Dark Hunger

Page 7

“Not in the least, my lord. Forgive me for suggesting otherwise.” A signal came over the radio Will carried, and he answered it. “What is it, Sylas?”

“An Italian lady has arrived to call on our lord,” the other man told him. “She gives her name as Contessa Salvatora Borgiana.”

Will glanced at his master, who gave him an impatient nod. “Escort her to the reception room,” he told Sylas. “Our lord will meet with her shortly.”

As far as Will was concerned, the interruption could not have been more timely. His master needed to forget this mortal and return his attention to more important matters. With a little luck, he would put her out of his head and forget the indignity she had caused him to suffer.

He pressed the radio’s call switch before he asked Robin, “Were you expecting the contessa to call?”

“I did not know she was in America.”

“She may have been driven out of Italy by the Brethren,” Will said. “So many have, these last months. Shall I prepare rooms for her and her men?”

“Sylas and Bergen can attend to her needs.” Robin continued dressing. “You have work to do. Go. I want to know everything you can learn about this mortal before dawn.”

Reese woke to the sound of a mobile phone ringing, and reached blindly until she found it and brought it in front of her burning eyes. The display showed the time—why had Father allowed her to sleep for so long?—and a pet name: Lover boy.

She switched it on and held it to her ear. “Hello.”

“Did I wake you?” Lover boy had Will Scarlet’s voice.

He is Will, you idiot. “No.” She sat up, dragging the sheet to her chin. He couldn’t see her, but she slept naked, and talking to him while she was bare-skinned made her feel exposed. She had to say something, greet him as if nothing had happened.

Nothing had happened. Yet. “How are you?”

“Tired. Somewhat annoyed. Very sorry for behaving like such a jackass last night.” Will sounded tentative, as if he were afraid to say more, and then went on. “Reese, I want you to know that I never meant—”

“It’s okay. You can make it up to me when I get to Rosethorn.” She glanced at her watch; she still had enough time to prepare. “I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”

“That is the other reason I called. I can’t meet you there tonight. Rob is attending a gallery show in town, and I must go with him. We will not be returning to the estate until later, likely after midnight.”

He was telling her everything she needed to know, as if he knew what she intended to do. Did he know? “It sounds like a great show.”

“You could meet us there,” Will suggested. “Rob is escorting an old friend, but I will be on my own. We could talk about what happened last night.” When she didn’t reply, he added, “Or perhaps not.”

“I’d love to be there,” she lied. “But it’s the catalog. I have so much work to do on it.”

He muttered something, and then said, “So the fact that I forced myself on you has nothing to do with the manner in which you’re now avoiding me.”

“Yes. No. It wasn’t—” She stopped and rubbed her hand over her face. “It wasn’t like that. I’m not avoiding you.”

“Prove it to me, sweetheart.” The rough tone became soft and persuasive. “Come to the show.”

Trying to think of another excuse that would not further offend him, give away her true intentions, or jeopardize the mission made her head whirl. “You’ll be working, and I doubt Lord Locksley wants me distracting you from your duties.”

“Hang Rob,” he said flatly. “Come anyway.”

“Be patient, Will. We can get together later, when we can have more time for ourselves.” She would never see him again. Last night was all that they would ever have, and she’d run from him. It made this farce she was playing out into a cruel form of self-torture. “Wouldn’t you rather be alone with me?”

“I’ve done nothing but think about that, and you,” he admitted. “All day, I’ve had no peace. I barely slept. Reese, I know we agreed in the beginning to be friends only, and that neither of us wanted a serious affair. Somehow last night we strayed beyond that, I think.”

She didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. She had to know more, though. She couldn’t go through with her mission if she didn’t. “How do you feel about that?”

“How do I feel?” He laughed. “I want more.”

“More of the same?”

“More of you.”

He would have her, in a sense, but he would never know—and that was probably the kindest thing she could ever do for him. “You may change your mind before the next time you see me.”

“I think not.”

“Okay.” She got out of bed. “As much as I’d love to chat with you, I have to go and get ready for work now. My boss wants me to stop by the office before I drive out to Rosethorn.” She closed her eyes and added a flirtatious lilt to her voice. “Maybe I’ll see you later.”

