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by Alyssa Day

  “You didn’t answer my question.” He stepped closer, taking two quick strides, until he was so close to her that the barrel of her gun pressed into his chest and the scent of her tantalized him.

  She didn’t have it in her to shoot him.

  He was almost sure.

  “Back away, big boy,” she told him, pressing her body weight, such that it was, into the warning until the gun dug into his skin beneath his shirt. “Don’t make me shoot you. It would be messy, and who needs that?”

  “What are you trying to steal?” he repeated, ignoring the gun and the banter, because it was pretty obvious exactly what she’d meant.

  She sighed and stepped back, then lowered her gun and flicked something small and silvery at the base of the glass case. “More than twenty-three thousand gems in this collection, and we’re both after the Siren. Too bad, you really are extremely luscious, but that gem is mine.”

  Before he could think of a response, she tucked her gun into a holster on her leather belt and stepped closer to him. Her scent teased him again, swamping his senses with the light fragrance of jasmine underneath a spring rain.

  “Perhaps just a taste? As a sort of good-bye?” she murmured, maybe to herself, and then she rose up on her tiptoes and pulled his head down to hers with one hand. With the other, she lifted her mask a little and pressed a soft, gentle caress of a kiss against his lips. Utter shock kept him motionless just long enough for her to drop her mask, step back, and press something hard into his abdomen.

  “Lovely. I really do regret this,” she said.

  And then she shot him.

  “You shot me—” he blurted out, but looking down, it wasn’t the expected bright red of his blood flowing out of his body that he saw, but bright red . . . feathers? A dart. It was a dart.

  And feathers. Dancing feathers, and the room spun around them. Magical feathers? Oh. Oh, no. Not magic . . .

  Drugs . . .

  As he hit the floor, his Atlantean metabolism instantly began to push the drugs out of his system. But instantly wasn’t quick enough, if the way the floor was trying to suck him into it was any clue.

  She bent down, and his senses reeled at the sight of her features all gone topsy-turvy, until his drug-hazed mind realized that he was looking at her upside down. Her mask had dropped down a little to show the wry curve of luscious lips. Even after she’d shot him, he still wanted to taste that mouth again.

  “I really am sorry, you know. Hopefully since you haven’t actually stolen anything yet, they won’t imprison you for too very long,” she said, with what sounded like sincere regret. “Best of luck to you.”

  She said something else, but by then the drug had temporarily—at least, he hoped it was only temporarily—overwhelmed his body’s efforts to push it out, and the gray pushing at the edges of his vision swarmed in to take over his conscious mind. The last thing he saw before the blackness claimed him was the small rectangle of paper, with its tiny scarlet image, that she’d dropped on the ground.

  “Ninja,” he managed.

  Her unexpected peal of laughter echoed in the swirling dark.

  * * *

  Fiona clapped a hand over her mouth, stifling the laughter. Fool. She was out of time and had nearly been out of luck. What was she thinking to kiss that man? He could have grabbed her and ripped her mask off or, worse, held her for the authorities. He was certainly big enough to have overwhelmed her and done hideous things to her with his hard-muscled body.

  Lovely, dirty things. Or at least naked things.

  She stifled another laugh. Clearly panic and adrenaline had combined to drive her mad. The man was a thief, she reminded herself, acknowledging and then proceeding to ignore the obvious irony.

  She could almost hear Hopkins’s voice in her head. Lady Fiona Campbell did not kiss common criminals.

  She allowed her gaze to travel the length of his hard, muscled, and quite decidedly male body. Well. She shouldn’t kiss uncommon criminals, either.

  Declan’s tinny voice squawked from her wrist, and she tapped the button to silence it. Time was up. She gathered the shadows around herself and stepped into the corner behind the door. The guards would be joining them any moment. Unfortunate, that. She rather hoped the man didn’t face too much trouble, but the stakes were too high to let him interfere with her plans.

