With a growing sense of unease, Daniel pushed his way through the crowd and gazed across the expanse of the deck to the stairs on the opposite side. They were the stairs that led to the observation deck outside, and as far as he knew, only Black had taken them up during this trip.
No sign of him. He must still be up top.
Daniel turned and followed the crowd down the second set of stairs to the disembarking station. His mind worked quickly. He needed to be able to follow the archess until she was somewhere alone, and he needed to guarantee that he wouldn’t be seen. Daniel paused near the wall by one of the restroom doors and fiddled with his backpack. When he was certain no one was watching him, he slipped into the men’s restroom, double-checked that he was alone, and became invisible.
Then he waited until another man came in, and used the open door to slip back outside once more. The crowd bottlenecked onto the outer lower deck and he expertly navigated the sea of bodies until he was able to stand apart from them and scan the crowd.
Juliette broke away from the crowd and headed across the street. He knew from reading through her receipts on the memory stick that she had reserved a car to pick up here in Stornoway. That was where she was headed.
Daniel broke into a run after her and then, when he was twenty paces behind, he slowed and trailed her. There was still no sign of Black, but there were loads of other people around, too many for him to make his move without a witness.
He was feeling impatient. There was something niggling at the back of his mind. He recognized it as a holdover of his ability to divine future events. It came with the territory—this “feeling” he sometimes got. And he didn’t like the way this one felt. He wondered exactly what it meant. The only real way to tell would be to divine again, and the act weakened him to a dangerous degree. He needed his strength to deal with Juliette.
The sooner, the better. Retaining his invisibility always weakened him and he wasn’t certain how long he was going to have to remain as he was.
Up ahead, Juliette crossed the street to the only car rental shop on the Outer Hebrides islands. He waited, growing more impatient by the minute. His mind flicked to the other Adarians and he couldn’t help but wonder what was happening with the General.
Juliette stepped inside the shop and Daniel leaned against the damp stone wall to wait. Just a few more hours, he told himself. Just a few more hours and she’ll be alone on the moors in the fog. Well, almost alone. He would be with her, invisible in the backseat. It would be so easy to cover up Juliette’s disappearance with an accident. The roads out here were dangerous. They were narrow and winding, lined with craggy cliffs and obstructed by sheep that meandered, sightlessly, into oncoming traffic.
“Patience, Daniel,” he muttered softly.
But as he watched, the archess clearly became agitated. Juliette ran a frustrated hand through her hair. She wasn’t smiling. Daniel cocked his head to one side and looked closer. The woman behind the counter who was helping Juliette was shaking her head and her expression was pained with something like guilt.
Daniel’s gaze narrowed. He remained invisible and moved across the street to stand beside the glass door to the establishment. He listened.
“. . . it’s the festival. All cars have been booked for weeks.”
“Festival?” Juliette asked, barely managing to keep her voice down.
“The music festival,” the woman replied.
“Feis nan Coisir,” Juliette sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose and momentarily closing her eyes. “I remember now.”
“Yae’ve go’ a fairly good accent there,” the woman behind the counter admitted, her pained expression lightening a little.
“Thanks,” Juliette said, clearly trying to remain cordial. She looked at the woman behind the counter. “I have a confirmation number. Just let me find it.” She started fishing around in her leather backpack.
“I’m so sorrae, boot I’m afraid it won’t matter,” the woman told her, shaking her head and appearing truly apologetic. “The lot’s emptae. There aren’t any cars, whether yae’ve go’ a number or no’.”
Juliette’s beautiful face turned stony and Daniel wished he could read her mind. Alas, that wasn’t one of his powers. “Well, that’s good because the stupid confirmation number is in my lost suitcase anyway,” she said as she let her bag drop back down against her shoulder.
“There mi’ be a few rooms still available here in Stornoway,” the woman offered. “Yae can take a taxi to yer cottage tomorra, though I’m afraid yae’ll be payin’ posh prices.”
