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Atlantis Betrayed wop-8 Page 5

by Alyssa Day

  The grin faded and his eyes narrowed as he swerved around a badly parked car. “Stick your arse end out in the street, and you’ll lose it, Mr. Volvo,” he muttered.

  “Forty-nine offers, hmm? Does that mean you’re leaving me to fend for myself?” Fiona rested her head against the back of the seat, suddenly utterly fatigued.

  “Not quite yet, Lady Fiona. I was really holding out for that fiftieth outfit.” He smoothly rounded a corner and glanced back at her. “Get some rest, why don’t you?”

  She aimed her sternest glare at the back of his head. “Call me Lady Fiona again and you’re fired, my young friend.”

  “Whatever you say, Lady Fiona.”

  She growled at him, but he just chuckled and switched on the music, something light and classical that one wouldn’t expect a twenty-two-year-old man—boy, really—to enjoy. Although it was true that he had never quite had the chance to be a boy. Not with the way he’d grown up. She’d stepped into the middle of a beating that day, seven years ago, and come out the other side with a broken arm and a fifteen-year-old boy who wouldn’t be parted from her, no matter how many times the authorities had tried to find him a suitable home.

  So her home had become his home, and the child of a murderer and a whore became the ward of a thief. In her more self-aware moments, she wasn’t that sure it was a step up. But the truth was that she needed the help—help she could trust—and the reward was far too great for far too many for her to retire the Scarlet Ninja just yet.

  Even though now she was in danger. She’d been seen.

  Her thoughts returned to the man from the Tower. She hadn’t had the time to ask him how he’d gotten past security, not that he would have answered her anyway. But he knew she was a woman; a Scottish woman. He knew and he had absolutely no reason to protect her identity. She’d shot him with drugs and left him for the Guard.

  She’d shot the man. Shot him and kissed him, her conscience whispered. Bloody hell. She’d shot the one witness who could ruin everything. She was absolutely mad.

  “Should have killed him,” the ghost of her grandfather whispered in her mind, but she shut him down, hard. She’d retire the Scarlet Ninja and go to work cleaning toilets before she’d become anything like him.

  The soothing music and the exhaustion pulled at her, helping to repress the worry for just a few minutes, and brooding turned to dozing until the car smoothly pulled to a stop and she realized they’d arrived safely in her garage. Sean was out of the car and opening her door before she could do it herself, another gallantry she’d tried to talk him out of many times. He took his chauffeur’s role seriously, though, and wouldn’t be dissuaded.

  “We’re safe home,” he announced, grasping her arm and helping her out of the car as if she were a ninety-year-old woman with a bad case of the gout.

  She bit back the impatient retort that sprang to her lips. It wasn’t Sean’s fault that she’d botched the job. A simple reconnaissance. “How dangerous can it be?” she’d said to Hopkins. Flippant and carefree. Foolish.

  How dangerous could it be? She was ruined. That was how dangerous.

  “If you’re all right, then, I’ll say good night,” Sean said. He lived in a lovely little apartment over the garage. Hopkins had overseen the decorating himself, though he’d never admit it.

  “Fine, thanks. You get some sleep.” She put a hand on his arm as he started to walk away. “Sean? You’re a wonderful help to me. I know I don’t tell you that often enough. Thank you.”

  His pale face slowly flushed to a glowing pink under the dusting of freckles on his cheeks. “You don’t, I mean, I just, we—”

  Hopkins’s dry voice sounded from the doorway to the laundry. “He means to say ‘you’re welcome,’ don’t you, Sean?”

  “Exactly!” Sean said a shade too loudly. “Just off to bed now. To sleep, that is. Just sleeping. In bed.”

  Fiona watched, fascinated, as Sean’s face turned a peculiar shade of plum-purple before he made a bizarre squeaking sound and practically ran for the stairs to his apartment.

  When the door had closed behind him, she gathered her bag, closed the car door, and turned to Hopkins. “What on earth was that about?”

