Dark Hunger

Page 7

Face falling, her sister pushed a crumb around her plate. “I feel dumb now. I shouldn’t have called you—I know you must be sad and busy because of the Falling.” She squashed the crumb, staring at it as if it were the most important thing on the planet. “I was scared you’d fallen, and Amy was, too. Thanks for messaging me back.”

“No thanks needed.” Elena reached over to tuck the deep black strands of Eve’s hair behind her ears. “Remember what I said? I’m always here for you.” The angry bitterness between her and Jeffrey might’ve kept her a stranger from her half siblings for most of their lives, but that was a mistake Elena would never again make. “It was nice to get your message yesterday, and I’m glad you called me today.”

A hiccuping breath, and Eve looked up, eyes huge and wet. “I know I shouldn’t have, but this morning I told Father about how I aced an exercise at the Academy.”

Elena’s stomach twisted. She knew what was coming, but she listened anyway, because Eve needed to release the poison before it could fester—as it’d festered in Elena and in Jeffrey, until it’d worn a jagged hole through the once-strong fabric of their relationship.

“He’s always so proud when I do well at school,” Eve continued. “I thought he’d be proud of this, too . . . even though I know he hates hunters.” Lower lip trembling, she swallowed. “I thought if I could make him happy, then maybe he’d be nice to you, too, except h-he told me to get out of his sight.”

“Oh, Eve.” Chest aching for her sister’s hurt, she went around the table to kneel beside Eve’s chair.

Sobbing in earnest now, Eve threw her arms around Elena, her face wet against Elena’s neck. Elena said nothing, simply stroked her sister’s back, let her cry out the pain. It was better this way. As a child, Elena had swallowed her own pain again and again until it had become a knot inside her she wasn’t sure anything could unravel.

Some wounds were inflicted too young, scarred too deep.

It took time, but Eve finally cried herself out. Wiping her sister’s cheeks with a napkin she dampened using water from the small jug Montgomery had left on the table, Elena kissed each in turn. “Jeffrey hurt you, and he has no right to do that, no matter if he’s your father.” Even as she spoke, she knew she had to tread carefully, make sure her scars didn’t color Eve’s view of Jeffrey.

Because notwithstanding the bastard he’d become as far as Elena was concerned, he’d apparently been a good if remote father to Eve and Amy. Not the same man who’d thrown Elena into the air as a child and danced with his first wife in the rain—that part of him was buried in the same grave as Marguerite—but a father Eve and Amy could rely on nonetheless.

Elena would never do anything to damage that bond, not when she knew what it did to a child to be estranged from the man who was meant to protect her at her most innocent and vulnerable. “The truth is,” she said gently, her wings spread on the greenhouse floor as she continued to kneel beside Eve’s chair, “Jeffrey’s not rational on this one thing.”

I have no desire to house an abomination under my roof.

Words Jeffrey had thrown at her during the final, ugly fight that had destroyed the last, brittle threads of the bond that had once tied them together.

“But why?” Eve fisted her hands, jaw jutting out as she asked the one question Elena had never been able to answer. “If I’m hunter-born and you’re hunter-born, doesn’t that mean that Father must be hunter-born, too?”


“No,” Elena said, answering the question she could, “it means someone in his family was, and he carries the genes for it.” A fact he’d consciously hidden from Elena until the emergence of Eve’s ability had thrown a grenade onto that particular secret. “But the ability isn’t active in him, like it is in me and you. Do you understand?”

A thoughtful nod, frown lines marring the creamy skin Eve had inherited from Jeffrey’s second wife, Gwendolyn. “Like he’s asleep and we’re awake.”

“Yes.” Elena got to her feet, spreading her wings in a light stretch that had the white-gold primaries grazing a pot of chrysanthemums in bloom. “I think that’s a good way to put it.” However, their father couldn’t keep on being asleep, continue his willful, damaging blindness. Elena would not allow him to hurt Eve as he’d hurt her.

“He might never understand, right, Ellie?” Eve said with her customary openness of nature a few minutes later, as they got ready to leave. “That’s why he’s always so mad at you.”

Elena squeezed her sister’s hand, her calluses encountering the ones just beginning to form on Eve’s soft palms. “Jeffrey and I,” she said, “have other problems.”

