The ghost hunter a paran.., p.20
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       The Ghost Hunter, a Paranormal Romance (The Hunter Series), p.20

           Lori Brighton
 
She looked like she wanted to stomp her foot. “You can’t stay.”

  “Oh, I believe I can.” He moved toward the bar. “John, a pint.”

  John slid the glass down the counter, his sharp eyes flashing between Cristian and Ashley. The owner’s mind was spinning; he was wondering what Cristian would do next. Cristian snatched up the mug right before it toppled off the end and grinned.

  He settled behind the table in the far corner, far enough away that a normal person wouldn’t overhear the conversation at the bar. Ashley sat at the bar, watching him warily. Catching her glance, he lifted his mug and winked. Ashley glared at him, then snapped her head forward.

  “Lookin fer a meal?” John asked, setting a glass of whisky in front of her.

  Ashley shook her head, lifted her glass, and drank before she thought better of it. He could practically feel the alcohol burning down her throat, sucking the air from her lungs. She coughed, her face turning red.

  John laughed, highly amused with her lack of fortitude. “Ye’ll git used tae it.”

  “I’m never drinking that again.”

  That only made him laugh harder. Cristian hid his grin, knowing she was looking at him once more. He didn’t want her to know, yet anyway, that he could hear every word.

  She pushed the glass away and turned her attention to her fellow patrons. They were deep in conversation, or deep in their meals. “Meeting of the Justice League?” she said wryly.

  “Ehhh?” John was confused, obviously. Cristian wasn’t. Ashley had caught on. Took her long enough. He frowned, uneasy. Rose had told her, he knew that much. The witch obviously thought it was time for Ashley to be pulled out of the dark. She was right. When he’d first met her, he’d hoped that Ashley would give up and return home. He knew now she wasn’t going anywhere.

  Slowly, he spun his drink round and round. There was still a tiny part of him that wanted her to leave while she had the chance. Whereas before he’d wanted her gone because he knew she’d be more of a hindrance than help. Now, hell, now he wanted her to leave because he cared.

  “Hello, my love.” The werewolf was there, sidling up next to her.

  Cristian’s fingers curled around the mug. His skin grew tight as the unfamiliar feeling of jealousy shot through his body. Images of breaking the werewolf’s neck flashed to mind. But he knew, deep down, it was Devon he really wanted to strangle. How ironic, the past replaying itself. Charlotte had sworn her love for him, only to marry Devon. Would Ashley do the same, if given the choice? It was a joke. His life had become some jest produced by the heavens for amusement.

  The Frenchman settled on a stool next to her. “We didn’t get to introduce ourselves.”

  “Ashley,” she muttered, staring at the bar. Her reluctance to make eye contact should have made him feel better. It didn’t. Damn it all, she was his. His. And even as he knew his thoughts were ridiculous, he couldn’t stop himself.

  “I’m Jean.” He settled his elbow on the bar and leaned closer to her. “I noticed you noticing me.”

  Cristian rolled his eyes. Ashley pulled a bowl of peanuts close. “Uh, I don’t think so.”

  “It’s all right.” He shrugged. “Many people do.” Slowly, he rubbed the dark stubble on his chin, watching her through lust-filled eyes.

  Cristian snorted. Was he serious? Chest hair visible from his open collar, gold chain around his neck…he should have been on The Sopranos, or the French equivalent.

  “John,” Ashley called out as the owner walked by. “Can we talk?”

  The werewolf was making her nervous. Most likely she sensed his powers, but didn’t realize. But the glorified dog was harmless enough, or so Cristian kept telling himself. Interfering now would make enemies he couldn’t afford to have.

  John’s dark brows snapped together, a thick, black caterpillar across a pale melon head. Obviously he was leery of whatever she had to say. Cristian didn’t blame the man. Can we talk usually wasn’t a good precursor of what was to come…especially where women were concerned.

  She leaned closer. “Please? Alone,” she added, with a forced smile toward the Frenchman.

  Jean chuckled, but slowly sauntered back to his own table. As if the man wouldn’t be able to hear what she said anyway. As if the entire room couldn’t. They all had senses better than the average human.

