Lover's Bite Chapter 15

The jet landed on one side of the border, while Reaper waited on the other. Before he knew what she intended, Rhiannon had raced toward him, her powerful body moving far too fast to be visible to the human eye, even if anyone had been looking. For the most part, the border patrol were more concerned about keeping people from coming into the U.S. than they were about keeping them from leaving it. Still, the jet might have drawn some attention, Jack thought worriedly.

Too late to worry about that. The jet she'd left behind was taxiing across the expanse of naked desert and taking off again seconds after she'd debarked.

And then she was standing in front of him.

"Rhiannon," he began, a warning note in his tone. "Why did you send the plane away without you?"

"Oh, please," she said. "Don't waste time on worn-out arguments, Reaper. I'm here, I'm your maker, and I'm staying. So shut the hell up and let's get on with this."

He held her gaze for one long moment, then sighed. "All right."

"Glad to see you can be sensible."

He thought about Briar. About Rhiannon meeting Briar. Rhiannon hating Briar. Rhiannon and Briar ripping each other's hair out.

Hell, this mission had better go off as planned, not to mention as fast as humanly possible.

Topaz woke quickly and completely. One instant she was in the depths of her deathlike slumber, and the next, her eyes and her senses were wide open, scanning. She sat upright in the bed and virtually sniffed the air for signs the room had been entered while they'd been asleep, but she saw none. More importantly she felt none. Her bed was exactly as it been when she'd fallen asleep. The door was still closed. She didn't feel as if she'd been touched while she'd rested, and she thought that if she had been, she would know it.

With a sigh of relief, she let the tension ease from her body and turned to see her mother coming awake more slowly. Mirabella woke like a cat, gradually, eyes opening a bit at a time, then closing again, as if sleep were too blissful to leave behind just yet. Then they opened again, a little wider this time, and finally she stretched her arms above her, arched her back and tipped up her chin. Then she rolled onto her side, facing Topaz with a bright smile. "Good morning."

"It's evening."

"Then...good evening." She said it the way Bela Lugosi would have said it, her accent ridiculously overblown.

Topaz fought back a smile and kept her expression serious. "This is no time for joking around, Mother. Our lives are on the line here."

"What better time will there be, then?"

"We have to get out of here before Reaper gets himself killed trying to rescue us."

Mirabella's cheerful expression faded. "Are you so sure it won't be Jack doing that?"

Topaz averted her eyes. "I believed in him once, and he betrayed me and broke my heart. I was stupid enough to give him another chance, and he did it all over again. There's no way I'll ever trust him again."

"Or me, either, I imagine," Mirabella said softly. "And for exactly the same reasons. I walked away from you...not once, but twice. And it doesn't matter that I've regretted it ever since, does it, Tanya?"

Topaz didn't answer.

"Jack might be having regrets of his own by now. I mean, he must be. He must have felt something for you. You're too intelligent and too perceptive and far too wary to be completely fooled, even by him."

"I believed what I wanted to believe. I fooled myself far more than he ever could have."

"So it's yourself you don't trust?"

"I don't trust anyone. Myself included."

Mirabella nodded slowly. "You know, even in baseball, you get three strikes."

"This is life, not baseball," Topaz said, turning her back on her mother and everything she was saying.

"And what if you're wrong?" Mirabella asked. "You said you don't trust yourself, that you fooled yourself into believing something. But what if you're wrong about being wrong? What if you're judging him, judging me, according to how you think we feel, how we made you feel, without even knowing how either of us truly feels? You're judging us by the mistakes we've made in the past, without caring how different we might be in the present. If you'd give us a chance, Tanya, you might find out that you're completely wrong. You're so convinced that no one will ever love you that you wouldn't see it if it were staring you right in the face. You can't even see that you've been loved all along. By me, at least. And maybe by Jack, as well."

Topaz still had her face averted. She had to keep it that way, because her eyes were wet, and that was something she didn't want her mother to see. In a tight voice, she said, "Please don't try to make me start hoping for that. It only leads to heartbreak-every single time."

"Why did you spend so much effort searching for me, Tanya?" her mother asked. "Was it only to condemn me for my actions, show me your anger, vent it a little and then walk away?"

Topaz blinked her eyes dry and faced her mother. "I honestly don't know. I think I just wanted to ask you why you walked away."

"The first time, necessity. The second time, shame. And I'm sorry, but those are the only answers I have to give."

"They're not good enough." Topaz paced the room. "Let's get on with this."

"All right." Her mother got out of bed finally, and pulled on the white-and-green halter dress she'd been wearing the night before. "I wish we had time for a shower."

"If we hang around too long, they're liable to decide to drug us again. Besides, I wouldn't trust those three enough to shower here." Topaz put on her shoes as she said it.

Her mother shrugged. "They couldn't do more than peek, and that wouldn't kill us."

