“But you just said she’s not Artemis and she comes after warriors, too. So it could happen. She could make a bargain like the one I wrote about in my story.”
And icicles could grow on the sun. Freya collected warriors, she didn’t send them back to the mortal plane to fight Daimons/vampires. Artemis did that. But not willing to argue the point anymore when it was obvious Jeff didn’t see it, Rafael moved on to the next similarity. “And what about this? Ralph – Jesus, boy, couldn’t you come up with something better than a bodily function to name me – was a Caribbean pirate, son of an Ethiopian slave and Brazilian merchant…” He glanced down to read the description. “At six six, Ralph was one to intimidate anyone who saw him. With his shaved head that was tattooed with African tribal symbols given to him by a shaman he’d met in his travels, he walked the earth as if he owned it. But more than that, the black tattoos blended at times with his dark brown flesh, making the two of them seem indistinguishable from each other as if he bore some kind of alien skin.”
Unable to read another word of the description that was so eerily close to himself that it made him want to choke his Squire, Rafael let out a disgusted breath. “While I’m both flattered and highly offended, I can assure you, this won’t win you a Hugo or Nebula nomination.”
Jeff pulled the magazine out of his hands again in a high-handed manner. “I resent that. It’s a great story. And you don’t exactly have those tattoos, either, now do you?”
Rafael’s right eye started twitching from the aggravation. “I have intricate scroll work tattooed up my neck to the base of my skull and like Ralph” – he growled the word – “I have them on both arms. They’re close enough to what you describe. No matter how you disguise this trite bullshit, it’s my life, Jeff. Penned in an awkward manner. It’s things I didn’t want to see in black-and-white print. You’re lucky after three hundred years that I’ve mellowed. In my human days, I’d have slit your throat, pulled your tongue through the opening, and left you tied to a tree for the wolves to eat.”
“Yes,” he said, taking a step toward the overgrown adolescent, “and effective. Trust me, no one betrayed me twice.”
“What about the guy who killed you?”
Rafael’s eyes flared as he fought his urge to kill the boy. It was a damn good thing that he liked Jeff’s father and the man had served him well for over twenty years. Otherwise Jeff would be meeting with an “accident” right about… oh, now.
Taking a deep breath, Rafael asked in a tone that belied his anger, “I only have one more question. What’s the circulation on this rag?”
Jeff shrugged. “I don’t know. About one hundred and fifty thousand worldwide, I think.”
“You are so dead.”
“Oh, come on,” Jeff said, dismissing the very real danger he was facing. “You’re overreacting. No one is going to care.” The best place to hide is out in the open. Haven’t you ever heard that? Step out of the Dark Ages, Rafe. Everywhere you look there are vampires and a whole counterculture dedicated to them. Open your mouth to a woman, show her your fangs, and she’ll beg you to bite her. Trust me. I have a fake set I wear to parties and use frequently. Nowadays being undead doesn’t get you killed. It just makes it easier to get laid.”
Rafael shook his head. “Your argument has reached a whole new level of lame.”
“Please, spare me that, old wise one. There’s a whole new school of thought going around about how best to protect and hide you guys. If we start telling people about the Dark-Hunters, but make them think it’s a book series or some urban fantasy thing, when they actually meet one of you, they’ll just think you’re either actors or roleplayers. Or at the very worst, they’ll think you’re insane, but never will they believe you’re real.”
He was seriously considering getting Jeff a CAT scan to make sure the kid still had a brain. “What Einstein came up with this?”
“Well… originally it was Nick Gautier.”
“And the poor man is now dead. Shouldn’t you guys be following someone else’s ideas?”
“No. It makes perfect sense. Get out of the basement, Rafe, and hang with the new generation. We know the 911.”
Rafael snorted. “It’s 411, Jeff, and you don’t know shit. But you are going to need 911 once the Council learns about this.”
“I’ll be fine, trust me. Nick and I aren’t the only ones who think like this these days.”
Those words had no sooner left his mouth than Rafael’s cell phone started ringing. He checked the ID to see “Ephani.” An ancient Amazon who’d crossed over almost three thousand years ago, she was definitely an acquired taste. But even so, he liked her a great deal. Pulling the phone off his belt, he answered it.
“What’s up, Amazon?” he asked, stepping away from Jeff while his Squire continued to admire his story in the magazine.
The kid had no sense of self-preservation.
“Hey, Rafe. I… um… I’m not sure how to break this to you, but do you know what your Squire’s been up to lately?”
Deciding to play it cool, Rafael cut a glare at Jeff. “Writing the great American novel, what else?”
“Uh-huh. Have you ever read one of those novels he’s been working on?”
“Not until today. Why?”
She let out a long sigh. “I’m assuming you have a copy of the Escape Velocity magazine with his story in it, right?”
“Good, then it won’t come as a shock to you to know that my Squire just left and she’s heading over to your house to have a talk with Jeff. If I were you – ”
“Say no more. He’s leaving the country even as we speak. Thanks for the call, Eph.”
“No problem, amigo.”
Hanging up the phone, he narrowed his eyes on Jeff. “That was Ephani warning me that you’re about twenty minutes from dying.”
Jeff’s face turned stone white. “What?”
He nodded. “Her Squire, Celena, Ms. Blood Rite, I-kill-anything-that-breaks-formation, is on her way over here to have a word with you. Since Celena isn’t real big on conversation, I’m taking that as a euphemism for ‘kick your ass.’ ”
Rafael paused as those words conjured one hell of an image in his mind – Celena kicking his ass in that pair of stiletto corset boots she often wore. And in his mind she was wearing nothing but a thong… Yeah… that was something he definitely wouldn’t mind.
