourists and locals, then slipped through a chain-link fence into the dregs of the industrial riverfront. Two older guys sat near the river, the embers of their cigarettes dotting the blackness with an occasional orange glow. As we edged closer, they turned their heads and stared but kept to themselves. Probably homeless and harmless. Phin slowed and reached into his pocket, grabbed his vibrating cell, and read the text. “Luc says it’s three warehouses down from here. Nine kids in all including the three that just left the Morgue.”

“If all nine complete the quickening, we’ll have a large vampire problem on our hands,” I whispered. “Damn.”

“They’re not all in the same phase,” Eli said. “But it’s still a problem. Big problem. Their tendencies grow each day, and the last time I faced your brother’s friend, he was damn strong. And fast.”

We crossed a patch of soggy, stinky sod that smelled more like rotting sea creatures than the marsh, and edged close to the building. Yeah, an empty warehouse. Just like in the movies. Nothing good ever came from an empty warehouse.

“There’s Luc,” Phin said, and we made our way to where he was standing. A row of dirty windows stretched from one end of the metal building to the other, and a flicker of light came from an old metal barrel. When I neared the window to get a better look, Eli pulled me back and pinned me behind him. I frowned at his back and knew it’d do no good to try to force my way around him. It’d just cause unneeded noise.

“They’re here,” Eli said under his voice. “Arcoses. I can sense them.”

“They weren’t before,” Luc said. “I didn’t sense them, and my sense of . . . sense is better than yours.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Phin said. “Eli’s right—they’re here now. They’re weak, but their vigor has improved. Greatly.”

“Fourteen now, not nine,” Luc said, peering into the window. “Shit.”

Eli glanced at me. “How many were at the cemetery that night?”

“Four, including my brother,” I supplied. “And there’s fourteen now?”

“Twelve. Two in there are the Arcoses,” Eli said. He craned his neck around, then looked at his brothers. “Not good.”

A man’s scream broke the silence.

I leapt at the window to see what had happened; that scream was the kind that speared your soul; I could feel it inside me. He was terrified. Eli pulled me back.

“Riley, don’t,” he said quietly. “It’s too late.”

Part of me—obviously the sick part—wanted to see. I wanted to know what kind of hell I was dealing with. I tried to pull out of Eli’s arms, but he held fast. He moved his face close to mine, his eyes pinning me with a dark glare. “I said no.”