Dark Legend (Page 12)

Francesca bit her lip as she quietly closed the door to Skyler's room. The reporter was waiting as she had known he would be. She had heard his footfalls, the sound of his pacing. She read his determination to confront her even as she was speaking to Skyler. It was okay, it was what she wanted, too. She needed information and he was conveniently outside the door. She wouldn't have to go looking for him.

The man spun around with a determined look on his face. “I need to talk to you.” Francesca's smile was mysterious and inviting. “What can I do for you?”

His eyes were devouring her, roaming freely over her body. There was something about her that made him a little crazy. The way she looked, the sway of her hips, the sultry smile. He had never seen a woman who moved him in quite the way she did. He liked women, in their place, but he had always bought the right to their bodies and kept it strictly business. No fuss, no emotional entanglement. This woman was very different from the average woman. There was something mysterious and sexy about her. He could stare into her eyes forever, listen to the sound of her voice for eternity. All at once his suspicions seemed totally ridiculous. This was no vampire preying on the human race. She was a woman of extraordinary talents and he wanted to protect her from those who sought her for study.

Francesca could feel Gabriel's power flowing through her when she looked into the reporter's eyes. It was not the same as hers, but far more aggressive. Gabriel would make sure this man would never harm her, would in fact die to save her. He did it easily as he did all things, the commands flowing through her mind into the reporter's. She had no idea how Gabriel could do the things he did. He was helping her at the same time as he hunted the undead and watched for traps along the way. He seemed capable of operating on more than one level at a time. Even when the stakes were as high as his own life.

“Nothing is more important to me than your life.”

Hisvoice was fading away as if he was in motion somewhere.

Francesca did not seek to sustain the connection between them. She wanted to concentrate entirely on the reporter. She needed to know everything he knew about the society he was a part of, a society that had hunted and murdered humans and Carpathians alike, naming them vampires. She smiled at him. “It's Woods, isn't it? Barry Woods? You said you were a reporter. I'm so sorry about the other evening. I was in such a hurry, late for so many appointments, I can't recall exactly what we talked about. I promise to give you my full attention now. Would you care to go somewhere and have a cup of tea or something?”

“Tone it down, Francesca. He is very susceptible to you and that in itself can be dangerous.”

.

This time there was a distinct growl in Gabriel's voice.

She tilted her chin, although she knew he couldn't see her.

“Go away, I can handle this problem all by myself. You have bigger fish to fry.”

She sounded faintly haughty, snippy, warning him to back off.

Barry Woods was gaping at her, astounded that she was actively seeking him out. She leaned close, enveloping him in her mysterious scent.

“You will never attempt to see Skyler Rose again.”

The command was one of the strongest she had ever issued.

She could read his acceptance of her authority, but all the same, Francesca guided the reporter to the seclusion of one of the empty rooms with every intention of ensuring obedience by taking his blood.

“You will not!”

..

The command was sharp and authoritative. Gabriel was not playing now. The threat was very real. “

I will see to it this buffoon does no harm to our girl, but you will not do this thing.”

Exasperated, Francesca decided against arguing with Gabriel's tyrannical ways. At once she felt Gabriel relax, felt his amusement, and she shook her head over the silly idiosyncrasies of men. “Did you have some questions you wanted to ask me?” she queried softly, looking directly into Barry Woods's eyes. “Or did you have information that you thought was very important to tell me?”

He could feel himself falling forward, deeper, deeper still until he was so mesmerized he wanted to stay there for eternity. He cleared his throat, unable, unwilling to break away from the beauty of her eyes. “I have friends who heard things about you. They're dangerous men. We hunt vampires. Real vampires, not the make-believe things in the movies. No one believes the creatures exist but us. We've been collecting proof over the years. We just need to get one, a body, something tangible to make the world take us seriously. Right now they think we're fanatics, nuts to be laughed at, but we're scientists and we're trying to save the world.”