  “That young man has believed since he was fifteen years old that the stars and moon shine for you alone. Didn’t you realize that all of his puppy adoration and hero worship would almost certainly turn into something a bit more personal?”

  She blinked, trying to force her tired mind to put some sense into his words. “He—oh. Oh, no. He has a crush? On me? I’m far too old for him.”

  “Oh, yes, all of five whole years. You’re ancient. And yes, a crush, as you say. Unrequited love. Quite an astonishingly fierce case. But don’t fret, it will pass. In fact, perhaps sooner rather than later, considering how lovely the housekeeper’s niece is,” Hopkins said, stepping forward to take her bag.

  Fiona decided she’d had enough to deal with for one night and chose to put this latest problem aside. Far aside. Perhaps for the next ten years or so, or at least the next few months, until Sean grew out of it or switched his affections to the housekeeper’s niece.

  “Nice pajamas,” she said, managing a grin. He still wore his perfectly creased jacket, shirt, and trousers. “Do you sleep in that outfit?”

  A shadow crossed his face, probably at her pathetic attempt to force a bit of lightness into her voice. “Well, then? How did it really go?”

  “It could have been better,” she admitted. “We have a bit of a problem.”

  Hopkins narrowed his eyes, but she just shook her head. “Upstairs. When we’re in my office.”

  “I see. That big of a problem,” was all he said, before leading the way into the house.

  “Oh, my dear Hopkins. You have no idea.” As she followed him through the house and up the wide staircase to her second-floor office, she wanted to laugh but clamped her lips shut against it. She was afraid if she started, the edge of wildness racing through her would come out in hysteria, and one thing a lady must never do was succumb to hysteria. Her grandfather had told her that often enough, generally while brandishing his cane through the air and terrifying the servants. Odd that he’d never addressed the issue of a lady going to prison for the rest of her life. That lecture might have come in handy right about now.

  As she trudged up the stairs, her thoughts returned to the mystery man. Whatever he was up to, she hoped—quite illogically—that he was safe.

  “We’re going to have to put something in that space, you know.” Hopkins indicated the empty space on the wall where her grandfather’s portrait had claimed pride of ownership on the landing.

  When she was a little girl, she’d always thought the eyes in the painting followed her around. Frankly, it had felt like that now that she was an adult, as well. That’s why she’d finally asked that it be taken down, ostensibly for cleaning. It felt wrong to tell her staff that a painting “creeped her out,” as Declan would say. Not very ladylike. It sat in the attic now, draped, where her grandfather’s dead, painted eyes couldn’t glare down at them all anymore. As far as she was concerned, it could stay there forever.

  “Something with tiny kittens and butterflies, perhaps, and a motivational slogan such as ‘Hang in there, pussycat,’ ” Hopkins continued, his voice drier than ever.

  She laughed and stumbled, almost missing the step. “What on earth are you talking about?”

  “Just checking in to see if you were listening. We do need to hang something, though. The bare space is too dramatic and invites questions. Perhaps another deceased family member with a slightly less dour countenance?”

  She shivered. “Not likely. How about you, Hopkins? We’ll have your portrait done. You can even wear the sheep pj’s.”

  His un-butler-like snort sounded as it reached the second floor. “Yes. I’ll put that in my planner straightaway. Shall we say Tuesday of never?”

  She caught up with him and put a hand on his arm. “I’ll tell you more, later. But with Dec
lan, I’m going to . . . play it down, shall we say.”

  He stopped walking and stared at her in silence for a long moment, then finally inclined his head. “As you say. He’ll never be off to university if he thinks his big sister is in danger. He’s quite protective of you, you know.”

  “He’s not the only one,” she said, flashing a sudden grin.

  She started off again, but this time he caught her arm. “Are you in danger?”

  Fiona bit her lip, thinking about how to respond. Finally she went with truth. Always easiest to remember. “I might be. This time, I really might be.”

  The door to the last room on the right of the warmly lit hallway opened, and her brother popped his head out. His hair stood straight up, a sign that he’d been at his beloved computers most of the night, and he instantly launched into an excited swarm of questions.

