Darkness Dawns

Page 35

“No,” Sarah correctly softly. “He was so like you.”

Tipping his chin down, he found her smiling up at him.

She drew a finger along his jawline in a light caress that made his skin tingle. “Handsome, smart, and honorable? It sounds like he was a carbon copy of his father.”

Roland’s throat thickened and he was shocked to feel moisture well in his eyes. Abashed, he buried his face in her hair.

“Did you tell them what you were?” she asked, stroking his back.

He had to swallow hard before he could speak. “No, I stayed as long as I dared. Long enough to see Emma happily married to an earl who adored her and to ensure Thomas was ready to assume the title. Then I said my goodbyes, left, and had one of my immortal colleagues send them word of my supposed death.”

Sarah pressed a kiss to his neck. “Did you ever see them again?”

“From a distance. I watched over both of them until they died, then watched over my grandchildren until they died, and their children as well.”

“Immortality must be difficult at times.”

“It can be. I’m not the only Guardian who has isolated himself from others. Forming attachments with humans and having to watch them grow old and die generation after generation can become unbearable as the centuries accumulate.”

It would be no different with Sarah. When she was stooped with age, her hair a snowy-white complement to the wrinkles mapping her sweet face, he would be the same as he was now, unchanged by the decades that had passed.

The thought was an unwelcome one he hastily pushed aside, unwilling to let reality intrude just yet and rob him of the happiness she inspired.

“I hate to ask this,” she said, “but you said two women tried to kill you. Who was the other?”

“My betrothed.”

She muttered something into his chest he couldn’t make out. “Was her name Mary?”

He frowned. “Yes. What do you know of her?”

“Only what you and Marcus said about her while he was trying to talk you out of healing me.”

Oh. “Well, it’s a much shorter story. I met her in the seventeenth century, lost my head over her, asked her to marry me, and when she said yes, told her what I was. She freaked out, but I managed to calm her down, or so I thought. She said she needed time to think. I gave it to her. The next afternoon, she stormed into my home with half a dozen humans bearing knives, stakes, and torches and tried to kill me.”

Even that memory lacked its usual bite with Sarah’s soft form snuggled up against him. Marcus was right. Mary had been a twit. She had seemed to accept him by the time he had finished talking. So she had probably told her sister, then been swayed by her reaction.

Sarah’s small hands came up to cup his cheeks, drawing his gaze to hers. “Roland?”

“Yes?” She was so adorable, with her mussed hair and kiss-swollen lips.

“I promise I will never betray you or try to kill you.”

Another piece of the shield he had erected around his heart fell away.

He touched his lips to hers. “I believe you.” It was true. He did. “And I have to tell you … that scares the hell out of me.”

“I know. If I were in your shoes, it would scare me, too. But I would never intentionally harm you.” The somber promise in her eyes, more brown than green today, morphed into amusement. “Notice I said ‘intentionally.’ Occasionally, I have what I call clumsy days when I just can’t seem to do anything right, which tends to result in bruises, cuts, or burns. So if you hang around me long enough, you might unwittingly become a victim and acquire a few yourself.”

If you hang around me long enough.

Was it a backhanded invitation?

Could she be implying she wouldn’t be averse to spending more time with him when this was all over? That she might be interested in pursuing a relationship with him?

Is that what he wanted?

Hell, yes!

Rolling her to her back, Roland took her lips in a deep, devouring kiss and whispered, “I’ll risk it.”

The bleating of his cell phone woke Roland from a sound sleep. Cursing himself for leaving it upstairs, he carefully extricated himself from Sarah’s tangled limbs—damn, he didn’t want to leave her—then raced up to the living room in a blur of motion.

“What?” he growled, answering on the second ring.

“You must be Roland,” a cheerful male voice said.

“Who the hell is this and how did you get my number?”

The man laughed. “Oh yeah. You’re definitely Roland. This is Chris Reordon. I’m this region’s Cleaner. Seth gave me your number.”

Reordon. Roland had heard of him. He was rumored to be one of the best, though Roland had never felt the need to call upon his services.

