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Created darkly, p.13
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       Created Darkly, p.13

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  She looked me dead in the eyes. It was a serious look. “It all started when Linda went missing.”

  Rush sat ramrod straight at the mention of her name. “Archer’s Linda?” he questioned with a grim voice—a tone I’ve only heard him use when he was addressing Duska. I didn’t like it much. It made him sound like the spoiled aristocrat I almost forgot he was.

  She nodded. “Torra and I decided to form our own search party. Linda was our friend, you see, and we always met up in the rec room after Torra’s combat class. We would drink coffee and shoot the shit for about an hour or so before Torra had to rush home before her sister…” she paused to shoot me a guilty look, “before you got home from work.”

  “So you knew she was keeping her involvement with the Center secret from me?”

  “I did.”

  “What about Linda?” Rush interrupted.

  Before she could answer, all attention turned to Devil. He sauntered over to us, carrying a tired-looking Addison is arms. The vampire took up a lot of space with his imposing body. The petite blond he held in his arms fit comfortably snug against him. She lifted her head from off his shoulder and smiled at me. I almost gasped when I caught sight of all the scratches and cuts littering her beautiful face. Instead, I smiled back at her with a sly wink.

  We had survived a bombing together, so I considered us battle buddies, bonded by a mixture of blood and shrapnel. Devil took a seat across the room from me, settling into an overstuffed arm chair. Addison snuggled deeper into his arms as he shifted his massive body, back and forth against the cushions, trying his best to make himself and his passenger comfortable. I turned my attention back to Duska when she began to speak again.

  “The day Linda went missing, Torra and I waited for her to show up for well over an hour after our normal meeting time. We knew deep in our guts that something was wrong, but still held out hope she was with her boyfriend, Archer, and forgot to meet with us. It wasn’t long after that, we heard the devastating news of her disappearance. Several hours passed without any word from Linda or the Center, so we decided to take matters into our own hands and go find her ourselves.”

  Rush said, “But we did receive word in the way of an anonymous e-mail; there was a photo attached, a picture of Linda. She had been tortured and killed. Archer lost his mind when he saw it. We thought we’d lose him, too, for a while. It was the decision of the Council to keep things quiet. It was for Archer’s sake.” Rush was without remorse.

  Duska stood. I tucked my legs in to my chest, a vicious assault of pain tweaking the muscles in my hip, so she could walk between me and the table. She scanned the room, maybe searching for an escape route, or maybe it was so she could brace herself for what she had to say next. And what she said, I would have never seen coming.

  “We found evidence of Linda after only a day of searching. Like I said before, we were all close friends. We knew each other better than almost anyone else could.” She stared ahead blankly and crossed her arms, consoling, holding herself tightly. “We think she started the day at her favorite spot, under a deserted boardwalk a couple of miles down from the main beach, tucked away and hidden behind the Grey Bluffs. That’s where we found her favorite book and scarf.”

  She leaned forward and picked up a crystal decanter filled with amber liquid. She poured a healthy serving and gulped until it was gone. Duska set the glass down with a clack against the wooden table and gave Rush a look of trepidation.

  “Why didn’t you inform me of this? That evidence could have helped us find her in time. But now, it’s too late,” Rush said.

  Duska took a couple steps backwards, until she was standing shoulder to shoulder with her men. “I figured I could find her myself.”

  That did it. Rush flew off the couch and marched right up to Duska and her crew. I cringed when he flew a finger in her face, almost knocking it against her nose, and said, “You had no right to make that call, Duska.” Rush gritted his teeth, and without breaking eye contact with her, he said, “Devil, you can do as you please with those two interlopers.”

  Rush waved a dismissive hand towards Duska’s men. The corners of her mouth ticked like she desperately wanted to say something in protest, but thought better of it. She said something, anyway.

  “They are not to be harmed.”

  “You have no say in the matter,” Rush barked.

  “According to Devil, I have some say in these matters,” I said.

  Everything in the room quieted. Even the scotch-covered ice that had been melting away in Duska’s glass seemed to stop making its soft tinkling noise.