Francesca wrapped him in waves of warmth, swamping him with approval, with the idea that she believed in him and what he was doing. He broke out in a sweat, but his gaze remained captured by hers. He wanted to do whatever she wanted of him, whatever it took to make her happy. He wanted her to believe in him. She tipped her head to one side so that her hair fell in a seductive sheet of silk across her shoulder and tumbled past her waist. “Why would anyone think such a thing of me? I have lived in this community for some time and have been involved in many things. I think my life is rather an open book. It is not so difficult to find those who know me.”

Woods leaned forward, needing to hear the purity of her voice, or maybe he wanted to touch her hair. He really wasn't certain which was more important at that moment. “I think I can dig up indisputable proof that you're no vampire.” There was a trace of humor in his voice. The idea of her being in the ranks of the undead was totally ludicrous. He could convince his fellows they were wrong about her and she would be crossed off their list.

“Are there many of you?” Francesca requested the information softly. “Are there any others named on this list of potential threats? Perhaps I can aid you in some way.”

“We have to protect ourselves now. We've lost many of our best people. It's a war, a real war, between them and us. We only know a few of each other's names; our meetings are small. We use phone numbers and a place on the Internet to leave messages back and forth. That way if our society is penetrated, we will only lose a few.”

Francesca could see that something was making him very resistant to giving out the names of those on the vampire list, although he was deeply ensnared by her compulsion. She pushed further into his mind and found a strange phenomenon. Immediately she reached for Gabriel and shared the information, puzzled by what she found in Barry Woods's mind.

“He has undergone some kind of strong hypnosis.”

Gabrielrelied.

“You can get around it, but he might have flashbacks. I can remove all traces of you from his memory. It is not so difficult to extract the information from his mind. He will never know.” “Go ahead then, Gabriel. I don't want him to take up any more of my time.”

Francesca wanted to get her business out of the way and return to Gabriel. She didn't like him being out in the city hunting the undead. She wanted him back in the safety of their home. She wanted Skyler safe within the walls of their home. She wanted the reporter long gone.

“Are you attempting to distract me from my task with your wanton thoughts?”

There was a curling caress in Gabriel's voice, brushing at the walls of her mind, flooding her body with heat and excitement.

“Wanton thoughts? You need a checkup, my boy. Your fantasy world seems to be growing larger with each passing day. I wanted you home to take out the trash.”

She was staring directly at Barry Woods, so that Gabriel could use her as his instrument, could “see” the reporter and extract the information they needed from his mind. Gabriel's teasing had lifted her spirits, given her the impression of a cool cleansing breeze moving through her mind, erasing her worries.

Francesca smiled at the reporter. Gabriel had what they needed and it was time for her to reinforce her most important command. She leaned closer to him so that her eyes held his. “You will never, under any circumstances, go near Skyler again.” At once she felt Gabriel's power moving through her mind, swift and deadly, unbreakable, relentless. He issued his own command, stronger than any she could have made. The reporter would protect her, ensure that others left her strictly alone.

Francesca shook her head over the vehemence of that command, but she felt very precious to him.

Cherished. “You are cherished. Now do something women are supposed to do, something I will not worry about.” “Look who's talking!”

She tried to sound indignant, but he was making her laugh with his nonsense.

“It is not nonsense. These are commands from your lifemate, and you should listen and obey.”

Hesounded very arrogant as only Gabriel could.

“You're showing your age again. You awoke in the twenty-first century. Women no longer listen and obey, worse luck for you. I have work to do, and you are in some place very musty and smelling of wet dirt. What are you doing?” “Performing secret masculine rituals.”

Francesca found herself laughing out loud. Woods startled her by smiling and reaching out to shake her hand. She had almost forgotten his existence. “Thank you so much for your time, and I enjoyed the tea.” He sounded very brisk and businesslike. Gabriel had ensured his obedience and the reporter was doing exactly as he had been instructed. He was leaving Francesca and going to report his findings to his friends. They would believe him: Francesca was a human woman with extraordinary talents but she walked in the sunlight and drank tea. Woods was certain he had shared such a thing with her.