Daniel ran his hand over his face as he listened to Juliette succumb to the circumstances and use the rental shop’s phone to check on room availability at local hotels. His sustained invisibility was draining him. Luck was not with him in this venture. It was as if fate were conspiring against him. Figures, he thought. The Old Man’s four favorites would always have the upper hand.
He waited until he had the name and address of the hotel where Juliette would be staying—an older building turned tavern just around the street—and then he pushed off the wall. He needed rest. He would find a hiding place, some secluded location where he could both sleep and stash an unconscious body. And then he would take a look at Juliette’s hotel.
Daniel was sweating; he could feel the moisture gathering at the back of his neck and soaking through the collar of his shirt. He had sustained the invisibility for too long and desperately needed to eat and possibly sleep. He’d found an ideal place to escape to with Anderson once he had her, and now he just needed to get the lay of her hotel, but the effort he was sustaining was killing him.
Still, he forced himself to ignore the burn that was starting in his muscles and concentrate on the target.
Juliette was just now entering her room down the hall. It was an old building and the key to her room was the genuine article, a skeleton key that had to be no less than a hundred years old. The archess was clearly not happy with her situation, but if the slowness of her movements and her lack of any form of negative expression or complaining were any indication, she was tired enough not to fuss over it.
He watched her enter the room and shut the door behind her. Then, still invisible, he made his way down the hall and its adjoining staircase. This entire process had taken too long. She was finally alone, but now he was too weak to take her. Archesses were not powerless individuals and Anderson was bound to be dangerous when fight or flight kicked in. He needed a few hours of sleep—no more. Just two or three. And then he could get through the difficult part of this cursed plan.
The pub downstairs was already packed; in another two or three hours it would be wall-to-wall, and if the vibe he was getting was right on, it wouldn’t clear out again until two or three in the morning. If he came back then, it would give him the time he needed to rest, and he wouldn’t have to deal with an accidental audience as he carried an unconscious woman down the service stairs and out into the night. And any stray onlookers would be too drunk at that point to know what was going on. Hell, they would think it was normal. If not . . . he would just have to kill them.
* * *
It was getting late and the sun set early in March. Gabriel glanced at the dim skies and considered finding a deserted doorway in order to open a portal through the mansion to his home in Harris. The mansion stood as both a magnificent living abode and a teleportation device. All the angels needed was a door—any door—and they could travel through it, through the mansion, and out the other side to any other location that also possessed a door.
He’d finished tending to the business with the money in Glasgow, and even for an archangel, financial issues were tiring. A part of him also felt strange; there was a bizarre sort of buzz in the air, as if everything were electrically charged, and it made him edgy. He longed for his fireplace, a beer, and the view of the shore outside his living room window.
But Gabriel was ever a Scotsman and if the crowds
milling about were any indication, then the Feis nan Coisir was in full swing. The drink would be flowing. Gabriel had never been one to turn down an opportunity to get lost in fine music and even finer brew. It, in and of itself, could melt the stress from a man’s body.
The Caorann Hotel, the only hotel directly across from the ferry’s docking station, was rather ill named as a hotel, since it was the pub beneath the hotel’s rooms, and not the rooms themselves, that attracted more guests. During festivals of any type, the Caorann pub was always packed wall-to-wall.
His clansmen would be there. The pub called to him.
Gabriel shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and made his way at a quick pace down the street. When he entered the pub, several familiar sensations hit him at once. It was warm inside, almost overly so, as the pub was indeed full of revelers and the hearth in the corner was stoked and crackling at full force. The din of conversation and drunken laughter was only slightly overshadowed by the music that was being played by an equally drunk-looking band on a platform against one wall. The smell was a combination of sweat, perfume, spilled ale, woodsmoke, and chips, or French fries, as they would have been called by Gabe’s brothers.
Gabriel smiled and let the door swing shut behind him. This was just how he liked it. He stood there a moment and allowed his vision to adjust to the dim light and chaos, and as he did, someone called his name.
