“Lads, you know where tae go,” Rhine says to the twenty or so Ness boys gathered in the hall. A few faces are ones I haven’t seen yet. “Rob, Tate, Jep—you’ll run wi’ us.”
The Ness boys break down into groups and start filing out of the door. Noah walks over to us and places a hand on mine and Seth’s shoulders. He squeezes us both.
“You two Poes don’t stir up any extra unwanted trouble,” he warns. “And don’t approach Eli or Carrine alone. If you cross paths, call me.”
I nod. “We will.”
“And if Arcos—either one—tries to get to you, don’t entertain that, either.”
I throw Noah a grin. “Yes, Mother.” Noah probably never will trust Victorian Arcos, but I do. He’s on our side, and I don’t think he ever was as evil as everyone claims. I feel lighter now. More hopeful. The possibility that Eli is trying to resist Carrine lifts my spirits. I want to save him. So bad.
Noah waves and disappears out the door. We’re right behind him.
Outside, the air is cold and the wind brisk; a fine mist falls, and I pull my hair into a ponytail. Scanning the front of the Crachan’s lot, I notice Noah’s already disappeared with his group. With Rhine in the lead, we head off.
We run the city for four hours before I notice anything. Seth and I have scaled a row of buildings, and we leap the rooftops as Rhine, Tate, Rob, and Jep jog the sidewalk below. It’s just after ten p.m. I stop, listening.
Seth stops, too. The thigh-length leather coat he’s wearing conceals as many silver blades as I have on me. A skully keeps his hair plastered down. “What is it?” he asks.
I lift my chin, smell the air, zone all city noises out. Streetlights illuminate side streets, and I cast a glance over the cityscape. Coned turrets and spires from the city center jab the air, and the castle sits light up on the hill, holding sentry over the city.
But something’s not right.
“What is it?” Seth asks again. He, too, scans the skyline.
I shake my head, stare at the rooftop under my feet. I close my eyes.
Then I hear it. Not a faint word, but a voice, in my head.
Ah, ma chère. There you are. Bon. I want you to remember something very important, oui?
My eyes flutter open, then shut again; I’m desperate not to lose what was happening.
“Riley, what’s going on?” Seth says at my side. He grabs my chin and forces me to look at him. I do, but I smile, press two fingers to his lips to silence him, and close my eyes.
Yes, ma chère, there you go. I need your complete concentration to speak with you as such.
“Mr. Dupré,”I say in my head. “You could’ve just called me on my cell.”
Eli’s father chuckles. “Now, what good is having such fine, combined inhuman tendencies if not to use them thusly? My dear girl, I won’t keep you long, but I want you to know only this. My son loves you deeply—more than his own existence. Never has he given his heart away to another, since our human life. Only to you. And other than my love for my beloved wife, I’ve never seen another vampire love so completely. If anyone can dredge him from the hell he is in and save him, it is you, my darling. Remember the blood coursing through you is filled with more than simply Arcos’s Strigoi. You have Dupré in you as well. You always will. Bring my son home, ma chère.”
“I will, Mr. Dupré. I swear it,” I answer. “I . . . ache inside without him. All the time.”
“Ah, well, that’s because he’s the other half of your soul, chère. You, us, and what we are? It was meant to be. From the very start. Take care now, and stay close to that Miles boy. He’ll keep you safe.”
Strong hands are shaking my shoulders with violent force.
“Riley!” Rhine growls.
I ignore him for a moment more.
“Thanks, Mr. Dupré. Could you please send your other sons to help? Time we start wrapping things up here. I’m so ready to come home. With my fiancé.”
“Ah, ma chère, how often must I remind you to call me Gilles? And Eligius’s brothers are already on their way. They’ll be in Inverness by morn.”
“Thanks, Gilles. I promise, I will bring him back safely.”
“I’ve never doubted that you will.”
I open my eyes to find Rhine and Seth glaring at me. I smile. “I’m okay, fellas. Just having a little head convo with my future father-in-law.” Jake Andorra must have spoken with Eli’s father. I pray I can keep my word. I incline my head to the street, where Rhine has been staring holes at me for the last few minutes. “Let’s go.”
Seth follows me down to the street, finally leaping to the ground. Rhine stares hard at me. “What’s up?” he asks.
“We’ve got a little help coming in the morning,” I offer. “For now, take us to the darkest dregs of Inverness.”
A knowing gleam shines in Rhine’s eyes. “This way,” he offers, and turns and heads into the shadows.
