Dark Hunger

Page 26

“She feeds the homeless.”

Of course she did. Rowan had that look of a true paragon about her. Matthias would sleep with no one less. “That’s nice of her.”

“Rowan will not admit it, but caring for others makes her happy.” He prepared the coffee and handed her a mug. “You are the one who rescues the defenseless.”

He had no right to talk to her like this. Not in the same breath he’d used to praise his girlfriend. She wanted to throw the hot brew in his face.

“You don’t have your facts straight.” She sat down and hunched forward to compose herself. “I don’t rescue people from anything. I make a living at ruining their lives.”

“Is that how you see your ability?” He sat down beside her. “The young men and women who work with you would not agree, I think.”

“I’ve helped a few people in trouble who didn’t deserve what happened to them,” she conceded, forcing a note of shame into her voice. “That doesn’t excuse the other things I’ve done. Ellen Farley is sitting in jail right now because of me.”

His gaze turned shrewd. “Would it have been better to let her be killed by her partner?”

She absorbed the shock of his question, but only barely. “What are you, some sort of mind reader?”

“Like Genaro, we have friends among the authorities. Not as many, and they are not corrupt, but they help to protect us.” He picked up a roll of paper from the table. “This was sent to us after the Farley woman was arrested.”

Jessa took the fax and read it. It appeared authentic, but of course she had no way to tell if it was. It contained an interdepartmental memo from the Atlanta Police Department. According to the terse paragraphs, Ellen’s partner, Max Grodan, had been identified as a fugitive and the primary suspect in a series of murders, and was being extradited to stand trial in Florida.

“She wasn’t involved in the killings,” she said quietly. “She was going to be his next victim.”

“So you did not ruin her life,” Matthias said. “You saved it.”

He was very good, persuasive and sympathetic. She’d have to be the same. “You said you’ve found others whom GenHance was trying to kill.” She handed the fax back to him. “Who are they, and where are they now?”

“Many places,” he said. “Their names no longer exist. We arranged new identities for them before they were relocated.”

Welcome to the Freak Protection Program, Rowan had said. “Is that the plan for me?”

He watched her face. “It was.”

But not anymore, she silently amended. Maybe she had pushed enough for one night. “I’m a little tired. Am I supposed to sleep in here?”

“Rowan has prepared a chamber for you.” He stood. “Follow me.”

The room he showed her to was located a few doors down from the kitchen—probably so Rowan could keep an eye on her, Jessa thought—and contained a bed, a dresser, and a color television. There were also a variety of paperback novels on a three-tiered bookcase and one of the wrought-iron stands with a porcelain basin and jug. She walked around the room, looking for surveillance equipment, but discovered only a small spiderweb and a few patches of dust that Rowan had missed on the carved wooden headboard. She turned around to see Matthias standing in the doorway. Acutely aware of the bed behind her, she offered him a cool smile.

“This is fine,” she said, and as he turned to leave she added, “You never told me what your ability is.”

“No.” He glanced back at her. “I did not.”

With that he closed the door.

Matthias enabled the alarm sensor outside Jessa’s chamber door, which, if she opened it, would send a silent alert through their security system. Wherever she went, the tiny transmitter he had planted in the heel of her shoe would track her movements.

Rowan was waiting for him in the communications center. “She scrubbed her cookies but I recovered them from the redundant drive.” She pulled up on the screen the message board and the message Jessa had posted. “She warned her pals.”

“We expected that she would.” He read the message. “You can decipher the meaning of this?”

“It’s not that complicated. Basically she’s telling the others that she’s alive, in trouble, and she’s giving up control of the group until she’s safe. She wants them to watch their backs and cover their tracks.” She looked up at him. “You do realize, of course, that this whole nice-hostage act of hers is total bullshit.”

He nodded. “She is afraid for her friends.”

“I think her friends can take care of themselves just fine.” Rowan used the keyboard and opened another window. “According to the late news, Queenie’s just made the feds’ top-ten most-wanted list, which I’d say totally blows the plan. You’d better make sure she doesn’t find a way out of here. Genaro will have her on a cutting table so fast she’ll think she’s sushi.”

“She does not wish to escape now.”