  “Oh, boy, that was close. Did you set off the alarm? Guards swarmed the room for quite a while after you left, and who was that bloke on the floor? Where did he go? They put the cameras and computers in emergency lockdown mode right after that, so I got kicked out, and Fee, I think they knew I was in there. They’ve got somebody top-notch. It would have to be somebody really, really good to know I was there and find out it was actually me, you know? Not in an arrogant way, but you know. What did you think of the Siren? Did you get a really good look? It’s absolutely gorgeous, but I’ve always been moved along by the guards when I try to—”

  She finally stopped him, dazzled by the sheer volume of words. “What did I tell you about caffeine after midnight? Slow down, let me in, and we’ll talk about it. I don’t really care to discuss this in the hall.”

  Not that the hall housed anyone but herself and Declan; those few of the staff who didn’t return to their own homes at night had the other wing, but it never hurt to be careful. She took a step toward the combined office and computer room she thought of as her brother’s private nerve center, but this time Hopkins clamped a hand on her arm with the tensile strength of a cast-iron manacle.

  She glanced up at him, and her question died in her mouth at the sight of the flames practically shooting out of his eyes.

  “There was a bloke?” he said, enunciating very, very precisely, always a bad sign. “A bloke on the floor?”

  “Inside. Let’s get out of the hallway and I’ll tell all,” she repeated. “But let me warn you now: you’re not going to like it.”

  * * *

  Christophe opened his eyes to total darkness, and just for a moment, that instant between conscious and not conscious, terror swept through him. Not again, not now, not the box, I’ll be good, please no. Before he could smash his fists into whatever hard surface he lay on, however, or howl his fear to the menacing dark, realization dawned. The present reality snapped back into focus with the power of a moon-pulled wave crashing around his head in high surf.

  He was safe. He was in the trunk of the car—the ninja’s car. It was no longer moving, so hopefully they’d arrived at her home base or headquarters. Unless they’d stolen the car and then dumped it, in which case he was screwed. Yet again.

  Funny, he hadn’t considered that it might be a stolen car until now that it was too late. He was better than that, when he wasn’t drugged and chasing a silk-covered ninja. He closed his eyes and forced his heartbeat to slow.

  Calm. Serene. He was one of Poseidon’s elite, not that little boy. Never again that pathetic boy. Never again helpless.

  He was also feeling stronger. The sleep must have allowed his body to metabolize the rest of the drug out of his system and recharge Atlantean magic that had been far too frequently channeled this night.

  Stretching out his arms, he carefully felt in the usual places for any type of release mechanism. Ven, the car enthusiast, had told them all about that after Christophe had wanted to put an uncooperative shifter in the trunk of one of Ven’s cars once. Newer cars generally had release levers, Ven had said; a protection for children who might accidentally lock themselves in the trunk.

  Accidentally. Lock themselves in the trunk. The words themselves mocked him. Mocked his helplessness, all those years ago. The word “trunk” then meant a heavy wooden thing, not part of a vehicle. Cars had been a thing of the far-distant future back then.

  No. Not accidental at all. When they’d locked a terrified little boy in that trunk. Demon-borne, they’d said. Hours and hours in that trunk, but what came later had been even worse.

  No. He shook his head and took a deep breath to escape the memories. His trembling fingers found the release lever, and he paused to listen carefully for the sound of anyone in the area who might be surprised to see a man climb out of the trunk of a car. Surprise sometimes equaled guns shooting at his head. Or worse: vampires’ kind of surprise.

  He hated surprise.

  But there was nothing. Not road noise, either, so the car was inside a garage or parking structure, or else he’d been asleep for long enough for the car to travel far beyond London’s busy streets. He couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t feel like the latter. He didn’t feel rested enough for that.

  “Enough delaying, already,” he whispered into the dark, just so he could hear the sound of a voice. Even his own. The technique had helped in the past. Not that he needed any help now. Dark was just dark. A trunk was merely a storage space, not a prison.

