Master of the Shadows


Page 17



“Where are you going?”


Reese thought fast. “Lord Locksley has gone to Rome after an old enemy. I am needed in Atlanta at once.”


“You are needed here.” Rebecca shook her arm. “My ladies and I cannot go on foot. The sunrise is but an hour away. Reese, do you hear me?”


“Stay in the back of the truck,” she said desperately. “I’ll send someone to get you. I have to do this. It’s a matter of life and death.”


“Wait.” Rebecca looked at a man walking past them, and stepped into his path. The scent of clover rolled out from her as she smiled at him. “I need you to drive a truck to Marietta, to this address.” She told him the house and street number. “Do you know where it is?”


“Sure, honey. My cousin Walker lives in that part of town.” He grinned and wiped his hand under his nose. “Where’s the truck?”


“Over there.” Rebecca held out her hand. “Give me the keys, Reese.”


Reese handed them to her, and Rebecca gave them to the trucker, but didn’t follow him as he strolled toward the truck.


“You have to go with him,” Reese said.


“I can’t be near a mortal who has no resistance,” Rebecca told her. “He will succumb and run the vehicle off the road. I am coming with you.”


Reese shook her head. “You could stay in the back of the truck, away from him.”


“It would not make a difference now. Besides that, I have to speak to Will. There is one who can take us.” Rebecca limped toward a trucker who had left the diner and was headed for one of the tractor trailers.


Reese caught up with her. “You could make this one crash his truck just as easily.”


“I will get into the back. The cargo area is sealed.” She took the pouch from the pocket of her skirt and removed a handful of bills from it, which she placed in Reese’s hand. “Use this to hire him.”


CHAPTER EIGHT


Saetta recalled his lieutenants to the main hall, where they delivered their reports. The interior guard, along with the courtyard and perimeter patrols, had been taken and imprisoned in the tunnels beneath the stronghold. The mortals they had found among the unconscious Kyn had been separated and placed under close guard. Their scouts kept watch for any approaching attackers, but none so far had appeared.


Not all the news was good. His men had failed to recover the female Kyn who had escaped from the hall during the initial attack. Two guards escorting a female mortal had been discovered unconscious; both had been drugged with their own darts. The body of a third guard, found floating facedown in the water of an enormous bath, had also been found.


Saetta had hoped to take Rosethorn without any deaths. “How was he killed?”


“I cannot say, maréchal. He bled out into the water, but we found no wounds on his body.” The man crossed himself and then made a much older gesture intended to ward off the evil eye.


Saetta knew the women had likely escaped through an underground passage, but he ordered the stronghold to be searched again to be sure they had not concealed themselves somewhere in the house. “What of Sylas, the castellan?”


The men glanced at one another. “We found him in his rooms, maréchal. He lay upon the floor, and we could not rouse him.”


“Then he is drugged like the others.”


“We found no darts on him.” The guard looked unhappy. “His heart is still, his skin is cold, and he does not breathe.”


Saetta knew some of their kind could flee their bodies and take refuge in the dreamlands, where the Kyn briefly went sometimes when they rested. There, too, they became trapped when in thrall, a state brought on by feeding on a be spelled human until they were drained of blood. But had Sylas fallen into thrall, he would have had a dying human with him, and his body would have been warmed by the blood he had taken. “Carry him down here to the hall and post guards by him. Have you secured the stores?”


“We found their cold room,” one lieutenant admitted, “but one of them got to it first. The bags were slashed, and the pooled blood that leaked from them was strewn with copper coins.”


“Deliberately tainted.” That effectively rendered the blood worthless to them. “We will have to begin using the mortals tomorrow. Set up—”


A hoarse scream echoed through the hall, followed by shouts for help. Saetta drew his sword and led his lieutenants to the source in the passage outside.


Three guards stood, backs toward one another other, their blades drawn. Their eyes darted around them as they turned, searching for something.


Saetta looked as well, but saw nothing. “What are you about?”


“It attacked Isidro,” one of the guards said. “It came out of the wall and took him.”


“What came out?”


“A demon.” The guard stabbed at the shadows. “A demon made of smoke.”


Saetta’s heel slid on something wet, and he glanced down at a pistol, a sword, and a pile of garments in a pool of blood. He lifted the garments and found a pair of scarred boots.