Francesca smiled gently. “I am pleased to have met you, Mr. Woods. Good luck with your work.”

She turned and made her way through the corridors, moving silently. She was scanning for Brice. He often slept in one of the empty rooms if he had been working all day and late into the night. When he was not attending social events, Brice spent the majority of his time at the hospital. She caught his scent and turned unerringly toward the small room at the end of the hall. It was one of his favorite places to escape.

Gabriel moved silently through the cemetery, the very place where he had spent so many years locked in the ground. The earth was torn up where graves were being opened and the caskets removed to make way for progress. He shook his head at the way of life. A hundred years ago no one would consider disturbing a grave site in such a manner. It would be sacrilegious. Evil stalked Paris, and it slept within this ancient cemetery that held the bodies of so many of the dead.

As he moved through the graveyard like a silent wraith, he thought of that long-ago battle, nearly two centuries ago. He had found Lucian crouched over his latest victim, a man in his early thirties. The victim had been drained of blood, a lifeless rag doll that Lucian had tossed carelessly down on the ground when he turned to confront Gabriel. As always, Gabriel was struck by his twin's elegance, the way he moved so silently. There was never a stain of blood on his clothing or his teeth or nails. He was always immaculate. Nothing about him seemed different, yet he was a terrible monster, not the legendary hunter their people whispered about.

Just the memory of his brother, tall and elegant and so courtly, sent a wave of love through Gabriel. He had not felt it for so long, only remembered the emotion, but now it was stronger and more intense than ever. Gabriel bowed his head.

Lucian. His brother.

The grief was overwhelming him and he shook his head decisively to clear it. That way lay his own destruction. His mind had to be clear and fixed on the hunt. He needed every advantage ferreting out the evil undead. They were here in force.

A grave caught his eye. He turned back to examine it. Freshly dug, it was one of the newest in the cemetery. The heavy equipment had not reached this corner so near the rock wall. He touched the soil and at once felt the vibrations of destructive forces. So tuned, he snatched his hand away. The earth itself was groaning from the touch of the vile abomination. He remained hunkered down, his eyes casting along the floor of the cemetery even as his senses flared out to scan the region around him.

Gabriel sighed. He heard the soft shuffle of boots in the dirt, the heavy breathing of the ghoul a vampire had created. Dangerous creatures, ghouls lived to serve their masters, feasting on tainted blood and the flesh of humans. They were vicious and without mercy. He waited, his power building and building, gathering until it flowed through him and poured out into the air around him.

The ghoul approached from behind, shuffling closer, an evil being, clumsy but very cunning and impossibly strong. A human being would be in grave danger should he meet with a minion of the vampire. Gabriel was one of the ancients, powerful and far too experienced to give the ghoul much thought. As the grotesque creature closed the distance between them, Gabriel whirled around, caught the misshapen head between his hands and jerked hard enough to break the neck. The crack was loud in the silence of the night. The monster wailed loudly, flailing its arms, but Gabriel had melted away, his speed far too great for the macabre puppet.

The ghoul was shrieking in a brutal animal rage of pain and anger. It moved with jerky steps, swinging its body this way and that, searching for Gabriel, searching as it had been programmed. Its head flopped at a sickly angle, and the creature drooled continuously. Gabriel materialized in front of it, plunged his hand deep within the chest cavity, and removed the already dead heart. At once lightning slammed to the ground, incinerating the body to a fine ash. Gabriel flung the putrefied organ into the blue-white streak and turned away, shaking his head at the horror of the long-dead creature.

He felt their presence long before he saw them. Three vampires were moving silently toward him, gliding through the air so that their feet didn't touch the surface of the earth. He inhaled the stench of their foul, poisonous bodies. He turned slowly to face them. They were older than he would have liked and powerful.

“Come to me, then,” he said softly. “I will give you the dark death that will free you from your chosen path.”