"Neither will skipping a shower. Come on."

Sighing, Mirabella slipped on her shoes. High heels, open toes, spotlessly white. She came to stand beside Topaz, right at the bedroom's closed door.

"I'll see where they are first," Topaz said. "Then we'll rush them, no holds barred. We can move faster than they can see us coming."

"It's as good a plan as any," her mother said.

They stood, silent and ready, on either side of the door. Topaz reached for the handle, gripped it-and then went rigid as a bolt of electricity hammered through her body. The blow was like a wrecking ball to the chest, and it sent her flying backward. She hit the foot of a bed and crumpled to the floor, shaking all over.

"Tanya!" Her mother was beside her instantly, kneeling on the floor, her hands cupping Topaz's head, her eyes searching and wide with fear. "What...?"

Behind them, from beyond the closed double doors, a voice spoke, loudly enough for them to hear. "Sorry about the electricity, ladies. You try the window, you'll find the same precautions have been taken."

Topaz looked toward the window, and though her eyes were less than focused, she could see that the glass had been lined with a metallic screen from the inside. Had it been there all along, or had someone been inside this room last night after all?

"I'm afraid you're confined to your room for tonight," their captor said. "No point in fighting it."

Still lying limp and trembling on the floor, Topaz lifted her head slightly. "I'm so going to kill them," she whispered, her body still vibrating with the effects of the jolt it had taken. Her every muscle felt stretched and torn, and the pain of that was debilitating. Even so, she was absurdly glad she had been the one to grab the door handle, not her mother.

To her shock and surprise, her mother no longer looked worried or frightened. Her face now wore an expression of raw fury. She turned her head toward the door. "You will pay for that stunt, gentlemen. You will pay dearly, mark my words."

"Relax," the man said in reply. "It won't kill her. And don't try anything so foolish again. Any part of the door you touch is going to give you the same results. Bide your time, and by nightfall tomorrow you'll wake amongst your little gang again. All of them but one, that is."

Topaz released a pent-up breath, and it came out in stutters. "We can't let them take Reaper."

"I'm not sure what we can do to stop them. Not yet, anyway. You need to get your strength back first."

Topaz nodded and steadied herself. Her body was slowly relaxing, muscles uncoiling. "Sounds like we have all night. Somehow they've set the exchange to take place by day, though I can't imagine how."

Her mother slid her arms beneath Topaz and lifted her. She carried her to the bed and lowered her onto it. "Rest. Get your strength back. We'll deal with them once you've recovered."

"It's ridiculous to keep arguing about this," Jack said.

"I agree," Reaper replied. "So stop arguing. Rhiannon, give me the injection."

They were all gathered in the first of the bungalows. Night had long since fallen, and the bastards' phone call had come right on schedule. Seth and Vixen had made the trip, to an abandoned gas station fifteen miles away, where they'd found the body bag waiting, as promised. With it came a note with further instructions.

Reaper was to be tranquilized before dawn and taken to a spot in the desert. Rather than written directions, Magnarelli had left a GPS device, preprogrammed to guide them from the site where the body bag had been to the place in the desert where they were supposed to leave Reaper. It had been rigged with a timer and wouldn't boot up until a couple of hours before dawn. Jack imagined that not knowing the exact location ahead of time was supposed to make it more difficult for them to set up some kind of an ambush. As if they could, by day. Magnarelli had specified the time they were to leave Reaper in the desert, promising dire repercussions to Topaz and Mirabella should they arrive one minute earlier. They would barely have time to reclaim the women and make it back to the bungalows before sunrise. Which was exactly what the bastard must have intended.

Rhiannon hadn't moved from her spot, resting queen-like in a rattan chair with a fan-shaped back, her legs crossed, one of them exposed by her skintight gown's extensive slit. She and the others had been listening to the two men argue for the better part of an hour now, and Rhiannon was growing visibly tired of it.

Now she uncrossed her legs and rose slowly. "I'm afraid that I have to agree with Jack on this, my friend," she said to Reaper.

He stared at her as if she'd sprouted horns.

"They can control you," she went on. "They can utter that trigger word and send you into a murderous rage, and you know it. Adding this drug of Eric's to that mix could be disastrous. You could kill us all, including the captives. And for all we know, that might very well be what these jackals intend."

Seth had been pacing, aggravated and intense. He stopped then, and faced Reaper. "Much as I hate to be on his side in anything, Reap, I agree with Jack, too. He made this mess, anyway, so he needs to clean it up. He should be the one in that body bag when they pick it up in the desert."

The others nodded. Even Roxy, to Jack's surprise. She nearly always took Reaper's side. But it seemed everyone agreed with him on this. All but Crisa, of course, who hovered very close to the chair where Briar sat, and offered no opinion one way or the other.

