Master of the Shadows

Page 12

“Before you send me on my way,” Robin told her, “and go back to living your life as it was, there is something else I want you to remember.”

The sounds of their embrace compelled Will to reach for the knob again, until another idea occurred to him. As angry as he was, Robin would not disgrace himself in front of his old friend. Will looked across the gallery for the contessa, but she no longer stood by the book. Frowning, he walked away from the office and turned, searching the crowd for her.

A painfully loud screech shattered the air, and icy water showered down over Will, drenching him. As the patrons screamed, his head snapped up to see the streams of water spraying from the overhead metal spout in the ceiling. He blocked the spray from his face with his hand and noticed that every other ceiling spout had activated, and then he felt an icy sensation pass over him.

Across the room, glass shattered.

Frost bloomed over his sodden garments as the cold sank deep and burned against his flesh. Then he couldn’t feel his hand, and looked up to see it encased in a spray-shaped sheath of ice. At the same time, the streams of water pouring down instantly froze all around him, crackling as they formed thick bars. The same happened around the gallery, until every one of the patrons had been trapped in a frozen cage.

Only one Kyn had the talent to turn water to ice in a heartbeat—his master’s oldest enemy, Guy of Guisbourne.

Will wrenched his hand free of the ice block and kicked his way out of the trap, drawing his dagger as he whirled, looking for the hateful visage of the dark lord. He saw no sign of him, but soon found the source of the shattering sound. The pedestal case in which The Maiden’s Book of Hours had been displayed now stood empty, the glass smashed by a powerful hand.

Will made the rounds of the rooms. When he felt sure the rogue was not inside the gallery, he intercepted Robin and the mortal woman as they hurried out of the office.

“My lord,” Will said, “’twas done by Kyn.”

“By one Kyn.” Hatred made Robin’s voice harsh. “This is Guisbourne’s work.”

“What are you talking about?” Chris looked from Robin to Will and back again. “Who’s Guisbourne?”

“I did not see his face. He set off the water system somehow, and used talent to freeze the streams.” Will felt like a fool. “Once the mortals and I were trapped, he smashed the case and helped himself to the book.”

Robin surveyed the room in disgust.

“Cyprien banished him at the winter tournament.” Will shook his head. “To defy the seigneur’s order of exile would be signing his own death warrant.”

“He has nothing left to go to, Will,” Robin said. “His seneschal is dead, his Saracens deserted him, and his jardin was burned out. All he has left is his vengeance.”

Will couldn’t understand it. “Why would he do this instead of challenging you directly?”

“He knows I would kill him.” Robin moved to the ruined case and put his hand on the empty velvet base inside. “This is more personal than a duel. He could not have her in life, so he would keep from me the only likeness of her that exists.” He drew his hand away and curled it into a fist. “Track him. Now.”

Will moved around the gallery until he picked up the dark lord’s scent, which led from the case to a side door. Here he had stood watching, Will realized from the heavy odor of aniseed.

The bastard had actually taken a moment to stop and gloat over his work.

He went outside, a dagger in his hand, silently praying to find Guisbourne still near. This time he would finish the work the dark lord’s seneschal had begun at the Realm, and deliver his head to his master.

But the scent trail led him only to a deserted alley between the gallery and a neighboring building, where it abruptly vanished. Will knew only one way Guisbourne could have managed that. Frustrated, he turned his attention to the problem at hand—the mortals caught in the attack. He took a moment to disconnect the landlines at the terminal box outside the gallery before returning inside.

“Guisbourne’s scent disappeared in the street outside,” he reported to his master. “He must have used a car to escape.”

“Did you disable the telephone lines?” When Will nodded, Robin’s tight expression eased.

“Contact the jardin. We will need a dozen men here while we clean up this mess and attend to the humans. Alert our friends at the police department as well.”

Will turned and found himself enveloped by the fragrance of marigolds, and facing the contessa and four armed guards.

“I regret to say that your men cannot come to your aid, my lord,” Salvatora Borgiana said with a beguiling smile.

Robin studied her face. “You were a part of this?”

“I intended only to take the manuscript from you,” she told him. “Unfortunately, it seems that Nottingham had a better plan than I.”

Robin’s voice grew cold. “Why do you want the book?”