With a nod, Seth and I follow Rhine and the other Ness boys into the darkness.
I’m tired of all this bullshit.
I want my fiancé back.
I want that witchpire bitch to turn to dust.
And I want to get the fuck out of here.
You must make your own life amongst the living and, whether you meet fair wind or foul, find your own way to harbor in the end.
—Captain Daniel Gregg, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947
It must be bad if Riley and Noah are sending for us. I don’t like it. And Eli must be fucked-up in a serious way. That has to be driving Riley completely insane. There is no one else for Eli except Riley. They’re meant to be together. Even in bloodlust, I can’t believe he’s not tried to get at her. And whatever or whoever is controlling my brother? Vampire, witch—doesn’t matter. Dead fucking meat.
There really aren’t dark seedy dregs in Inverness. The city is pretty clean and kept up. But because Rhine knows the underground fight circuit, as well as which clubs operate from the back room, so to say, he knows a few places to hit. The kind of place that might be harboring a vampire or two. Maybe even Carrine.
I refuse to say Eli’s name with hers now. It’s totally clear to me that he’s being controlled by her; she has some ancient witch power that makes him do what he does. But he proved to me the night before that something in his brain still remembers me. The way he looked at me, as if trying so hard to remember. Despite his bloodred eyes—totally opposite of how he typically is when he turns, which is white eyes with red pinpoint pupils. We’ll fix this. Make it right. Once and for all.
One place Rhine knows in particular is tucked away near the outer city limits, in the upper floor of an older apartment building. I’ve been in places just like it back home. We encountered a place very similar in Charleston, and the vampire fight club.
Sometimes you just can’t keep the rotten apples out of the barrel.
Even with the Ness boys around.
By now, I’ve called Noah and him and his group has joined us. I quickly tell him about my head convo with Gilles, and that Phin and Luc are on their way over now.
Noah nods. “Good. I told Andorra we needed to separate Eli from the female and get him back home to Preacher.” He looks at me. “It’s going to be one hell of a plane ride back.”
“No doubt,” I answer, then glance up at the darkened apartment complex. Chunks of sandstone and brick are missing; the window is cracked on the entrance doorway. “We gotta clean this mess up first.”
Noah inclines his head. “Ladies first.”
I give him a sidelong glance. “You know, I really miss the old Noah.”
He quirks an eyebrow. “What old Noah?”
I grin. “You know. The one who used to egg me on in a fight? Remember how proud you were in Charleston when I killed my first newling?” I chuckle. “Remember that nasty fight club we went into there?” I mock-glare at him. “You were ringside, laughing. Cheering me on.”
Noah grins. “Yeah. That was before the vow.”
My eyes soften at him. “Yeah. I know.”
Memories light his silvery eyes, though, and he punches my arm. “That was some crack shoot- in’ in that ring, though, Poe.”
I shake my head. “That’s what you said then, too.”
“Ri, you’re not fighting tonight, are you?” Seth asks.
I shake my head. “Not if I don’t have to.”
“These fights move round fair quick,” Rhine offers. Seth is standing beside him. “Rough bunch of lads, ya ken? They’re in it for the money. An’ you dinnae fook wi’ their quid.”
“I ken,” I answer. “Just a quick appearance. Just to see if we can flush her out.”
Her meaning Carrine.
We slip into the complex and climb the stairs. Shouts, swearing, and the acrid scent of blood, sweat, and cigarette smoke fill the air in the corridor. The moment we clear the stairwell, I see a large, bald, inked guy standing outside one of the rooms.
I look at him. Move over and let us in. Don’t follow.
By the time we near him, he glances away, steps aside, and we walk directly into a large room. Dimly lit, smoke filled, and after a quick glance it looks like several rooms gutted out. Fifty humans fill the area, and it’s shoulder to shoulder as we all separate and scan the arena.
So far, nothing but humans. Mean, tough-as-shit, fighting humans. But still humans. Music thumps, hard, heavy, and mixes with yells carrying through the room. Two guys fight in the center of a human ring of onlookers. Bare from the waist up, and barefoot, both of their faces already bloodied. Both of equal size, I can barely tell them apart. Both have close-shaven heads. One has a chunk of chain mail inked into his shoulder. There. That’s the only difference I can make out.
That same guy lands an elbow punch to the other guy’s nose and blood starts spurting. He hits the floor, writhing in pain. He doesn’t get up. Cheers fly from the patrons’ mouths; money is exchanged.