  John leaned forward, resting his forearms on the countertop. His round face was full of suspicion. “What is it?”

  Ashley swallowed hard, then glanced over her shoulder and peeked toward Cristian. He caught her gaze and raised an arrogant brow, just to annoy her. She frowned. Hell, even though she was across the room, his body was completely in tune with her, aware of every move, every breath. When her heart hitched, he knew.

  “Well?” John snapped. “Got a business to run.”

  “Sorry.” She turned away from Cristian and leaned closer to John. “You see…I sort of…well…” She rested her fingers on the back of her neck, playing with the hair that had come loose from her ponytail. “I need help.”

  Cristian stiffened. Was she really here to gather the forces? Shite, she really was going to stay and fight. She wasn’t the innocent he’d thought her to be all along. Bemused, he wasn’t sure whether to feel disappointed or proud.

  John laughed, but averted his gaze. “Well now, ye’ll have to be a wee bit more specific. What do ye need help with? Painting? Roof?”

  Cristian frowned. The man was playing dumb on purpose.

  “Not the house.” She peeked up at him through her lashes. “The…the basement.”

  The man’s laughter faded and his face grew solemn. For a moment Cristian thought he’d refuse, or at least continue to play dumb. Instead, the owner’s gaze darted around the room as if afraid someone would overhear. He didn’t want to stir up a commotion. Too late.

  “What’s happened at the house?” Jean asked, moving so fast a normal person wouldn’t have seen him.

  Ashley yelped at the French man’s sudden appearance. “How the hell did you hear me?”

  Cristian chuckled.

  She turned toward him, frowning. He leaned back in his chair, still grinning. There was no way he should have been able to overhear either. She knew that. Finally, she was starting to understand. She paled and jerked her head forward again. “This is a private conversation.”

  “Mademoiselle, if you need help, we will help.” Jean placed his hand on his heart.

  Cristian’s amusement fled. He found the beast’s devotion more than annoying. This sudden jealousy was unsettling, to say the least.

  “Thanks, Jean. But I’m not sure how you can help. I guess…” She faced John again. His features were grim, his jaw clenched, a formidable picture, but Ashley continued on. “I guess…that’s why I’m here.”

  John dropped his gaze to the floor, but not before Cristian noticed the flash of annoyance. The older man’s hands were braced on the counter, fisted. “She weren’t supposed to tell ye yet.”

  Ashley released a harsh laugh. “She should have told me the first day I arrived.”

  “We didn’t want ye here.” John lifted his head. He’d hurt Ashley’s feelings, Cristian knew that by the way his own heart lurched. “Jaysus, Mary and Joseph. Don’t look at me like that. We don’t want ye here because yer not strong enough.”

  Cristian snorted. He thought that was supposed to make her feel better? They were wrong, all of them. Ashley was much tougher than even he’d realized. And with his blood in her body, she’d only grow stronger. Of course he couldn’t tell them that for giving Angel’s blood to any being was forbidden. He’d fucked himself royally and barely cared.

  “I’m tired of everyone saying that,” she muttered.

  John held his hands out palms up, his exasperation obvious. “And what will ye do? How will ye prevent that thing from coming?”

  Surprised, her body stiffened. “You know about it? You’ve known all along there was a demon in my house?”

  “Af course we know.” He swiped the count
ertop harshly with his rag, as if rubbing away the dirt could rub away his guilt. “Ye think we don’t notice the rumbling of the town? Been ‘appening fer months now.”

  She was silent for a moment, those shoulders stiff. “So will you help?” She knew the answer to that question as well as Cristian, it was obvious by the sharpness of her tone. They were scared, they wanted no trouble. They would put their own lives ahead of the greater good.

  “How the bloody hell will we help?”

  She shook her head. “I thought…”

  John turned away from her. “What, just because we have powers, we’d help? We ain’t daft. We won’t get involved with that beast.”

  “And what will ye do?” Cristian snapped, finally having had enough. It was time they listened to reason. Time they accepted the truth.

  John glared at him. “Yer supposed to take care of this mess. It’s yer fault.”