  This job was too dear. The Siren was on the auction block; that absolutely flawless and enormous square-cut aquamarine centered on Vanquish’s hilt was meant to be hers. The anonymous buyer who’d put the word out had also said those magic words: Money is not an object.

  There was no possible way to even cost it out. The sword itself was priceless and the Siren was as well known as Vanquish. According to history, William had always claimed it came from his own many-times-great-grandmother, and she was an actual siren. The kind who sang sailors to their deaths. Apparently old Grandma the Conqueror had kept at least one sailor alive long enough to get a little frisky with him.

  Fiona figured she’d start high and negotiate her way down. She wasn’t planning to steal the sword, after all. She wasn’t irretrievably destroying a national treasure. Just defacing it a little. They could put a different jewel in the hilt. A paste one. Fakes were brilliant these days; nobody would even be able to tell without a jeweler’s eye.

  Guilt whimpered and tried to raise its ugly little head in her conscience, but she firmly pushed it back down. Vampires didn’t feel guilty, so why should she?

  The man on the floor—the man she’d just shot, for Saint George’s sake—stirred and groaned. Guilt didn’t just whimper, this time. It jumped up and down and sang an aria. She’d never shot anyone before. She didn’t want to ever shoot anyone again. She was not her grandfather’s child.

  The warning gong clanged as the security door began to rise, and she swung her attention to the glimmer of light that slowly widened between the floor and the bottom of the steel door. Right on schedule. Time to make her way home and decide what to do next. She focused with all of her concentration on shadowing her presence—sight, sound, and scent—from even the shifters and their ultrasensitive noses and ears, then cast one last regretful glance over her shoulder at the ever-so-gallant thief.

  It was quite fortunate that her shadows dispersed the sound of her gasp even as it left her mouth, because the floor was empty.

  The man was gone.

  * * *

  Christophe made it as far as the roof of the White Tower before he collapsed out of mist form and fell heavily to the stone. The drug had left him weak, barely able to reach for and channel the magic that had helped him escape before the Tower Guard found him lying helpless as a mewling babe on the floor.

  Wicked little wench. She was going to be very, very sorry she’d ever shot an Atlantean warrior. He might have to tie her up and take a considerable amount of time teaching her a lesson.

  With his lips.

  And his cock.

  The thought of her warm, willing body underneath his flashed a sizzle of heat through him that got him up and moving. Now was not the time to be caught on the grounds. He’d come back for the Siren; he’d seen enough to know she hadn’t taken it. Not yet.

  Now he wanted to find her. Needed to find her. The Scarlet Ninja was suddenly the only mission he cared about. He’d wanted a challenge, hadn’t he? She was definitely that. How had a woman he hadn’t really even seen aroused him more with a brief brush of her lips than any tumble in the sheets had done in decades?

  He pulled himself up and, from a crouching position so as not to shout his presence to the world, scanned the grounds for the uniquely bending shadows that had signaled her presence inside the Tower. It took several long seconds, but he found her. She was running, and she was still shadowed. There was nothing magical or preternatural about her running speed, however, and he would easily catch up.

  Wouldn’t she be surprised at what she found when she finally stepped outside her magical shadows? He laughed and, channeling the power of Posei
don once again, threw himself off the roof and into the rain. This would have to be his last effort to travel as mist until he’d had rest and food. Exhaustion was pulling at him, amplified by the remnants of the drug still working itself out of his system. The transformation itself should help remove the drug, though, balancing out the drain on his magic as he changed forms yet again.

  He focused on the way the curving shadows moved through the grounds and toward the gate, barely perceptible in the drizzling rain. She moved so gracefully, almost dancing between one raindrop and the next. It couldn’t be just the light she was bending with her magic. Shifters had extremely powerful noses, and she’d been within scenting range. But clearly they hadn’t caught so much as a whiff—or the sound of her heartbeat, either. If he hadn’t known better, he might have thought she was a vampire.

  He did know better, though. More than two centuries spent fighting vamps had taught him how to recognize a vampire when he confronted one. She had a magic he hadn’t seen before, that was all. Maybe Fae, but even as he thought it denial rose to counter it. Not Fae, please not Fae.