“You will wait for me?”

Had she ever done anything else? “Always.”

It took Will only a few hours, a quick trip to the auction house, and a number of phone calls to discover that the mortal female who had seduced and then so angered his master was not, in fact, whom she appeared to be.

The final revelation came down from the Darkyn suzerain of Chicago himself, Valentin Jaus.

“This woman has gone to some length to conceal her true identity,” Jaus said after relating what he had discovered about Chris Renshaw. “My people have been unable to discover any connection she might have with the Brethren, but that, too, is a possibility. Perhaps Robin should consider relocating to the country until your people can deal with her.”

Will rubbed his eyes. “I do not think the suzerain will be of the same opinion, my lord.”

“I would come to provide my aid directly,” Jaus added, “but I have promised my sygkenis that I will not travel by plane for some time.”

“I must agree with your lady, my lord.” Will remembered how desperately they had searched for Jaus when his private jet had been hijacked and forced down by a Brethren agent. Robin, who had originally invited Jaus to fly to Atlanta, had blamed himself for the terrifying incident, and had not quit searching until word of Jaus’s rescue had been sent. “I thank you for your assistance with this matter.”

“I have never repaid your master for sending my grandfather’s sword to me, Will,” Jaus said. “Give Robin my compliments, and please call on me if he has further need.”

After speaking with Jaus, Will left his office and went to the gallery where Chris Renshaw worked, where he fortunately encountered a mortal who provided him with the reason the woman had created a false identity for herself.

Chris Renshaw was not an art dealer, but a federal agent.

Upon his return to the Armstrong building, Will first checked in with the guards. Robin refused to travel with more than a few men, so Will felt obliged to arrange for the most competent, experienced warriors from the jardin to accompany them when they came to the city. He found Sylas and Bergen warily attending to a small group of Italian cavalieri in one of the reception rooms on the first floor.

“Seneschal.” Sylas came over to him to report. “We have divided the contessa’s men into small groups and provided them with stores and beds in the barracks.”

Will scanned the faces of the cavalieri sitting at the table with Bergen. “What of these men?”

“They are the contessa’s bodyguards. They await their mistress.” The castellan nodded toward the corridor, and Will followed him out of the room. Once out of earshot, Sylas said, “These Kyn have no lord with them. Only the lady.”

“The contessa is a widow, and a recluse,” Will said. “After the jardin wars, she would not permit another to take the place of her late husband. It seems she and the master are old friends.”

“Old friends or not, a woman cannot control more than seventy Kyn males.”

Will shrugged. “Jayr of the Realm has five times that number, and she manages well as suzeraina.”

“True, but I still cannot like it. ’Tis unnatural, the way they look to her.” Sylas paused, searching for words. “Will, I know many have been made to flee the Brethren in Europe, but there is something wrong here. I can feel it.”

Will trusted his male instincts, but he needed more than a bad feeling. “Name what it is, and I will go to our lord with it directly.”

“I wish I could.” The big man sighed. “But no, they conduct themselves as they should, and I have not seen or heard anything that would mark them as a threat.”

“You have been on duty too often these last weeks,” Will said. “Return to the estate and your sygkenis. Send Waltham to take your place.”

“I should send more than one guard, if you mean to accommodate the contessa’s men here,” Sylas said.

“Too many for town.” Will hadn’t thought about where the contessa and her men would stay while in their territory. Because the cavalieri were not familiar with the United States or the customs of the country, they would need some time and space to adjust and learn how to behave before they were permitted to mingle freely with American mortals. “I expect our lord will send them to Rosethorn. You had best to prepare for that.”

“I shall, as soon as I arrive.” Sylas bowed and strode off down the corridor.

Will went to the private reception room where Robin was still entertaining the contessa. He stood outside and listened for a break in their conversation before he knocked and went in.

“I beg your pardon, my lord, my lady.” Will bowed first to the contessa and then to Robin. “I would not intrude, my lord, but an urgent matter has arisen in regard to last night’s business with the mortal female that I must relate to you at once.” He could not say more than that in front of the contessa, and gave her a meaningful look.

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