  Cristian stood so fast his chair tilted back and fell to the floor with a thud. The room grew quiet and without turning to look, he knew that every patron was focused on them. Not one would intervene. They were too damn scared.

  “Aye, I’ll take care of that pub. But ye think they haven’t felt the call? Ye think even as we speak, they aren’t coming closer? This village is in danger, and ye know it.”

  John swallowed hard, his throat working, but he didn’t respond.

  Slowly, Cristian smiled. “They’re coming, whether you want to believe it or not. Are ye powerful enough to stop them? Perhaps.” His gaze swept the small crowd. “But ye’ve been out of practice. Yer powers are weak.”

  “Ye don’t know—” John started, but Cristian held up his hand, stopping the bartender’s speech.

  The room fell silent. They were waiting to see what Cristian would do next. He started to turn, when he felt it…that slight tingle spreading up his spine that told him someone was near. He stiffened, his eyes narrowing as his gaze went to the windows.

  He lifted his mug, drank the rest of his alcohol and set it down with a soft thud. “It seems they’re starting to arrive already.”

  Not a person shifted, barely even breathed. Their faces were pale with fear, frozen in place. Panic pulsed through the room like a tidal wave threatening to take them all under. And it would…destroy them all if they let it. So afraid of death, while he craved the afterlife.

  “Best to get home to yer families.” Cristian looked at Ashley. “Come along, Ashley.” He held out his hand, daring her to reject him now.

  She hesitated only a moment then slipped her fingers around his. She might not like him, but she trusted him. An odd warmth invaded his very being… almost…happiness and he wasn’t quite sure he liked the sensation. He pushed the door wide and they moved into the soft evening.

  Ashley wasted no time. “What the hell’s happening, Cristian?”

  “Shhh,” he whispered, his gaze darting from shadowy corner to shadowy corner.

  The entire village was unnaturally silent and still. Not even insects chirped. The animals sensed it, even if the townspeople didn’t. The only sound was soft breathing beside him.

  “I wanted to know what they are,” she whispered.

  He glanced at her briefly. “The town?”

  She nodded, her eyes wide with desperation.

  “Rose told ye.” It wasn’t a question, but a comment.

  Ashley averted her gaze as they walked hand in hand across an alley. Her fingers felt small and cold in his grip, reminding him of her humanity. “She told me they were like me, but I don’t know what that means.”

  A high-pitched scream rent the air. An unnatural sound that raised the fine hairs on his body. A familiar sound. They froze there, in the middle of the street. Lamplight cast an eerie glow, elongating shadows. Through the tightly knit buildings he could see the sun just beginning to set, the sky growing gray.

  “A cat?” Ashley asked, her voice quivering.

  He didn’t miss the hopeful plea to her tone. She was fighting to keep calm. Cristian didn’t respond but continued his casual pace through the town, his footsteps thumping. Every shift, he was aware of. Every sound was noted. It was time to tell Ashley the truth.

  “They aren’t like ye,” he finally said.

  Her pace slowed. She wanted an explanation, but how could he explain without sounding like a romantic fool?

  He glanced down at her. “Aye, they have powers, but they aren’t like ye. There’s no one like ye.”

  She seemed startled by his comment and drew back. “What are they then?”

  They stilled where two cobbled roads met. The day had given way to dusk, and the light was fading fast leaving them in a black and white version of what had been. Probably too late to flee. Besides, if he didn’t kill whatever it was following them, who would?

  “That French man you spoke with is a werewolf.”

  She laughed. “Jean? You’re joking.”

  He quirked a brow.

  She stumbled back from him, shaking her head. “Werewolf? No way.”

  He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. If she wasn’t going to leave, it was time she knew the truth, all of it. “John, well he’s part fairy, part leprechaun, of course.”

  Her mouth fell open. “The….the man with the leather vest and earrings?”

  “Good evening Kipps.” He said the words so casually, his attention still focused on her, that he knew for a moment, she didn’t realize someone else had arrived.

  She parted her lips to question him further, then paused as his words sank in. Any color in her face drained. She spun around. Kipps stood only a few feet away. He still wore that newsboy cap liked he’d been wearing that first day she entered the tea shop, but his face wasn’t as pale and boyish as before. His shoulders were broader, his body stronger. His gaze flickered to Ashley, his eyes glowing an eerie gold when before they’d been hazel. Did she notice the change?