  He hated the Fae.

  There. She’d veered away from the loose grouping of guards near the gate and circled around, slipping through behind them even as Christophe watched. That easily, and she was gone.

  He wondered if it was always that simple for her. Decided it must be. After all, she was the Scarlet Ninja, celebrated throughout the United Kingdom. People in every pub he’d entered during the past few days had happily and drunkenly embellished rumors about this phantom who’d stolen millions of euros’ worth of jewelry and art, but never been caught or so much as seen. People were speculating that he—and wouldn’t they be surprised to see just how much the Scarlet Ninja was not a man—was a descendant of the legendary Robin Hood. He gave an amount worth exactly half of every take to various charities and causes, accompanied only by his calling card: a shiny silver card embossed with the scarlet silhouette of a ninja.

  Distraction. If he kept thinking about her, he might forget to realize how much he was hurting. Exhaustion took on the form of physical pain, even for an Atlantean warrior, when he’d been living on pints and very little else, not even sleep, for days, and then overused his magic in pursuit of a phantom. Alaric would be furious. The thought cheered him up enough to keep him going for a little farther, just a bit . . . there.

  He’d caught her. The long, dark car pulled smoothly away from London’s hideous traffic and up to the curb just long enough for the back door to be opened ever so briefly, seemingly by whoever sat inside behind those dark-tinted windows. And if Christophe hadn’t been watching very, very closely, he never would have seen the flash of scarlet silk materialize before the door slammed shut and the car pulled back out into traffic. Not a chance the traffic cameras had caught a bit of her, either. Just another anonymous dark car in a city filled with them. Even the license plates were mud-splashed and unreadable.

  As he soared down toward the car and its mysterious passenger, Christophe spared a flash of grim amusement at the thought of how very surprised his Scottish ninja was going to be when she reached her destination.

  Chapter 6

  Waterloo Barracks

  Telios returned to his perch near the gargoyle and puzzled over what he’d seen. A flash of a man who could turn into water? It wasn’t a Fae talent he’d ever heard of, but the Fae kept their secrets close and their enemies closer. He’d be a fool to believe that Prince Gideon na Feransel truly wanted him as an ally. More likely the Fae planned to use him and discard him. Or kill him. Until he knew the truth, he couldn’t trust any of the new members of his vampire coalition. They’d watch for which way the wind shifted and be as likely to try to kill Telios themselves as to assist him.

  Telios’s fangs extended and he danced a little capering jig. Far more powerful beings than a minor Unseelie prince had tried to kill him before. None of them still walked the earth in their precious Summer Lands. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

  The water man was no concern of Telios’s, anyway. If he’d been carrying the sword, Telios would have seen it when the man had lurched off the roof. Time to move on to part two of the plan and go inside, find out what the uproar his vampire hearing had detected was about, and get a little help from one of the dogs. He so loved making shifters obey.

  Telios flew down to the front of the building, timing it perfectly for the guards’ circuit. He focused every ounce of his power and stared them down, enthralling the human first and then the shifter before either could so much as draw a weapon.

  “We need to go see the Jewel House,” he said.

  “We need to go see the Jewel House,” the human responded, eyes glazed over and blank.

  “Make sure Vanquish is safe,” Telios prompted.

  “We must make sure Vanquish is safe,” the shifter said. His face was a blank mask like the human’s, but a tiny bit of twitching ran through his muscles. Shifters were always harder to completely enthrall, and he’d never yet managed to put more than one of them under at a time.

  He shrugged. He’d make do with what he had, as usual. He’d been doing just that since 1888. “You’ll kill anyone who tries to stop us.”

  “We’ll kill anyone who tries to stop us,” they both repeated.

  He stood aside and pointed. “Lead the way.”

