Page 39

“I minored in geology,” Alys said. “Most archaeologists do.”

“Good, then I’ll tell you my bizarre thing.” She nodded toward the unconscious women. “I took blood samples from Simone and Chris shortly after they were changed to Darkyn. I also got one from Simone while she was still human. When I put the samples under the scope for the first time, I saw minute crystals in their blood.”

“Is there any chance the original samples were accidentally contaminated, or perhaps partially frozen?” When Alex shook her head, Alys grew thoughtful. “The liquid environment of the bloodstream requires absorption of minerals in their electrolyte or ionic form. They’d only crystallize under a few, very specific conditions.”

“Like cholesterol forming atherosclerotic plaque in the blood vessels, or Charcot’s forming in leukemic blood after death.” Alex nodded. “These were different. They were green. And when I checked the samples a few hours later, they were gone.”

“Inside the body the liver probably would have filtered out the contaminants; outside the body a chemical or heat source would be required.” Alys noted how the doctor had emphasized the color green. “Did you observe the structure of these crystals?”

“Yep.” Alex nodded, and picked up a chart, flipping over the top sheet to make a quick sketch, which she showed to Alys. “They looked like this.”

Alys studied the lines. “Cubic. Perfect cleavage in all four directions.”

“Is that somehow significant?”

“Only in that I can eliminate one source.” She met the doctor’s puzzled gaze. “The contaminant in your blood samples didn’t come from the emeralds.”

Alex drew back, surprised. “How did you know I thought that?”

“That’s my magic trick.” She handed the chart back to her. “Emerald crystals are hexagonal, not cubic like this. Also, when you ran the blood tox screens, you would have detected chromium, which I assume you didn’t.”

“Right on the money, Indiana.” She eyed the chart. “So what the hell is it, and why did it dissolve?”

“Without an intact crystal lattice to study and test, I can only theorize,” Alys warned her. “What you saw sounds like an unstable isotope, but behaves like a microorganism, one that spontaneously crystallizes. Which would indicate that it is—”

“Pathogenic.” Alex kicked the leg of the empty cot, knocking it sideways. “Goddamn it, not another one.”

Alys gave her a sympathetic look. “If you’re ever able to collect another sample, I’ll be happy to analyze it. What’s wrong?”

Alex frowned and rubbed at her temple. “Someone close by is having a bad day.”

A guard appeared in the doorway, and before either woman could react, he raised a gun and fired it at Alex.

She looked down at the dart embedded in her chest. “Son of a bitch. Alys, get out of here.”

Alys tried to catch her as she sagged, but the guard yanked her back from the doctor, and used a zip tie to bind her wrists behind her back. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

Without saying a word the guard produced a roll of heavy-duty packing tape, tearing off a length with his teeth and slapping it over her mouth. Once he dragged her out into the corridor, he shoved her into a large laundry cart and piled linens on top of her.

“If you move or make a sound,” Alys heard the guard whisper, “I’ll shoot whoever comes near me, and then I’ll put one in your head.”

Alys felt the nudge of a gun barrel through the cloth behind her head, and stopped moving.

The cart rattled and swayed as her captor pushed it down the corridor. Alys didn’t dare move, and when the cart abruptly stopped, she held her breath.

“You, there. Hold,” Beau’s voice ordered. “Have you encountered a red-haired mortal on your rounds?”

“No, my lord,” her captor answered politely. “I haven’t seen any women tonight.”

“Then tell me,” Beau said, “why is her smell on your garments?”

Gunfire made Alys shriek behind her gag, and then her abductor was running with the cart. She was jostled by the twin bumps of the wheels as they crossed a threshold, and the drag as they moved over grass. When the cart came to a stop several minutes later, the linens were yanked away and she was hauled out onto her feet. She looked around wildly, but saw no sign of Beau.

All the life went out of her. He killed him.

The intruder held her by the neck as he unlocked the back of a service van and shoved her toward the hands reaching out. Alys was unceremoniously dumped on her side as the van drove off.

During the fifteen-minute ride that followed, none of the men spoke, not even to one another. Alys couldn’t think of Beau lying dead in the passage without wanting to scream, so she focused on her situation. The interior of the van was too dark for her to make out the faces of the two men crouched on either side of her. Both were armed with guns concealed beneath the service uniforms they wore. Whoever the men were, they were probably the same ones who had destroyed her camp and planted the bomb in her Jeep.