“Those belong to Isidro,” one of his lieutenants said.


“A man does not disappear and leave behind his clothes. It is a trick.” Saetta dropped the garments and went to the wall, running his hand along the stone, feeling for a seam. He found nothing to indicate a hidden passage, but the stone itself was so cold it felt icy. “Search the passages. Find him.”


“What of the demon, maréchal?” one of the guards asked.


“There are no such things,” he said.


“We saw it,” another of the guards insisted. “It was not a man. It had no face or body. It was made of black smoke.”


“Whatever demon you encountered is but a Kyn using talent.” He turned to his second. “Bring one of the English up from the tunnels for questioning. I will know who this ‘smoke demon’ is, and what he can do.”


“Reese,” the trucker said as he drove down the highway. “Ain’t that the same name of that gal what played in that dumb-blonde movie?”


“I don’t know.” She rubbed her tired eyes.


“Yeah, you know, she always dressed in piank ’n’ carried around one them li’l dogs. Had a sweet li’l ass on her.” He shifted the wad of tobacco from one cheek to the other, and lifted the Coke bottle he kept tucked between his thighs to spit a stream of brown liquid into it. When he caught her watching, he winked. “Gotta say, I’m an ass man.”


Reese stared at the road sign they were approaching. Fifteen miles to Atlanta. She could tolerate the ass man for fifteen more minutes.


The trucker continued talking, giving her a rambling synopsis of the movie and his estimation of the star’s sexual talents based on her body type, demeanor, and mouth size.


Reese ignored him and stared through the bug-smeared windshield at the dark road ahead. She played out several scenarios in her head, rehearsing what she would say to Will and how she would use Rebecca to keep him occupied long enough for her to retrieve the book.


“Hey.” A flannel-covered elbow prodded her. “You ain’t heard a word I said, have ya?”


She offered him a meaningless smile. “I’m sorry. I’m a little tired.” She frowned as she realized the truck had stopped in a dimly lit rest area. “Where are we?”


“Need to take a piss.” He leered at her. “Wanna come hold it for me?”


“No, thank you.”


“Suit yerself.” He removed the keys from the ignition and climbed down out of the cab.


Reese watched him stroll to the restroom before she climbed out and went around to the back of the truck. Rebecca opened the door as soon as she rapped on it.


“Why have we stopped?”


“The driver needed to use the bathroom.” As Rebecca’s scent rolled over her, she stepped back. “We’ll be in the city in a few minutes. Be ready to get out the next time we stop.”


“Here, now,” the trucker said, stepping around the side. “You paid me to take you to Atlanta, honey. You didn’t say nothing about sneaking your friend in the back. And I know you can read.” He jerked a thumb at one of his bumper stickers, which read, No Free Rides.


Rebecca jumped down and started toward him, but Reese held out her hand. “Wait, please.” She turned to the driver. “I gave you six hundred dollars to make the drive. That should be adequate.”


“For you, sure. Not for her.”


Reese held on to her temper. “Then I’ll get more money for you when we reach the city.”


“I heard that before, honey. But I think we can work something out.” He stroked the whisker stubble on his chin as he looked both of them over. “Tell you what, I’ll take it in trade.”


“Trade for what?” Rebecca demanded.


The trucker ignored her and took hold of Reese’s arm. “You come on in the back with me now. Got me a nice li’l bunk in there.” He pulled her toward the front cab.


She wrenched free. “I am not having sex with you.”


“Then you can walk the rest of the way.” He spit tobacco juice on the ground between them. “Makes no never mind to me.” He glanced behind her. “Might be a bit rough on your girlfriend, there, though.”


Reese heard Rebecca’s dragging steps coming closer. “You’re making a mistake.”


“Shit. You bitches think you can get anything you want just by twitching your ass under a man’s nose.” He grabbed Reese by the hair. “Come on. You do right by me, honey, and maybe I’ll be too tired to screw the gimp.”


The air filled with burning clover, and a hand shot past Reese’s face and clamped around the trucker’s neck.


“Release her.”


The trucker’s eyes bulged, and he let go of Reese’s hair to pry at Rebecca’s hand, but she kept her hold and backed him up against the truck. He began choking, making thick, liquid sounds.




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