A native of Trinidad, Celena had the most perfect mocha complexion he’d ever seen. It was so smooth and inviting that it begged a man to taste it.
And her lips…
Angelina Jolie had nothing on her. She moved slow and seductive like a cat and he’d spent more than his fair share of time wanting her to rub that lean, curvy body of hers up against his.
But unfortunately, she was a Squire and he was a Dark-Hunter. By the rules of their world, she was off limits to him, and though Rafael didn’t give two shits about most rules, Celena lived for them.
It was a crime against nature in his opinion that a woman that fine couldn’t be corrupted.
“What do I do?” Jeff asked.
“Well, not to insult a man who looks like a rocket scientist in comparison to you, but… run, Forrest, run.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s a new era where – ”
“Do you really want to argue that point while someone, who is only a few minutes away, is speeding over here to most likely kill you?”
Jeff paused for a single heartbeat before common sense finally seized him. “Where should I hide?”
If it wasn’t for the fact that as a Dark-Hunter Rafael was impervious to illness, he’d swear a migraine was starting right behind his left eye. “Get to the basement and hide there. Don’t make a peep and don’t leave until I tell you it’s safe.”
Jeff nodded before he ran for the door. Two seconds later he was back. Rafael watched him with a frown as he searched around the room until he located the baseball bat he’d used yesterday at the batting cages. He picked it up and cradled it to his chest before he headed back toward the basement.
“What are you doing?” Rafael asked.
Yeah, right. Celena was highly trained and deadly. A whack with the bat would only piss her off an instant before she jerked it out of Jeff’s hands and beat him with it, but far be it from him to tell Gomer that.
“Hide well,” Rafael said, exaggerating his voice.
Jeff nodded again before he dashed down to where Rafael’s bedroom and living area were.
Pressing the heel of his hand against his brow where the imagined pain seemed to be located, Rafael glanced around the parlor of his Victorian house to make sure that Jeff hadn’t left anything like his underwear lying about. The boy was a good Squire in that he kept up the appearance that someone lived in the house who actually aged but seriously sucked when it came to general housekeeping.
At least for once the place was decent. Except for the Xbox that Jeff had left stretched from the plasma TV to the leather sofa. Rafael had just turned the game off and put it away when he heard a fierce knock on his front door.
Rafael straightened his shirt before he sauntered over to answer it. He could already see Celena’s curvy outline though the frosting on the glass. The porch light highlighted her medium brown hair that she wore pulled back from her face to trail in a ponytail of small braids from the crown of her head.
Her lips were perfect and outlined in dark red glossy lipstick. She had catlike almond-shaped eyes and an attractive mole right above the left arch of those lips.
Damn, she was the finest-looking woman he’d ever seen. Opening the door, he gave her the sexiest smile he could. “Hi, Celena.”
But she was all business. Her dark brown eyes didn’t even glance his way. They went straight past him, into the house.
That finally succeeded in getting her to look at him, but then she quickly glanced away and continued to search the house with her gaze. “What do you mean, you don’t know? After dark, a Dark-Hunter is always supposed to know the whereabouts of his or her Squire.”
“Ah, c’mon,” he teased. “You don’t really tell Ephani every place you go after dark, do you?”
“Of course I do.”
She tried to step past him, but he quickly blocked her way and kept her outside on the porch.
“So what do you want with Jeff?” he asked in a nonchalant tone.
“That’s Squires’ business.”
“Really? I thought anything that concerned a Hunter’s Squire also concerned the Hunter, since he’s my partner, in a purely platonic sense.”
The edges of her lips twitched as if she found something funny about his words.
He couldn’t explain it, but he really wanted to see a full-blown smile from this woman. “What?”
One corner of her mouth lifted into an attractive grin, but it still wasn’t the smile he wanted to see from her. The kind that would light up her eyes and make her laugh. “I was just thinking about Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash – the pirate’s credo.”
He laughed at that even though he should have been offended. “Jeff is too hairy for my tastes. I much prefer a woman’s smooth skin… the softness of a female body. I never was one to cuddle a porcupine.”
Celena swallowed at the seductive tone in Rafael’s deep voice. The sound of it had always reminded her of James Earl Jones, except Rafael’s was marked by a heavy Brazilian accent. One that sent a chill down her spine.
She knew she had no business even looking at him with anything remotely similar to lust, and yet the man set her hormones on fire. Especially that wicked scent of masculine power tinged with Brut aftershave. It was a deadly combination.
Not to mention the fact that he was wearing a tight black V-neck sweater that only emphasized how perfectly formed he was. It clung to every dip and bulge of the muscles on his body. How was a woman supposed to keep her mind straight when a man like this was in front of her?
Clearing her throat, she forced her thoughts back to business. “Where is he?”
A devilish glint taunted her from the midnight depths of his eyes. “Tell me what you want with him and I might tell you where he is.”
Narrowing her gaze, she found it difficult to maintain her outraged anger while he looked at her with that playful air. And that seriously annoyed her. “I’m here to take him into custody and deliver him to the Council.”
“Well, that sucks.” Even though his tone was sincere, she could tell he was mocking the Council and their orders. “Bank robbery, handing out the passwords for the Dark-Hunter Web site, carjacking, mugging, cats mixing with dogs, and now this… writing a short story. High crimes all. You get the rope and we’ll hang him for it. God forbid the whole twelve subscribers of that magazine should actually read a fictional story and think it real.”