They’d wanted her dead; now she was being abducted. Something has changed.

The van began to jolt as it drove onto a dirt road, and Alys had to hold her head up to keep it from banging against the floor. By the time the van slowed and coasted to a stop, her neck ached with stiffness, but she welcomed the pain; it was the only thing she could feel besides the ice encasing her heart.

Whoever did this is going to regret it.

The men climbed through the back doors and hauled her out, each one taking hold of her arm as they marched her through a dark grove. Alys saw the dark shapes of tents outlined by firelight but no equipment or other people. The emptiness of the camp indicated whatever work had been done here was finished.

Or taking me was the last job they had to do.

The men marched her to the largest tent and shoved her through the curtain of vinyl strips hanging over it. She promptly tripped and fell to her knees in the dirt.

“Leave us.”

The voice made her head snap up, and as the men left, Alys struggled to her feet, turning around as she tried to see who had spoken.

“Hold still.” A manicured hand ripped the tape from her mouth. “If you scream, Alys, I’ll have you gagged again. Which would be a pity, given how much we have to discuss.”

She stumbled back, her eyes widening as a lantern switched on and illuminated his face, and the dazzling white of the suit he wore. Until that moment, she was sure she’d been hallucinating. “You’re alive.”

“I never died, my dear. I merely had no more reason to act as your guardian.” Robert Leeds lowered himself into a folding chair, and gestured to another. “Do sit down before you faint.”

Alys stayed on her feet, her mind racing as connections she had never noticed began assembling themselves into a complicated construct. “Why am I here?”

“Your research proved most disappointing, Alys. The treasure is not located beneath the spring pool, or anywhere near it.” He took out a cigar and lit it, puffing until the tip glowed orange-red. “You falsified your notes to conceal the fact that you already had the emeralds, didn’t you?”

Alys blinked. “You did this because you think I have the treasure?”

“Of course. I sent you here to find the Emeralds of Eternity.” He blew out a stream of smoke. “What other reason would I have to waste twenty-six years of my time, a considerable amount of my money and resources, on raising, educating, and guiding an unwanted orphan?”

“You became my guardian so you could train me, and use me.” It was almost as brilliant as it was sickening.

“Your mother refused to recognize your potential, or to grant me the access to you that I required.” His eyes bored into hers. “I’d hoped to persuade her to marry me, but her unhappy affair with your father left her too emotionally damaged. I had no choice but to kill her and forge the papers granting me guardianship so I could bring you to America and set up your new life.”

Alys frowned. “I’m American.”

“Your father met your mother while she was an exchange student in Paris, and used her for sex until he grew bored with her. She promptly fled back to Ireland, where you were born eight months later.” He smiled. “Not what anyone would call a grand romance. After your father rejected her so cruelly, your mother felt nothing but resentment for you as his child. If not for her religion and her country’s antiquated laws, I’m certain she would have opted to abort.”

Alys’s legs wobbled as she went to the chair across from Robert and sat down. “I don’t have the emeralds. I don’t know where they are.”

“My men watched you pick them up from the ground after the explosion,” Robert said. “At which point your Kyn lover whisked you off to the Realm, where no doubt he convinced you to give them to Suzeraina Jayr. Don’t look so shocked, my dear. It’s what they do best. They feed on us, they work us like slaves, and then, when we are of no further use, they discard us.”

His light tone couldn’t quite cover the rage and hatred seething behind the words. “Is that what they did to you?”

“My family has served the Kyn since the Dark Ages. Which is to say Lord Marietto bred us like cattle. He had us branded at birth.” He rolled up his sleeve, revealing a tattoo that had been partially mutilated. “And brainwashed as well. We believed he adored us, and would do anything for his ‘treasures.’ But when his lady and I fell in love, I discovered it was all a lie.”

Alys pushed away thoughts of Beau. “Did he hurt you?”

“He removed me from my position, stripped me of my rank, and sent me into exile. When I came back for my lady, my parents said she had killed herself the day after I was banished. But I knew the truth.” He closed his eyes briefly. “Marietto murdered her and passed it off as a suicide. My family never knew the kind of jealous, murderous bastard they served, but I did. Leora warned me about him when we became lovers. She was terrified of him, and I failed her.”

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