Brice sat up when Francesca called his name softly. Raking a hand through his hair, he regarded her with speculative eyes. “Francesca. I didn't expect to see you tonight.” He got to his feet and smoothed his rumpled clothes.

Francesca noticed his clothes were stained. Always before, he was immaculate and meticulous in his appearance. This shocked her. There was even a faint shadow of a beard, something Brice had abhorred in the past. He was almost compulsive about his appearance. He often said it was because he attended so many meetings and press conferences. He needed to know he looked good at all times.

Guilt swept through her. Had she caused this? Was she going to be the instrument of his destruction? “I wanted to see you, Brice. We've been friends a long time.” Francesca sighed softly. Out of respect for their friendship, she had never “read” his mind unless it involved a patient or a crisis he needed help with. It had been important to her to be as human with Brice as possible. Now it was a temptation to look into his mind. Was he going to be all right? Had she really broken his heart? Maybe she should plant a subtle compulsion in his mind to get over her.

“I wasn't sure we were friends anymore,” he responded. “Come on, let's get out of here and go somewhere quiet where we can talk this out.”

Francesca glanced around the room. “It's pretty quiet right here, Brice.” For some strange reason, Francesca was reluctant to leave the hospital with him. Gabriel was out in the city hunting the undead. She needed to arrange a guard for Skyler's room, and until she was certain the child would be safe, she wanted to stay close.

“You know if we stay in the hospital we'll be interrupted. I really want us to remain friends. Come on, Francesca. It's not like I'm asking all that much.”

She nodded reluctantly. Brice immediately opened the door and waved her down the hall. He followed close behind her, occasionally resting his hand on the small of her back. His palm felt hot and sweaty right through her clothes. Francesca found herself squirming to get away from him, walking faster through the corridor and out into the night. Clouds were swirling ominously overhead.

“The weather is looking a bit grim, Brice. Where should we go?”

“You never were afraid of a little rain in the old days, Francesca, before you had to look perfect for your hero.”

Francesca stopped right there at the edge of the parking lot. “If you're going to be snide, Brice, there's no point in this. I don't want to fight with you any more. I really don't. I've always valued your friendship and I prefer not to lose it, but if you can't be civil about Gabriel, or at least avoid the subject, then our conversing is a complete waste of time.” Suddenly, she didn't want to go with him. A dark feeling of dread was stealing over her and she wanted to be back with Skyler, or better yet, wrapped safely in Gabriel's arms in the sanctuary of their home.

Brice deliberately took her arm. “I'm sorry. Jealousy is an ugly thing, Francesca. I'll behave. Just come with me. Please.”

She owed him that much and she knew it. Brice had always been her friend. It wasn't his fault that she wasn't human. He had no idea of her true nature. He couldn't possibly fathom the relationship between true lifemates. Francesca glanced up at his face as she went with him. She thought she saw something flickering in the depths of his eyes, just for a moment, something sly and cunning, but he blinked and it was gone before she was certain. All the same, Francesca was uneasy.

Brice cleared his throat as they walked along the bank of the river toward the seclusion of the park. “I haven't liked myself very much lately,” he admitted. “I didn't much like learning certain things about myself.”

“Brice” – her voice was soft and sad – “I didn't want you hurt, not for the world. I'm the one who's sorry. I didn't tell you about my past with Gabriel because I truly thought him lost to me. Otherwise, I would never have allowed you to think there was a chance for us. You knew I didn't love you. I told you I didn't.”

“I loved you enough for both of us.”

His words stabbed at her heart. “Brice, no one person can make a relationship work. It takes two people together. I wish I was the right woman for you, but I know I'm not. There's someone out there, someone very special who will love you as you deserve to be loved.” She used her voice, giving a little push even though she didn't like to do such things do with friends. She hated his pain, hated knowing she was the cause of it.

Brice was silent for a moment; then he let go of her arm and clutched his head. Francesca touched him. At once she could feel his pain, a sharp splintering headache growing and building at an alarming rate. She settled her fingers around his arm. “Let me help you, Brice. You know I can.”