"And just what do you think is going to happen when they realize it's not me in that bag?" Reaper demanded. "What do you think they'll do when they find out they've been double-crossed?"

Briar said, "They want you alive. They won't unzip the bag in the desert in full daylight. You'd go up in flames. They'll have to get you back to shelter before they do that."

"And by then," Roxy added, "Ilyana and I will have Topaz and her mother safely out of their reach. It'll be too late for them to come to harm."

"But what about Jack?" Vixen asked.

Of them all, she was the only one who had taken the time to consider that, Jack thought. Besides him, at least.

"If this drug Rhiannon brought does what it's supposed to-" Jack began.

"It does," Rhiannon interrupted.

"Then I'll be fully conscious when they open that bag to check its contents. And I intend to come out swinging." He shrugged. "I'll kill all three of the bastards. The rest is simple. I find some shelter until dark, and then meet up with the rest of you."

"They'll have more than three agents," Reaper said. "You've only seen three, Jack, but don't underestimate these guys. They'll have backup, and they'll have tranq darts ready. And you'll be facing them alone." He shook his head. "I don't like this." He paced the floor. "No. No, I can't let you do it, Jack."

Jack stepped into his path and faced him squarely. "Do you not get that it has to be me?" He lowered his head, then searched for words. "Do you know what I've put her through? Do you have any idea how much pain I've caused her in the past-how much I'm still causing her, now that she believes it was all just another con, that I've played her all over again? It has to be me, Reaper. I'll either die in the effort or I won't, but either way, she'll know the truth. She won't be able to doubt it anymore. She won't have to spend the rest of her life believing that no one ever really..."

"Loved her," Roxy whispered, when Jack couldn't go on. She dropped her head and blinked her eyes, which had become suspiciously damp. Then she faced Reaper. "You have to let him do it, Raphael. It's not about danger, and it's not about whose fault this is. It's about love. And really, what else matters?"

"God, I think I'm gonna puke," Briar muttered, and she shot Jack an accusing look, as if he'd somehow betrayed her.

Maybe he had, in a way. The two of them had been alike-both outcasts among this tightly woven group of friends. Both formerly on the wrong side in battle. Both swearing love was nothing but a lie, an illusion used to anesthetize the masses to the reality that life sucked.

He used to believe that. He didn't anymore.

"All right," Reaper said. "All right, we'll do this your way. But if you get your ass killed, Jack..."

"I'll do my best not to."

Reaper clapped him on the shoulder, then turned to Rhiannon. "Is it time, then?"

She glanced at the clock on the wall and nodded. "Yes. If we inject him now, the effect should last all day. Unless they tranquilize him."

"And what would happen then?" Jack asked.

Rhiannon held his gaze. "We have no idea what effect mixing this drug with the tranquilizer would have on a vampire. It's never been tried. So don't let them tranquilize you."

He thought that was far easier said than done, and she knew it.

Rhiannon unzipped the small black pouch she'd brought with her, and took out a syringe and a glass vial filled with clear fluid. After poking the needle through the vial's rubber stopper, she pulled back the plunger. Then she put the vial, still two-thirds full, back into the pouch, where he glimpsed a few other cellophane-wrapped syringes. She zipped up the pouch and dropped it into the chair where she'd been sitting.

Jack shivered a little and wondered just what the day ahead would bring. And then he squared his shoulders and knew it would be worth it, whatever the outcome. He moved toward Rhiannon as she tipped the syringe, needle end up, flicked it with her forefinger, and squirted a bit of the drug out the tip.

Vixen ran forward and flung her arms around Jack's neck. He was stunned by the surge of emotion that welled up in him at her gesture, and he hugged the odd little creature in return.

"I knew you were good inside. I knew it all along."

"You're pretty smart, then, because I didn't," he told her.

Seth came up beside her as she released Jack. He gripped Jack's hand hard. "Good luck, Jack."


"I have ice packs chilling in the freezer," Roxy said. "I'll put them in the body bag with you. There's no telling how long they'll let you lie there in the desert sun before they come to get you. It might help some."

"Thanks, Roxy." Jack glanced at Briar. "What, no tearful goodbye from you?"

"If you get dead, it's your own idiotic fault," she snapped. Then her lips thinned, and she sighed. "Try not to."

Ilyana said nothing, and Crisa just watched everything with her eyes wide. Jack wasn't sure if she fully understood what was happening or not.

Rhiannon, for her part, pretended to be unmoved, but Jack thought he saw emotion in her eyes. "As touching as this is," she said, "if we don't get started, we're not going to make it to the appointed place on time. And we don't want to be even a minute late or we'll never make it back here. They've given us little enough time before sunrise as it is."

Nodding, Jack faced her and extended his arm. "Do it."

Rhiannon sank the needle into his flesh.