Slater Patalis had been drawn to their suburban home because of Elena. Until that awful, cruel day a lifetime ago, they’d been a family of six. Jeffrey, Marguerite, and their four girls. Mirabelle, with her hot blood and wild affection. Ariel, even tempered and bossy and protective. Elena, who wanted to do everything her older sisters did, and Beth, too young to truly remember now who they’d been together before Slater Patalis walked through the kitchen door.

Where the murderous vampire had butchered Ari and Belle in a horrifying reign of blood, tortured their mother over and over . . . tortured the woman who was, and would always be, Jeffrey’s greatest love. Beth hadn’t been home, but Elena had. And though it was all her fault, she was the one who’d survived.

“He loves you,” Elena said, as the memories bruised her from within, hoping she wasn’t about to lie to her sister. “It might take him time, but he’ll accept your hunting.”

Dropping Eve back at school and taking responsibility for her absence, Elena flew straight to the tony brownstone Jeffrey used as a private office, only to find it closed, his assistant nowhere in evidence. Figuring her father would call her soon enough, Elena didn’t bother to slide a note under the door and headed toward Guild HQ. Once again, her phone rang before she made it there. Answering in the air, she found Sara on the other end.

“Ellie, I know you probably can’t take this with what happened yesterday, but—”

“I’m actually on my way to see you, wanted to ask if you had a hunt for me.”

“Good, because we have a serious problem.” Taking an audible breath, she said, “One of our hunters has gone off the rails. We might be talking murder if we don’t stop him.”

Elena landed on a nearby roof, her pulse suddenly in her mouth, her palms clammy, Sara’s words having unlocked a hidden vault: Bill James had been a celebrated hunter, Elena’s mentor . . . and a serial killer. One so good at hiding his crumbling psyche that none of his friends had realized what was happening until the first dead child. “Who?” she asked, throat raw.

“Darrell Vance.” Relief that it wasn’t a friend had Elena lifting a trembling hand to her face. Perhaps it wasn’t fair or right to feel this way, but she’d already had to execute one friend, would never forget the look of betrayal in Bill’s eyes as he died in her arms, his blood hot on her skin.

“Ellie.” Confusion in his voice. “Why, Ellie?”

Sara’s voice broke into a memory that still woke her up some nights, mouth full of cotton wool and the words “I’m sorry” on her lips.

“Darrell had a hunt go seriously bad,” Sara told her. “Vamp had second thoughts after being Made, went back to the mortal family he’d left, only to find his wife had remarried and another man was now raising his son.”

Elena had seen this script before. “He killed the husband.”

“No, that would’ve been bad, but—” When Sara had to pause as if girding herself for what was to come, dread began to crawl up Elena’s spine. “He tore out the husband’s throat, then tied up his son and wife, wrapped them in his arms, and set himself on fire.”

Oh, Jesus.

“Darrell found them while they were still burning, tried to put out the flames, but you know how vamps burn. It’s like they’re doused in petrol.”

Elena had once witnessed a vampire burn as a result of a hate crime. It had been horrific, the smell of roasting meat threatening to make her retch as she tried frantically to beat out the flames. But to find a woman and child in the mix? Her stomach twisted. “Darrell’s fallen off the radar?”

“Yes. The way this went down wasn’t his fault—he did the track in record time—but his head’s probably so messed up, he can’t see that. As it is, he attacked an innocent vampire and put him in the hospital two nights ago; a couple more punches and he’d have fatally damaged the heart. I found out a half hour ago when the vamp woke up.”

Vampires might be strong, but an average untrained one didn’t stand a chance against a member of the Guild. “Have you contacted the Slayer?” Elena asked, referring to the often anonymous hunter whose task it was to hunt those of the Guild gone bad.

“She took a bad injury in a recent situation, is out of commission. This one we’ll have to handle without her—Ransom is lead; he has the sketchy details we have so far, and I know he wants you as his backup.” An unspoken acknowledgment of the bond that had formed between them the day Bill died. “As it is, he’s just come across something that’ll probably need to be referred to the Tower, so you’ll be doing double duty.”

• • •

Raphael glanced at the mortal news channel running on one wall of his Tower office and smiled. It wasn’t a smile of humor, but of pride. His consort had done exactly as he’d asked, the media mystified by the apparent nonchalance with which she’d bought a cup of coffee that morning. Pundits who’d the previous day termed the Falling a catastrophic disaster were now beginning to question their judgment. More and more often, he heard it being termed an accident of some kind that had “fortunately not caused lasting harm.”

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