Rowan uttered a sour laugh. “Matt, the only thing that girl wants is out of here. She’s just trying to play us to find out how much we know. So quit thinking with the little head.”

He ran a hand over his cropped hair. “My head is not little.”

“Not around her, it isn’t.” Her mouth twisted. “And before you ask, no, I’m not explaining that one.”

“Very well. Allow Jessa access to every room except the library and the armory.” He stood. “I will relieve you in four hours.”

She cleared the screen and brought up a game of mahjongg. “Pleasant dreams.”

A lifetime of self-discipline and constant travel had taught Matthias to sleep where and when he could. He slept lightly and woke at whatever hour he wished. After Rowan had come to live with him, he discovered she could do the same, but for far different reasons. He also learned never to go near or touch her when she was sleeping, even when he knew she was in the throes of one of her nightmares. The one time he had tried to wake her, she had attacked him like a wounded animal before coming to her senses.

In his chamber he stripped to his skin, washed, and stretched out on the thin pallet that served as his bed. Jessa would not be sleeping, he guessed as he stared up at the ceiling. She would search the room, wait for some time, and then slip out to search the tunnels.

He closed his tired eyes and willed his body to relax. Being near her and refraining from touching her had required more effort than he cared to admit, but he was not accustomed to denying himself. When it was convenient, he sought out and used willing women at regular intervals to relieve his physical needs. Now it was decidedly not convenient.

Silencing his thoughts tonight proved as difficult as relinquishing his mind to the darkness. Sleep was like food: Having too much or too little could make one weak and muddled. He knew Rowan would not allow Jessa to escape, but the resentment and anger she felt toward their unwilling guest might influence her judgment.

He understood in part why his young friend disliked Jessa—she had enjoyed most of the advantages that life had denied Rowan—but there was more to it than he was sensing. Rowan had a good and generous heart, but she had already closed it against Jessa. It could not be merely out of envy.

Matthias drifted into the light, dreamless sleep from which he could easily wake, but the sound of footsteps roused him an hour before he was to take over the watch. He knew it was Jessa the moment she slipped into his chamber. Confronting her would serve no purpose but to frighten her, so he lay still and kept his breathing slow, and tracked her by the sound of her movements and the intensity of her scent.

She moved around the room, searching it methodically before she crouched down to look under his pallet. At first he imagined his chamber appeared odd to her, lacking as it was in most of the modern amenities, but then he remembered how her bedchamber had looked from the skylight. For a woman her needs and tastes were as Spartan as his own. She stood, and his skin prickled as she came around and moved to stand over him. He did not mind her looking down at his nakedness; he knew he was made well and that most women responded to his body with natural desire. He had looked upon her in her bed, too; it seemed fitting that she see him in his. The only sound he could hear was the gentle rush of her breathing, but she remained there looking down at him for some time. Then, so lightly that he barely felt it, her fingertips brushed over the insides of his wrists, first the left and then the right.

She was checking him for the marks, and touching him as little as possible so she would not use her ability.

He pretended to stir and turned onto his side, giving her his back. That allowed her to see the left side of his neck, and as he expected, she touched the twining black snake etched into his flesh.

Slowly her hand moved away, and he fought the impulse to turn over and pull her down atop him. If he did, he would have had her under him before she could gasp, and accepting him into her body before she could speak. His shaft, already stiff and thick, swelled and lengthened at the thought. In another time and place he would have ignored convention and done just that, for among his people no woman would touch a sleeping man unless she wanted his attention.

Perhaps on some level she did. Touch me again and I will give you what you truly seek.

To his great disappointment Jessa moved away, and left his chamber as silently as she had entered it. He turned over slowly and listened as her steps retreated before he opened his eyes. He could still smell her in the air, feel the silk of her touch on his skin. He sat up and looked down at his cock, the head of which had emerged, fully engorged and ready to stroke and pleasure.

Finally he understood what Rowan had meant, and in spite of his discomfort, he smiled. “Quit thinking, little head. The woman is not ready for us.”

Not yet.

Samantha walked the streets of Atlanta for several hours until most of the euphoria she felt from the girl’s blood faded away. A few times she considered calling Lucan on her mobile to let him know where she was—he didn’t like not knowing—but she wasn’t ready to listen to the inevitable lecture.

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