Topaz came to slowly, to find a glass being held to her lips. She drank deeply and tried to sit up as her mother set the glass aside. "I passed out?" she asked.


"And the barbarians brought me sustenance?"

Her mother set the empty glass aside and shook her head. "No. I provided that." She held up a hand to reveal her forearm, which had a strip of cloth bound tightly around it. "You were too weak to take it on your own. I've been feeding you from a glass. How are you feeling?"

Topaz took stock, felt the power flowing through her, the healing, rejuvenative power of vampiric blood. "I feel stronger. How long have I been out?"

"Most of the night. But there's still time. And I have a plan."

"What is it?"

"Uncomplicated and straight to the point. I smash through the door, you take them out. Simple."

"Not simple at all," Topaz said. "You'll get jolted and be useless to help us escape."

"I have a feeling you can handle the three of them on your own."

"You have more confidence in my fighting skills than I do, then."

"You can do it," Mirabella said. "And once you do, you just get me out of here and find us shelter before sunrise."

"It could kill you, Mother."

Mirabella shook her head. "Dawn is only an hour away. You grabbed the handle and survived it. I think I can manage a much briefer contact without dying from the shock."

Topaz nodded, because the logic of that made sense. "I still don't like it. But I don't think we have any other option." She got to her feet, smoothed her clothes, glanced at her mother again. "You took a shower, didn't you?"

"Didn't have any other plans. Are you ready?"

"I'd better be. We can't wait much longer and have any hope of success." Topaz moved closer to the door and tipped her head to one side. "I don't feel them out there. But I hear the television blaring."

"They've probably blocked mental contact between rooms to keep us unaware of their comings and goings," Mirabella suggested.

"Yeah. That's probably it." Topaz positioned herself slightly to one side of the door, crouched and ready to spring on the unsuspecting mortals beyond it. Her mother backed all the way to the farthest end of the room, paused a moment to gather her energy and then launched into motion.

By the time she hit the door she was moving quickly. Not at full speed-there wasn't enough space for that-but fast enough. She hit the door bodily, and it flew open with a crash. Mirabella surged through, then collapsed to the floor on the other side, even as Topaz lunged into motion herself, leaping her fallen mother, and preparing to snap the neck of the first mortal she saw.

Except there were none.

Frowning, Topaz stood, poised for battle, and scanned the room, all senses searching. But there was no one there. She checked the bathroom, the closets. Nothing. No one.

Turning, she spotted her mother, trembling on the floor just as Topaz had been several hours earlier. "They're gone," she told her, moving closer, crouching beside Mirabella. "We're alone here."

Blinking against her pain, Mirabella said, "They've gone to make the exchange."

"But it's not an exchange if they didn't take us with them."

"No," Mirabella said. "It's a trick. A trap. Your friends are in danger, Topaz."

Topaz rose from her mother's side and went to the door to peer through the peephole. She pursed her lips and sighed, then went back to her mother again. "There are guards outside the door."

"They didn't hear that crash?"

Topaz shrugged. "Maybe the TV blocked it."

"How many?" Mirabella asked. Her voice was weak, but she was struggling to stay focused.

"Four that I can see. There could be more. I can't sense anything beyond this room."

"Is the window in this room rigged with electricity, like the one in the bedroom was?"

Topaz went to the window, yanked open the drapes, and saw only clear glass. "It doesn't look like it." Then she glanced down. "But it's way too far to jump, even for us. At least twenty-three stories. Maybe twenty-four. And it doesn't look possible to climb down."

"We're going to have to try."

"You're too weak, Mom. I can give you blood-"

"Don't be ridiculous. It's the only thing keeping you as strong as you are right now. One of us has to be able to handle this, baby. And I'm afraid it's going to have to be you. Open the window."

"I don't even know if it opens." Topaz checked and found that it did, then fumbled the safety grate away and dragged it into the room. Then she turned to find that her mother had pulled herself to her feet and was making her way weakly across the room. She had torn her skirt off at midthigh, to give herself more freedom of movement.

"Turn around, hon," Mirabella instructed. "You're going to have to carry me."

"I don't know if we can do this."

"What's the worst that can happen?"

Topaz shuddered to think. But she turned. Mirabella wrapped her arms around Topaz's neck, her legs around her waist. And then Topaz climbed out the window, hung by her hands from the edge, eyed the next ledge below her and let go. They plummeted, but she kept her hands touching the building's side, and when she felt the next ledge, she gripped it for all she was worth. And somehow she caught it and held on. She dangled there, terrified and yet exhilarated.

"We did it! It worked." She smiled in spite of herself. "We can do this. Just drop from ledge to ledge until we're close enough to jump to the ground. Hold on, here we go."

She released her hold on the second ledge, and again they fell. But this time, when her fingers hit the next ledge down and she tried to grip it, the cement crumbled in her hands and they kept right on falling.
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