  There were almost certainly no exorcists in the immediate area.

  The thought snapped him out of his memories, and taking a deep breath, he pulled the release lever. The trunk popped open smoothly, with not a hint of squeak, and he immediately sat up and scanned the area, his dagger held at the ready. Ceiling lights set to low provided illumination enough for him to see that the garage—for it was clearly that—was empty, however. He climbed out of the car and whirled around to face the other half of the room, searching its dimly lit corners for any dangers.

  Nothing. Tools, workbench, a second car, and two very hot motorcycles filled the clean and tidy space, which smelled of gasoline, oil, and polish and, underneath it all, the faintest hint of jasmine. Of her. Somebody took very good care of this garage, which didn’t feel at all like a hideout for desperate criminals. It felt like a garage attached to somebody’s home.

  Her home?

  Only one way to find out. He closed the trunk and headed for the door in the back corner. Time to find out who the Scarlet Ninja was when she was at home.

  Chapter 8

  Fiona held up her hands to stop both Declan’s flow of words and Hopkins’s silent but potent urgings to get on with it and dish, already. Not that Hopkins would ever say or even think “dish.” Exhaustion swamped her, the aftershock of adrenaline and, to be honest if only with herself, sexual attraction, pumping through her body. The dull thud of an impending headache pounded at the edges of her skull and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with a cup of that chocolate she’d run out on earlier.

  Instead, she was going to face an interrogation. She scanned the room as if looking for answers in its familiar warm blue and cream furnishings, and then nearly fell into an overstuffed chair as a hideous thought occurred.

  “Declan? Did you, um, see anything during those fifteen minutes?” Like your big sis kissing a total stranger, perhaps?

  He rolled his lovely chocolate-brown eyes, identical to their father’s. So unfair that he’d won the long, lush eyelash lottery of the two of them. She tried never to go without mascara to compensate for her mother’s English rose genes: blue eyes, pale blond hair and lashes. And how tired was she, to be thinking of eyelashes at a time like this?

  “Fee, I’ve told you a thousand times, when I’m looping the cameras on a high-tech system like that, I can’t see you, either. I see what I’ve got them seeing, unless we start fitting you out with a buttonhole camera. I only caught a glimpse of the room where they stopped the loop.” He flashed a guilty glance at Hopkins. “You’d stepped out, and I didn’t want to worry you. But, Fee, you have to understand, it’s the—”

p; “Stop. Okay. I get it. Please, for the love of Saint George, no more technical discussions of wavelengths or pixels or whatever. My brain can’t take it.” Her gaze automatically went to the priceless oil-on-wood painting of Saint George slaying the dragon, in its place of honor across from her desk. Every time she glanced up from her work, the visual reminder that she, too, could slay dragons, reinforced her mission. Or vampires, as the case may be. The curators in the Louvre might even still believe they had the original, although last she’d checked, the website had listed Raphael’s Saint George and the Dragon as “not on display.”

  Not exactly true. It was on display, of course, just not in the museum. It’s not like a self-respecting ninja master thief could hang a reproduction in her home. The painting represented her entire life’s work, after all.

  She leaned her head back on the chair and closed her eyes, sighing. So good to be home. So awful to have to share her news.

  The scent of rich chocolate wafted under her nose and her eyes snapped open. Hopkins stood next to the chair, still stern and frowning, but holding a cup of freshly poured aromatic heaven out to her.

  “Drink it, and then tell us everything, if you please,” he said.

  So she did, leaving out the flirting part and the kissing part. But what she did disclose was bad enough, judging by the expression on her butler’s face and the apparent inability of her baby brother to make actual words, since sputtering noises kept coming from his general direction.

  “You let a common criminal get close enough to you that he could have harmed you? He could have ripped off your mask? He could have murdered you and left you lying in a pool of your own blood in the middle of the Jewel House?” Hopkins bit off each word as precisely as a cutter following the shape of an octahedral raw diamond crystal.


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