  “I agree that those men have no business here and should leave, but Devil may not be the wisest choice of chaperones to show a couple of humans, ripe with fresh blood, to the door.”

  Duska shot me a grateful smile. I returned it out of habit, but I wasn’t saving the lives of those humans for her sake, even though the rebellious woman was beginning to grow on me. No, it wasn’t because of her. I was doing it because I believed it was the right thing to do.

  “I really wish you’d let me handle this, Kris. She is part of my household; therefore, it’s my duty to mete out the punishments for all three of them. It’s law,” Rush said.

  I pushed myself off the couch and stood, ignoring my aches and pains. How quickly I went from feeling comfort and warmth towards that man, to wanting to punch him in the nuts. He was infuriating!

  “I am not bound by your laws, Rush. I don’t even recognize them. I’m bound by a personal duty of my own, and killing humans, even the ones deserving of such harsh punishment, goes against the grain for me.”

  “Then what should we do with them? They blew up my club, in case you’ve forgotten,” Devil said, eager to see retribution. .

  Was anyone killed in the explosion?” I asked.

  Devil shook his head. “Nope. A few humans were hurt and one of my brides was pretty battered. Other than the damage to my club, that’s the extent of the injuries.”

  I was relieved to hear that the explosion produced no causalities. If there had been any serious injuries or deaths, I doubted I would have been able to get Duska’s men out of there in one piece, or with all their blood.

  I glanced at Duska. “Are you willing to take full responsibility for the actions of your men?”

  “I am.” She spoke without hesitation.

  “Then I propose a trade,” I said.

  “I can’t wait to hear this,” Rafe said, entering the room. He was freshly showered, his wet hair slicked back, and he was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a black cotton t-shirt. He reminded me of a buff James Dean.

  I ignored the Johnny-come-lately’s smart-ass comment and continued. “I think it makes sense that Duska should work here to rebuild the club, and after the repairs are finished, she can work off the costs of the damages, as well.”

  “Um…uh…wait, what? You want me to work for a vampire?” Duska choked, her voice coming out in a squeak of disbelief.

  Devil began to laugh. “Well done, Kris.”

  Rush stared at me, red faced, not saying anything.

  Rafe lazed against the wall next to the exit and the liquor stand. He was holding a glass of booze he’d poured for himself, tipping it at me in a cheers gesture, and then he winked.

  Addison ignored us all and kept trying to snuggle in deeper against Devil’s wide chest.

  Duska’s men remained standing, quiet as little mice, but one couldn’t mistake the look of terror in both their eyes. They knew how close they were to being eaten up by the cat.

  “Would you rather he took the lives of your friends for your acts of war against him?” I asked.

  She looked down at her feet. “I came here tonight to kill Devil, Kris. I still want to kill him.”

  I had almost forgotten that in all of Duska’s explanations, she never clarified why she bombed Devil’s club in the first place.

  “Why do you want to kill him?” I asked.

  “It was a vampire who killed Lind
a; I just know it.” Duska shot Devil a poisoned glare.

  “An assumption doesn’t give you the right to attack or try to kill anyone. Especially if only because he’s a vampire,” I tried to explain.

  As soon as I realized the true meaning behind what I said, I found myself face to face with my own demons. I may have hunted and killed vampires that the ghosts of their victims led me to, but didn’t I hold the opinion that all vampires were evil solely based on the actions of the guilty ones I’d killed? Inner growth could be a bitch sometimes, especially when said bitch forces you to realize how wrong you’ve been. I was guilty of one of the worst sins imaginable—prejudice.

  Duska’s once-slumped shoulders lifted with renewed vigor. Thin lines of determination creased her forehead, making her again look like the confident and strong warrior I admired earlier.

  “Before Torra was kidnapped, we found a card with this club’s moniker on it, and on the back of the card, we found his name and the date Linda disappeared.” She shoved her thumb back at Devil. “I know for a fact Linda wouldn’t have his card for entertainment purposes. She couldn’t stand vampires, none of us could. That’s why we formed a small group of our own; we’re a secret band of hunters who are trained to take down the monsters that go bump in the night. We figured she was on a mission of her own with Devil as her target. Then when Torra went missing, too, I made up my mind to kill the vampire I felt was responsible for everything.”