Concealing the existence of both the vampiric virus and the gifted ones from the rest of society was a full-time job that required constant vigilance and connections in various law enforcement and government agencies that immortals had difficulty cultivating due to their aversion to sunlight and the time they spent hunting vampires and reducing the threat they posed. The computer age and advent of video cameras, cell phones that took pictures, and the Internet made it all even more complicated.

Fortunately, Seth had long ago begun ferreting out trustworthy humans to build a support network that helped immortals with everything from investing their capital and multiplying their wealth to supplying weapons, providing new identities every few decades, studying the disease that transformed them, researching a cure, performing daytime surveillance when necessary, and running interference with humans who became too curious for their own good. The network had been in place and steadily expanding for centuries now.

Many of the humans employed by the network were descendants of previous members who had passed the torch to their sons or daughters. Absolute loyalty was imperative. Rules and guidelines were strictly implemented. Those who strayed and broke faith with the network—and there had been very few—were swiftly tracked down and punished by the network’s human enforcers with no immortal interference.

The role of Cleaners was fairly self-explanatory: They cleaned up the messes immortals sometimes left behind.

“How did it go?” Roland asked, tamping down his irritation at being ranked on by a human he didn’t even know.

“Just fine,” the man responded in more businesslike tones.

“I’m sorry to say your house is a total loss. We managed to get there before anyone else did. Society’s apathy really works in our favor sometimes. Most of the people who saw the smoke must have assumed someone else had already called 911 and not bothered to call it themselves, because we had plenty of time to stage it before the fire department arrived.”

“Stage it as what?”

“A drug deal gone bad at a meth lab. You did a hell of a job covering your tracks, by the way. Even I couldn’t find anything to link you to that house. Or the car in the garage, which was also destroyed.”

“And the Geo Prism?”

“We got it out of there before the authorities arrived.”

“Who exactly did the authorities think you were?”

“DEA, arrived too late to rescue an agent whose cover was blown and who subsequently died in the fire.”

How did everyone else pass themselves off as federal agents so easily when Roland couldn’t make it fly worth a crap?

“Do you want us to bring you a replacement car? We can have it there by sunset.”

“What happened to the Prism?”

“Nothing. I just assumed it was stolen.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Really? You should have put that hunk of junk out of its misery a long time ago.”

“It isn’t mine. It belongs to a woman who was caught in the crossfire.” Sarah no doubt would have already replaced it if she could have. “She’s here with me and, I’m sure, would appreciate getting it back.”

“A human woman?” Chris asked, his voice deadly serious.

Roland stiffened. Having never called upon Cleaners, he wasn’t sure how they dealt with humans who had been exposed to the truth. “Yes.”

“I’ll be there within an hour to pick her up.”

“The hell you will.”

“You know the rules, Roland. Any human who—”

“Fuck the rules.”

“Her knowledge puts us all at risk,” Chris reminded him. “At the very least I need to sit her down, have her sign a confidentiality agreement, and impress upon her what will happen if she ever violates it.”

The threat was obvious.

Anger welled within Roland as he listened. After all Sarah had been through since finding him in that field, there was no way he was going to let Chris intimidate and frighten her.

“I said fuck the rules and fuck you,” Roland snarled. “You stay the hell away from her.”

“Your ass isn’t the only one on the line here,” Chris said, his own irritation beginning to show. “Do you have any idea how many laws my team and I broke today cleaning up your shit? This is standard procedure, put in place to protect us all. If she wigs out and decides to tell—”

“She isn’t going to wig out, and my ass isn’t on the line. I know that because she saved it. Now if you have any interest in keeping yours intact, you’ll damned well steer clear of her!”

A long silence ensued.

Roland sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaustion beating at him. He really shouldn’t alienate this man after the help he had rendered them earlier.

“Look, Reordon. I don’t mean to bust your balls. It’s been a long two days. I’m tired. I’m irritable. And I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for Sarah. She saved my life—twice—and has been through hell. I’m not going to repay her by letting you strong-arm her and threaten her. She has enough on her plate now that she’s become as much of a target as I am.”

“A target,” Chris repeated, the antagonism in his voice melting away. “Why don’t you clue me in to what’s going on? I know you usually work solo, but if you’ve got humans attacking you by the dozen, I can probably be of some assistance. Were those at your house minions or independents?”

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