  “Kipps here,” Cristian continued, stepping closer, so close, his breath whispered against her ear. “Well, Kipps is a vampire.”

  Kipps tipped his hat by way of greeting.

  “And what,” she demanded in a harsh whisper, turning to face Cristian. “Are you?”

  Cristian smiled. “Why, I’m an angel, of course. But you already knew that.” His gaze moved from her to Kipps. “Where is it?”

  He crossed his arms over his narrow chest. “It’s close.”

  “Can I get her home before it arrives?”

  Kipps shook his head.

  “Bloody hell.”

  “What,” she demanded, finally coming to her senses, “is it?”

  Kipps growled low in his throat, his lips lifting to reveal perfectly white, long canines that certainly hadn’t been there last time Ashley had seem him. He was like a dog sensing the enemy.

  Cristian focused on the shadows behind them. Gone was wimpy, boyish Kipps and in his place, a monster. A monster who was, thank God, on their side. Cristian held out his arm, imagined his sword and just like that, he felt the hilt in his palm.

  “Hold out your hand,” Cristian demanded of Ashley.

  The least he could do was arm the woman, although what good it would do was yet to be seen. Surprisingly, she did as he asked without argument. Instantly, a sword appeared against her palm. Shocked, she didn’t grip the hilt and the sword clattered to the ground. Cristian shook his head, exasperated.

  Leaving her to her own demise, he slowly spun his sword around and around, focusing on the shadows. “Coome on, ye bloody bastard. I ken yer here.”

  Vaguely he was aware of Ashley kneeling and scooping up her weapon, grasping the hilt with trembling hands. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

  “Use it.” Cristian moved in front of her while Kipps remained behind. They’d formed a shield and they would protect her at all costs, even if it meant their own lives.

  A high-pitched screech rang through the night, the sound of evil. A shiver raked his skin. It was no cat. The screech sounded again, this time closer. F
rom the corner of his eye he noted a shadow morphing from the darkness.

  “You see it?”

  “Aye,” Kipps growled.

  Cristian cried out and surged forward. Kipps guessed the vampire’s move and when the beast surged left he was there, throwing him to the ground. With sword in hand, Cristian kicked the vampire in the chest, hard enough to stun the thing. Easily, he slid the sharp blade through the vampire’s chest. The beast exploded.

  For a moment he and Kipps merely stood there, listening, turning their senses inward, and waiting.

  “More?” Cristian asked.

  Kipps’s eyes were huge and black, his face pale. The beast within the man had surged forward, but Cristian wasn’t worried. Kipps had enough control to know who he was and which side he resided. “Two at the end of the road, one behind Ashley.”

  Cristian spun around. The enemy vampire was still some distance back, but he knew the monster could kill Ashley in a matter of seconds, if he decided to. Her face was pale, her gaze pinned to them as she gripped that sword in her trembling hands. She hadn’t heard Kipps, thank God.

  The vampire shifted, morphing from the shadows and drawing nearer. He wore stereotypical black, from his pants to his long coat. This one was older and would be harder to kill. His face was narrow and pale, his black eyes gleamed with hunger as the soft breeze rustled his long, dark hair. His lips lifted and twin canine teeth glistened in the low light.

  “Welcome to our quaint village,” Cristian murmured.

  “Umm, I’m a little confused here,” Ashley said, still having no idea the evil monster lurked behind her. “Are vampires bad or not?”

  “Depends on the vampire,” Cristian replied, gripping his sword in front of him. Worry clawed its way through his body, dulling his senses. He should have forced Ashley to stay in the pub. He ignored the feeling for he would not let his emotions get in the way. He would assess the situation and attack, as he’d done for centuries. The vampire was older, but Cristian could still take him. He gave a quick nod, an unspoken command, and Kipps burst down the road, disappearing around a corner.

  “What the hell!” Ashley cried out, watching Kipps leave. “Our little army has been reduced by one. And let’s face it, I’m not going to be much help.”

 

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