  “You’re a sodden idiot,” Devil said. He didn’t quiet yell at her, but for the first time since it all began, his voice was raised. “I didn’t kill your friend, nor did I kidnap Kris’s sister.”

  “It’s true. Well, the part about my sister is, at least. I know nothing about Linda’s fate. A man going by the name of Wolf has Torra.”

  Duska sent me a surprised look. “You know where she is? Why are we sitting here? Let’s go get her.”

  “It’s not that simple,” Rush said, waving at everyone to take a seat.

  My hip was screaming bloody murder at me, so I had no problem taking a load off.

  “It sounds simple enough to me. We go, we kill anyone who stands in our way, and we save her. See? Simple,” Duska said.

  Rafe said, “We would love to do that, but unfortunately, this Wolf character has her well hidden, and Kris is left jumping through flaming hoops to keep Torra alive.” He raised his hand in the air and waved it around, like a school kid. “I’m one of those hoops.”

  Again, everyone ignored the obnoxious vampire in the corner.

  Rush said, “So it seems you not only disgraced yourself and your family by taking up with a bunch of vampire vigilantes, but you also almost committed murder over a hunch you had.” Rush shook his head. “You are hereby released from my employ. I advise you to do as Kris suggested, because otherwise, Devil is free to do whatever he wants with you.”

  Duska didn’t so much as flinch at being shunned. Quite the contrary, she seemed to embrace her new-found freedom. “Very well, then. I will collect my things later.”

  Rush looked away.

  “Kris.”

  “Yes, Duska?”

  “If I do as you suggested and make the proper amends to Devil by working for him, could I help you find—”

  Before Duska could say any more, I stood and said, “It’s against the rules of Wolf’s little game. I can’t risk Torra’s life. I’m sure you understand.” That time, my body protested a little less, thanks to my magical healing abilities.

  She then swung her eyes over to Devil. She didn’t apologize for trying to kill him. I expected as much. She lifted one brow and muttered, “So do you agree to Kris’s terms? I become your damn work horse, and you’ll let my friends go?”

  “Welcome to Devil’s Playground, darling. You’re going to be such a delight to work with. I can already tell.”

  Chapter Twenty

  I walked towards the door to leave with an odd sense of relief. That whole situation could have turned out so differently. With the amount of animosity and dire need for revenge coming from all corners, I was surprised to be escaping without any blood spillage. My only obstacle in leaving was that I couldn’t find my jacket. I looked over at Addison. Devil had set her down, and she was curled up with a blanket wrapped around her. I didn’t want to disturb her, but my keys were in my jacket pocket, and I needed them. There was one thing about me; I had timing down to an art form. Even though I was about to rouse her, I quietly tip-toed over to Addie, placed a soft hand on her shoulder, and gave it a shake. She must have thought I was Devil, because she rolled over and bared the smooth, bronzed skin of her throat to me.

  “That’s okay, dear. I prefer my food cooked and on a plate,” I whispered.

  Her eyes popped open and I watched as red smeared her cheeks. “Your loss.” She chuckled and glanced around the room. Her eyes stopped their search as soon as they fell on Devil. “Is everything okay?”

  “I just need my stuff. Where did you put it?”

  “Your jacket is on my bed.”

  “I’ll grab it,” Rafe offered.

  “Thanks,” I said, giving him a smile.

  She finally tore her eyes from her vampire and looked at me. “Your pants were filthy, so I had one of the drudges throw them in the wash. You can keep the clothes I lent you and pick yours up later if you’d like.”

  I looked down at the tight shirt and miniskirt I still wore. Blood stains covered the bottom half of the shirt and the skirt that lay over my injured hip. If I was unfortunate enough to get pulled over, there was no way I could come up with a plausible enough excuse to keep myself from being dragged to the hospital to be checked out, or worse, to the police department for questioning. I resembled an axe murderer in my blood-drenched clothes.