“My family bought it from Nottingham when he came to settle in Italy. My father made a gift of it to my younger sister, Beatrice, when she took her vows. ’Twas the only earthly possession she ever treasured, and upon her death it was supposed to come to me.” Some of the smirk left the contessa’s face, and for a moment she looked as enraged as Will felt. “I have waited seven hundred years for this night.”

That didn’t impress his master. “Obviously, my lady, you will have to wait a little longer. Now, if you will permit me—”

“I have just sent word to all of my warriors to capture your men and take control of your stronghold,” the contessa said. “I have also secured your mortal female’s partner as another hostage. You will find Nottingham, retrieve the manuscript, and bring it back to me.”

“You do not command me, madam.” Robin glanced at her men. “If you wish to hunt down my cousin, send your own men after him.”

“My men have other responsibilities.” Salvatora swept her hand in an elegant motion, and her guards drew their copper swords. “It should be no trouble for you to retrieve the book. But if you need more reason to pursue Nottingham, consider the lives of all the Kyn and humans under your rule. One call from me, and my men will begin executing them, twenty at a time.”

Reese was still at Rosethorn. Will’s scent sharpened, and his fangs sprang into his mouth.

His master’s eyes turned to pure copper. “I thought you named me your friend, Salvatora.”

“A woman can have no friends in this world, my lord. Not if she wishes to survive.” She flipped a hand toward Will. “You may have your seneschal verify that I speak the truth, if you like.”

Robin gave Will a nod. He walked away a short distance before he took out his mobile phone and called the estate.

An unfamiliar voice answered the call. “Name yourself.”

“This is Will Scarlet, seneschal to Suzerain Locksley,” he said. “Your mistress has given me leave to speak to one of my men. Put Sylas on the line.”

“You will wait.”

During the interval of silence that followed, Will tried not to think of Reese, captured and helpless, at the mercy of invading Kyn. He knew her training included how to protect herself during such clashes between his kind; she would do as she had been taught. The fact that she was mortal was some measure of protection in itself. The Italians needed human blood to survive, and they wouldn’t be quick to destroy their only sustainable source of it.

Will’s thoughts darkened. Reese was his woman. Whatever the outcome, whatever devil’s bargain his master struck with the contessa, he would hunt down and gut any Kyn male who had laid a hand on his lover.

“This is Sylas of Daven,” a harsh voice said.

“’Tis Will,” he said. “Tell me what you know.”

“The contessa’s cavalieri attacked us during the welcome gathering,” Sylas said. “We engaged them, but they brought out strange pistols that shoot darts of blue liquid. I do not know what it is, but every Kyn they shot fell senseless and unmoving.”

Will reined in his temper. “It is a sleeping potion discovered by Lady Alexandra, Cyprien’s sygkenis. It will not harm them.”

“The Italians spread through the stronghold from the main hall, and did the same to the interior guards and household staff. Once they secured the house, they sent out detachments to deal with the patrols.”

Whoever had orchestrated this had known exactly what they were doing. “How many have fallen?”

“All but me,” Sylas said. “The entire garrison has been imprisoned in the tunnels below. I was kept awake to speak with you.”

“Do what you can,” Will said. “We will come for you soon.”

“Aye, seneschal, I shall. Give my love to Rebecca when next you see her.”

Rebecca of Daven never left Rosethorn. By giving him the message, Sylas was telling him that Rebecca had managed to escape. Will had no doubt that the chatelaine had also taken many or all of her ladies with her. “I shall.”

Someone snapped something in Italian, and the line went dead.

Will returned to Robin. “They permitted Sylas to speak to me, my lord. It is as she says. Her men have captured the jardin and are holding all of our people in the underground tunnels.” He looked around for the contessa and her men, but saw they had departed.

The sound of approaching sirens distracted Robin.

“The police.” He cursed under his breath in the old tongue, eyeing Chris before he gave Will a meaningful look.

His master didn’t have to tell him that before they could rescue their Kyn, they would have to first deal with the humans.

Rebecca inched along the narrow passage. The walls scraped her shoulders and her breasts, but she knew she was close. Behind her, the women she had led into the impossibly narrow gap also made their way through it, each blindly following her.

At last the wall space widened, becoming a small chamber outside a barred door. Rebecca listened as her ladies crowded in behind her, and then lifted the heavy plank of wood. Carefully she eased the door open and stepped out into darkness, breathing in the air until she felt sure no other occupied the immediate area. She turned back and gestured for the women to come out.

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