He turned to find Stuart’s ancient and arrow-straight form heading through the crowd toward him. “Black, yae bugger, yae’re back!”
Gabriel smiled at his old friend and met him halfway.
“Aye, let me buy you a drink,” he told the old man. Stuart nodded and clapped him on the back, never one to turn down a free drink even though he already held a half-filled mug in his right hand. They wove their way through the undulating crowd and sidled up to the bar. The man and woman team behind the counter recognized Gabriel at once.
“Gabe! Dè a tha thu ris?” the man asked in Gaelic, his Hebridean accent thick. He wasted no time in topping off a fresh mug and handing it to Gabriel, who took the drink with a nod and a grateful smile.
“Fada ’nurcomain, Will,” Gabriel replied, also in Gaelic. “It’s good to see ya.” Will was the barkeep at the Caorann. He was also the hotel’s owner.
The woman behind the bar was Will’s sister. She winked at Gabriel and he gave her an appreciative nod as well before raising his glass and downing half its contents in one long pull. It wasn’t easy for an archangel to get drunk. But he’d had years of practice.
“Wha’ are you doin’ up here anyway, Burns?” Gabriel turned and asked his old friend. Stuart’s fishing boat and cottage were in Harris, not far from Gabriel’s.
“Same thing yae be doin’, Black. Havin’ a drink.” Stuart then downed what was left in his own mug and plopped the empty container on the counter with a flourish that would have resounded loudly if it hadn’t been for the noise level in the pub. “Nae pay up an’ git me tha’ beer yae promised.”
Gabriel laughed and tossed several notes on the bar. The two refilled their mugs and made their way to a table near the hearth where many of the revelers had more or less evacuated because they were dancing and the heat from the fire was too much for them. Gabriel and Stuart sat and Gabe leaned back against his chair, taking it all in.
“I saw an angel coom in ’ere aboot twentae minutes ago, Black,” Stuart said, gaining Gabriel’s attention. “Yae’d’ve lost yer nuts if yae’d seen ’er. The wee lass was jus’ what ye’re always describin’ as yer perfect soul mate an’ wha’ no’.” His bright blue eyes glittered like the eyes of a man much younger and his smile was mischievous.
“Oh?” Gabriel’s brow rose. “Why’d you no’ buy her a drink, then?”
Stuart laughed, the sound like a pen scratching parchment. “I dinnae think she much cared for the a’mosphere.” He laughed again and shook his head. “She did ’er business with Will—Juliette, ’er name was—an’ then she sho’ upstairs withoo’ further ado.”
Gabriel considered this a moment and found that his gaze wandered to the archway that led to a stairwell and the Caorann’s tavern rooms up above. Juliette . . . It sounded like rain in the desert. Like a warm fire on a bitter winter’s night.
Gabriel’s gaze darkened thoughtfully on the empty staircase. Then he raised his mug with one hand and flagged down a passing server with the other.
* * *
Juliette rolled over on the lumpy, hard mattress and glared at the ceiling. The Caorann’s rooms sported paper-thin walls barely made livable by ten-year-old wallpaper that had definitely seen better days. There were three lamps in the room, one of which didn’t work at all and another of which made a strange crackling noise when clicked on. There was no TV, no Internet connection to speak of—again—and the only bathroom on the second floor was shared by all six of the tavern’s available rooms. And there was mold growing in the shower.
Juliette was fairly sure this was the first time in her life that she’d stayed in a half-star hotel.
She missed her Nessie. Her arms felt empty without her stuffed elephant to squeeze.
With a frustrated sound, she sat up quickly on the bed and tossed off her covers. The noise from the pubs downstairs was indescribable. She could barely discern the music the band was playing from the raucous singing of the revelers; the two were melding together in discordant strings of unintelligible lyrics and laughter. The sound was so clear, the party could be going on out in the hall.