He broke away from her, breathing heavily. “No, Francesca, just let me be for a moment. I've been getting these headaches the last few days and they're killers. I even had a CAT scan done to see if I had a tumor.” He pulled a tube from his pocket, took off the lid, and shook several small pills into his mouth.

Francesca could see his hand was trembling. “You don't need medication. I can take the pain away,” she said softly, feeling hurt by his rejection.

He shook his head again, this time decisively. “Don't waste your time and talent on me. The pills work just fine. Give me a few minutes and I'll be okay.”

A small frown touched her soft mouth. “Brice, I know you're angry with me, but these headaches sound serious. You know I can help. How often are you taking these pills? What are they?”

He shrugged and cut through the park along a dark pathway, holding aside the low-lying branches to prevent them from hitting Francesca. “It doesn't matter. Why were you looking for me?”

“Where in the world are we going, Brice? This path leads out of the park toward the cemetery. Let's go back.”

He swung around to face her and once again she thought there was something crafty in his eyes. Then he blinked and it was Brice looking down at her with sad eyes. But Francesca was very uneasy now. Nothing felt right to her, not Brice, not the path they were taking, not even the night itself. She bit down on her lower lip while she tried to think what he could be planning. Brice was not a violent man, she knew that much about him. He was gentle and caring, even if he was ambitious.

“We aren't going back, Francesca, not until we talk this out. If nothing else, I want to stay friends. I'm hurt, I won't deny that, and I've acted like a spoiled child, but I always thought you would come around and marry me. I really did. In my mind we were already engaged.” He shook his head as he picked his way along the uneven surface of the road. “You never looked at other men, never. I thought that meant you truly felt something for me, but you had been hurt and were afraid to love again.”

Francesca could see the first of the many headstones standing like silent sentinels of the dead in the graveyard. It was a beautiful place really, ancient, a place where it was believed the sacred and the damned had to be kept apart. One side of the burial grounds was sanctified, blessed with holy water, while the other was for those who had lived lives of sin and debauchery, criminals and murderers. It was now being torn up, the dead removed to the new cemetery away from the middle of the city. The machines hadn't yet reached the area where they walked. The imminent destruction made her sad; she had many human friends buried there.

“I never was interested in anyone else, Brice. I preferred your company, but it was friendship I felt, the love of a sister. I often wanted to feel more, and when I thought about the future, I wished I could love you as you wanted me to, but I never loved any man other than Gabriel. I thought him dead to me, all these years, but I was not over him.”

“Why didn't you ever mention him?” Brice demanded, sounding petulant again. “Not once did you even say his name. If we were such good friends, why didn't you share with me such a terrible tragedy as losing your husband?” He spat the last word out distastefully. “I didn't know you'd ever been married to anyone.” He was moving faster, now, taking the lead, pushing his way over the small rock wall to hurry along a little-used path leading to the mausoleum.

“I never spoke of him to anyone, Brice. It was too difficult.” That was the truth. Even her mother had never known about that small incident in the village so many centuries earlier. When her family had been wiped out in the wars, she had fled the Carpathian Mountains, making her way to Paris, where she learned to hide herself from her people. Tears shimmered unexpectedly in her dark eyes, the memory of that time still raw. She blinked them away and followed Brice along the winding trail.

“I wasn't just anyone, Francesca. I was your best friend. But you always held a part of yourself away from me. No matter how hard I tried, I never could get close to you.”

She hated that whiney note in his voice and that made her feel guiltier than ever. He had every reason to feel bad about what had happened between them. She had thought about spending her remaining years with him. She ducked her head, her long hair falling in a cascade around her face. “I didn't mean to lead you on, Brice. I hope you believe that. I tried to be honest with you, but there were times when I seriously thought about becoming involved with you. Because I was considering a relationship with you, I must have been inadvertently sending you messages that we might eventually be together. That was very wrong of me, but I didn't do it on purpose.”

He turned his head for a moment, fury in his eyes. “That doesn't take away what I feel, Francesca, or absolve you of guilt.”