  “I’m afraid these aren’t going to cut it, either.” I huffed.

  Her eyes widened and she sat up. “Of course, they won’t. How rude of me, not to notice. Come with me.”

  She stood up and stretched out, reaching her fingers towards the ceiling. The movement made her impeccable body look even more angled and enticing. All the men in the room, even the vampire hunters, couldn’t help staring at her. All the men, except for Rush, that is. He was busy looking at me with worried eyes.

  “Are you ready to go?” he asked.

  “In a minute. I need to change first.” I was secretly pleased to be his sole focus.

  He sat down to wait.

  ***

  There was no denying it. I was stumbling hard, free falling off the proverbial cliff over Kristina. I prided myself on being an intelligent, self-controlled, confident male. One of extremely high means, the puppet master of my own destiny. But with a single bat of her thick, dark lashes or an incredibly sexy complaint or bitchy remark hissed between that woman’s sweet lips, I was brought to heel, as gentle and obedient as a well-trained puppy.

  If it weren't for Kris, Duska would already be enduring a well-deserved punishment, delivered to her by the same vampire she launched her assault against. It was protocol for that kind of unwarranted and unsanctioned attack against any vampire in our world. What she did was extremely bad for business. But Kris wanted me to show lenience. She demanded it. So for her, and against better judgment, I relented.

  There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for that feisty necromancer. My world was still spinning off its axis, my heart beating erratically from nearly losing her in the blast. The fear was prompting my need to let Kristina know how I felt about her. But somehow, the thought of baring my heart and soul to her, at a time when shit was hitting the fan like an automatic assault rifle, seemed inappropriate. She had enough to deal with. Didn't she? Women usually loved attention and wanted men to throw themselves at their feet. Right? Not my Kristina. She wasn't like that. She was made of different stuff. Sugar and spice and everything nice? No way. My heart’s desire was cinnamon and fire and everything combustible; and I wouldn't want it any other way.

  I would keep my scorching desires to myself until the time was
right. But in the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to keep her in my sights, help her find her sister, and set things right. Then I would have my chance to love her if she allowed it. I watched the way she tilted her head as she talked to Addison. It brought out a sensual curve to her jaw, and the way her lips glistened under the overhead lights made the nuisance in my pants jump to attention. My God, woman, what have you done to me?

  Unexpectedly, she turned to me. The same light that had been accentuating her striking profile haloed the dark and disheveled hair that fell on and around her face. The iridescent glow made her look more like an angel than the devil-spitfire that I knew she was. Not even the ripped and bloodstained clothes she wore stood a chance at dulling her exquisite beauty.

  Her eyes locked onto mine. I shoved my hands into my pockets and looked around the room, up to the ceiling, and then back at her. She was smiling. I had been caught staring at her again. I wouldn’t be surprised if she brought my ass up on stalking charges. I needed to get a grip and stop making a fool out of myself before I scared her away.

  After she left the room with Addison, I realized that I was somehow sitting down. When did that happen? Yup, I was a mess over her and losing my damn mind because of it.

  “Snap out of it, lover boy,” Rafe said.

  “Whatever. I’m fine,” I growled back.

  Rafe walked over and kicked back on the arm of the couch. “You really got it bad for her, don’t you, man? I suggest letting her know, so you two can screw like rabbits and get it out of your system.”

  Before I could stop myself, I said, “There’s no getting a woman like her out of your system.”

  “Oh, it’s like that?” he asked with a Cheshire grin.

  “Like what?”

  “The big L…. You’re in love, buddy, and I bid you good luck with it. Love’s never been a friend of mine. It’s like I’m cursed or blessed, whichever way you want to look at it, when it comes to that shit.”

  “What’s got you two wagging your mouths?” Devil asked, strolling back into the room. There was a drop of blood on his collar, and he was dabbing the side of his mouth with a triangle handkerchief. He tucked the cloth in his front pocket and made himself a drink.

 
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