Juliette scowled at the door that led to that hall and thought about the peaceful, quiet cottage that was now being paid for but lay empty somewhere on the Luskentyre shore. Her stomach churned and growled; she hadn’t eaten dinner. The crowd in the pub downstairs had been so thick and so cumulatively hot, she’d lost her appetite.
Now she regretted not having at least a bread roll or a small bucket of fries. Or crisps. Or chips—or whatever! She huffed more frustration and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
It occurred to her then that the conversations and traditions and culture being shared downstairs at that moment were exactly what she needed in order to write her ethnography and graduate. And it might be along the lines of the kind of dirt Samuel Lambent wanted as well.
She was just so tired. She reached for her diving watch, pressed the LCD light, and adjusted for the time difference. It was two a.m.!! And she was still jet-lagged, so for her it was even worse.
With a hand that shook a little with hunger and exhaustion, Juliette ran her fingers through her hair, combing out the knots. She did this when she was stressed; it was a habit. When things got really bad, her friends and family could usually find her in the bathroom, furiously running a straight iron through her locks. Nothing said good-bye to stress like ironing out all of the kinks.
After a few moments and a cringe-worthy peal of laughter from downstairs, Juliette sighed dramatically and got out of bed.
“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” she muttered to herself as she pulled on the only new clothes she still hadn’t worn. She didn’t know why, but she guessed she’d been saving this outfit for some occasion. It was the nicest, and it was all she had left before she would have to hit the Laundromat.
Juliette had purchased a new pair of leather boots to match the outfit, which was something she never did. It had been a treat to herself, a celebration of sorts for getting the contract with Lambent—and a consolation for losing Nessie and the rest of her luggage.
As quietly as she could, she donned the skinny jeans, deciding to go commando so that she would still own a clean pair of underwear for the morning. With a glance at the off-the-shoulder blouse she’d purchased to go with the jeans, she opted for braless as well. What the heck? It sounded like a party down there, and probably no one would even notice someone like her. She was small enough that she usually blended right into a crowd.
The shimmering material struck a hue somewhere between peach and gray, and shifted as she moved.
It was flattering in the extreme, she had to admit, drawing attention to her collarbone and tanned complexion and offsetting the hazel in her eyes.
Once she’d sat back down on the edge of the bed and pulled on the knee-high leather boots, she stood and felt a strange rush. The hotel room floor seemed so far away! The boots were platforms and must have added a good four to five inches to her height. She blinked and made her way to the mirror tacked to the outside of the wardrobe.
“Wow,” she whispered. Her legs actually looked long in the jeans-and-boots combination. She couldn’t help but smile. “Loving it,” she whispered again, and then shook her head at her own ridiculousness. What the hell did she care how she looked? She was going to go down and sit in a corner somewhere and quietly observe the local people make drunken, debauched fools of themselves, hoping to God that she could remember half of it come morning. She had no intention of joining them in their fun. . . .
Juliette frowned at her reflection, catching the strange shift in her own gaze. Sophie was right. There was a sadness to her eyes when they turned green.
“Fuck it,” she said suddenly, and straightened a little. She rolled her shoulders back, tossed her long, shining hair over her shoulder, and then gave herself a devil-may-care smile. “Maybe just one drink.”
She took the small iron skeleton key from atop the credenza beside the door and then made her way out in the hall, closing the door and locking it behind her.
At the end of the hall, a line of women were waiting to use the hotel’s upstairs guest restroom. Juliette barely managed to refrain from rolling her eyes. She was lucky she didn’t have to pee. This was just cruel. Surely the owners were making enough money on the booze they sold downstairs to afford putting in another bathroom somewhere?
This is so going in my thesis, she thought morosely as she sidled past them, offered up as friendly a smile as she could, and made her way down the carpeted stairs. The din grew exponentially in volume as she neared the bottom landing. She had to move to the side to allow another pair of women access to the stairwell as they no doubt headed up to stand in line with their compatriots.
Messenger's Angel: A Novel of the Lost Angels Page 7