She sighed. He seemed to be going back and forth between recrimination and genuinely wanting to retain their friendship. “Perhaps it is too soon for a conversation like this one. Maybe we should wait a few weeks until you can see I never would have been right for you, I never would have felt the way you wanted me to feel.”

“We'll never know that for sure, will we?” he said. He was moving rapidly through the graveyard, moving away from the newer headstones into an older part of the cemetery where the stones were so ancient, they were crumbling and gray from the effects of weather.

Francesca slowed her pace. “Brice, do you have any idea where you're going or are you just walking as fast as you can because you're so angry with me?” She could hear the blood pumping furiously through his heart, the rush of adrenaline coursing through him as he moved.

He caught her wrist and yanked, a snarl twisting his handsome features. “Come on, Francesca, hurry up.”

She moved with him a few steps, deliberately touching his mind as she did so. At once she was afraid. There was nothing in his mind except the overwhelming desire to get her to a certain place at the far side of the cemetery. He was willing to use any method, from cajoling her or humoring her, to brute strength. His need to get to this place was so strong, it blocked out everything else.

“Brice,” she said very softly, “you're hurting me. Please let go of me. I can walk all by myself.” He needed help desperately. Whatever was wrong with him, whether he had been shadowed by a vampire, or was using drugs, or was on the verge of a mental breakdown, Francesca wanted to help him. She feared for him now, more than for herself. There was something terribly wrong with him and she was determined to heal him.

“Well, hurry up then,” he growled, still retaining possession of her arm. He loosened his hold because she had picked up her pace and was walking willingly with him. “Honestly, Francesca, you want everything your own way. You didn't want to talk to me about our friendship. You probably wanted to discuss your little patient.”

“I do want to find out when I can bring Skyler home. She's anxious and bored in the hospital. And a reporter got into her room. She was very frightened.” She kept her voice reasonable as she walked beside him, studying him intently. If she used her power, the vibrations of it would scatter into the night and draw unwanted attention. She would have to be persuasive to get him to her home, where she could control him and help him without the threat of interference.

“If she was so darn frightened, why didn't she tell me about it?” he demanded, angry all over again. “I'm her doctor, not you, not Gabriel. If she has a complaint, she can voice it to me. We know she can talk. Not that she talks to anyone but you.”

“Brice,” Francesca protested, slowing her pace again. He seemed to be pulling her at breakneck speed, almost as if he was so enraged he didn't know what he was doing. “Slow down, I'm going to fall. Do you have a pressing appointment somewhere? Let's go back to my house. I'll make us some tea, your favorite kind, and we can talk.”

He instantly slowed his pace, shaking his head. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” he repeated. “I don't know what got into me. It isn't good for that girl to depend so heavily on you. She won't talk to the counselors we send in, she won't speak to the nurses, or to me, just you.”

“She has been severely traumatized, Brice. You know that. There's no quick fix for her pain. I'm taking it one step at a time with her. Once I have her settled at home, I will get her a counselor. I will follow your advice. You know I respect you as a doctor. I'm sorry we've gotten so off track together, but our feelings for each other are genuine. I still want us to remain friends. You might not be able to accept my friendship now, but perhaps you will in time. Meanwhile, we can still keep a professional relationship going, maintain that connection.” Francesca tried to be hopeful. She put a gentle hand on his wrist to restrain him, to get him to come with her. She was really afraid for him now, certain he was losing control of himself.

Brice shook his head, turned onto a faint trail through thick shrubbery. Francesca felt as if she was in a maze.

Now the feeling of impending doom was growing. Overhead the storm clouds were dark and heavy. The wind was picking up so that it blew her hair into a wild mess. She caught at it, twisted and clipped it at the nape of her neck. With the wind came the scent of danger, and Francesca stopped dead in her tracks. Why hadn't she scanned the area as she should have been doing? She knew the undead were in the city somewhere.

“Gabriel!”