  * * *

  Telios had expected the guards to discover him every step of the way: through the employee entrance, down the twisting corridors, and even while they stood, exposed, as the shifter punched in the code that opened the security door to the Jewel House. Naturally, since he was prepared for every contingency of attack, none happened. Now they stood guard, his two minions, as he admired the lovely jewels on display.

  Not as many as he’d expected, to be sure. Perhaps the queen and her offspring were prancing around somewhere at some state dinner, all bejeweled and crowned. Did they even do that anymore? It was so hard to keep track of current traditions as the decades passed, faster and faster. The closest he’d come to a spark of interest in years had been when that American author came to London to try to discover his real identity. She’d failed, of course—they all failed. But then again, that had been before they knew vampires existed. Perhaps now was the time to unleash his alter ego again.

  Whitechapel and its residents had missed him for far too long.

  A sound from the hallway interrupted his reveries of flesh and blood and death, and he crossed to the case that held his prize. Vanquish, sparkling like a whore who’d robbed a jeweler. Gaudy and over adorned. The question crossed his mind yet again—why did the Fae want this particular sword so very, very much?

  Voices in the hallway sounded, closer, and he had no time for questions. He pulled on his favorite leather gloves, punched a hole in the glass, and removed the sword with both hands. Even through the gloves, a tingle of power zapped him with an almost electrical shock, but it wasn’t his left hand that felt the jolt. It was his right—the hand that held Vanquish’s hilt.

  The jewel on that hilt glowed with the fierce blue of the ocean dazzled by sunlight. He’d never seen a more beautiful gem, but it wasn’t only the beauty that captured his interest. This aquamarine was magical, somehow. No wonder the Fae wanted it. Perhaps Telios would keep it for himself for a while and try to discover its secrets. Always better to know the things that others tried to hide. Especially the nasty secrets of Unseelie Fae.

  The voices changed, from conversational to aggressive, and he realized his presence had been discovered. By the time he whirled around to face them, his two enthralled guards were fighting like madmen to keep their colleagues from entering the room. Three lay dead or dying on the floor already. Telios knew he could take on the remaining five by himself if he had to do so, but there was no need.

  “Guard me as I leave,” he commanded, and his two guards immediately fell back to protect him.

  But they were protecting him from no one. The other guards weren’t attacking. They weren’t
rushing his two guards or even trying to attack Telios. Every single one of them had turned, backs to Telios, weapons held in the air at a readiness position.

  Telios tried to understand this new trick. How was this strategy supposed to work? Before he could puzzle out even a possible answer, all seven guards—the two he’d enthralled and the five others—spoke as one.

  “We guard you as you leave, Master.”

  Telios’s mouth fell open and his fangs retracted involuntarily from pure shock. He stared around the room at the guards. Each face held the same expressionless blankness. The same readiness to serve him. The gem in the hilt of the sword pulsed once in his hand, flaring a brighter blue than before, and he slowly bent his head to look at it.

  “It’s you, isn’t it, my beautiful bit of rock?” He whispered the words, almost not daring to believe them. “No wonder the Fae prince wants you so very badly. The sword was a distraction. What he really wants is you and your power.”

  He raised his head and felt the triumphant grin spread across his face, stretching long-unused facial muscles. It had been a very long time since he’d had reason to smile. “Let’s all dance,” he told the guards, and he laughed his very rusty laugh as they waltzed all the way to the door.

  Chapter 7

  Fiona finished changing into her jeans and shirt, toweled off her damp hair, and pressed the button to lower the privacy glass so she could talk to Sean.

  “I’m still not sure hiring you was such a good idea,” she said, uncapping a bottle of water and taking a long drink as they prowled through the dark and light of London at night. “I don’t know how much good ‘getaway driver’ is going to do you on your résumé. Not to mention the unfortunate and very real possibility of prison.”

  He grinned at her in the rearview mirror, still looking far too young to even be allowed to drive, let alone be the chauffeur of a hardened criminal like herself. “Funny, that. Just sent out fifty résumés yesterday and I’ve had forty-nine job offers already. Evidently getaway drivers are in high demand these days.”


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