She sent the call instantly. She had walked straight into a trap and poor Brice was with her. She had already ruined his life and now, because of her failure to be alert, he would most likely lose his life.

The stench of the undead permeated the air around her. Brice yanked on her arm once more, dragging her out of the shrubbery and into the open. At once, in the distance, she saw Gabriel. He was standing with his arms at his sides. Tall. Strong. Powerful. His long black hair was flowing to his shoulders. He looked relaxed.

On three sides of him were the enemy, circling, moving their feet rhythmically in an attempt to weave a holding spell. At first the three appeared to be tall, rather gaunt, handsome men, but at once Francesca saw through the illusion. Brice stopped abruptly when he saw Gabriel, suddenly confused. What was he doing in this dark, dreary place? Gabriel looked so powerful standing in the midst of the three other men.

Before Brice could make a sound, Francesca drew him back into the maze of shrubbery. Without conscious thought she took command of him, pushing his body along the path, turning onto another one so she could get above the combatants. There were three vampires, all flushed from fresh kills, high on the adrenaline rush. Gabriel might need her strength, or, if he was wounded, her blood in the aftermath of the battle.

She touched his mind, unable to stop herself from doing so. He was Gabriel, always the same. Tranquil. Calm. Without fear. His strength enabled her to breathe easier. Francesca pushed Brice along until they were well above the lower part of the cemetery. She moved out where she could better see what was happening. The scene below was frightening. From her vantage point she could see a dark shape on the ground near one of the graves. A young woman by the look of her, her throat torn. She lay like a broken doll, one hand stretched out toward the cross marking the grave. Gabriel would have sensed death and violence in the cemetery but he would not have been able to see the body with the machinery blocking his line of vision. She sent him a vision immediately, warning him of what had been done.

Francesca closed her eyes for a moment, sent up a quick fervent prayer for the victim and her family. How could she ask Gabriel to be anything but what he was, a hunter for their people, exterminating the vicious creatures who committed such senseless, cruel acts? Beside her Brice stirred, coming out of the semi-stupor he had fallen into.

“What the hell's going on?” he snapped, glaring down at the scene below. He could clearly see the body of the young woman and off to the right, far away from them, where the heavy equipment was parked, he could make out what looked like another body slumped near the bulldozer. A man, by his size. “I told you Gabriel was a criminal. He's involved with murder.”

Francesca waved her hand to silence him, her entire focus centered below. The vampire to the left of Gabriel suddenly launched himself, wings bursting through his back as he leaped into the air, talons twisting his hands, his face contorting until he wore a razor-sharp beak. Even as he attacked, the second vampire's body rippled with fur and his face lengthened into a long muzzle to accommodate the teeth filling his mouth. While the bird went high, the wolf attacked low. The third vampire wavered until he was transparent, dissolving into droplets of mist streaking toward Gabriel.

To Francesca's horror, she could see a vine creeping along the ground, a long deadly tendril reaching out toward Gabriel's ankle. She pressed a hand to her mouth to keep from screaming. It wouldn't do to distract him. She had to trust in the fact that Gabriel was very experienced and would see each and every threat directed at him even though the attacks had been launched simultaneously.

“Get home now!”

Gabriel's voice issued the command in her mind. It was sent sharply and with a strong underlying compulsion to obey. She knew he had no energy to spare to force his will on her.

Francesca felt the seriousness of his command deep within her body. His first concern would be her protection, not that of his own life, and with her out in the open, vulnerable, she would be a weapon to be used against him. The information flooded her mind out of nowhere; she wasn't even certain it came from Gabriel, but she turned at once to obey him.

Her hand caught Brice's. “Come on, we've got to get out of here now.”

They began running down the embankment toward the river, away from the cemetery and the terrible battle taking place. As Francesca turned toward the lights of the city, a single figure moved out of the night and blocked the way between the two of them and freedom.

The beast was tall and gaunt with gray skin stretched tightly over his skull. His teeth were blackened and jagged, stained with the blood of so many innocents. He smiled at her, a terrible parody of a smile.

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