Hungers of the Heart By Black, Jenna Tor Paranormal Romance Copyright © 2008 Black, Jenna
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780765357182
From the moment he entered the meeting hall in Eli’s mansion by the Delaware River, Drake knew this was going to be one of those nights. All it had taken was one look at the smug malice in Fletcher’s expression. The pup was going to make another attempt to get Drake tossed out. It seemed to have become his pet project, though so far all he’d managed to do was escalate the tension between Drake and the others.
Anticipation made Drake’s fangs descend. He curled his lip in silent threat, but Fletcher ignored him, and no one else noticed. Drake stood in his usual place—a corner that left a good six feet between him and the nearest Guardian. He might be the Guardians’ ally, but never would he be mistaken for a true member of their happy little family.
As usual, Fletch waited until the meeting was all but adjourned before he pounced.
“I have another vampire kill I want to tell you about,” Fletch said just as the other Guardians had started to rise from their chairs.
All voices in the room died, and everyone took their seats again as Fletcher strode to the middle of the room.
“Fletcher . . .” Eli said in a warning tone, looking up from his traditional seat by the fireplace.
Drake ground his teeth. Eli might admonish Fletcher for speaking, but he never seemed to stop him. And anything Drake said would only increase the chance ofviolence.
“This one’s different, Eli,” Fletcher said. “You need to know about it.”
And Eli, damn him, didn’t argue. Drake pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning against, standing up straight and glaring at the son of a bitch who’d been making his life miserable for months on end. He bared his fangs for all to see. Maybe a little violence was just what he needed.
Fletcher wouldn’t be the first Guardian Drake had ever killed, but he would be the first one Drake enjoyed killing.
Fletcher boldly met his eyes, all but daring Drake to cross the short distance between them and start something. Drake itched to do just that, but doubted Eli would allow it. The overwhelming power of Eli’s glamour would keep them apart no matter how badly they wanted to beat the hell out of each other. Of course, once they left the meeting it would be a different story. Fletch and some of his cronies had jumped Drake once before. Perhaps it was time for Drake to return the favor. . . .
Fletch bared his own fangs in response. “No, Killer. This time, you’re the one who’s gone too far.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of newspaper, partially unfolding it to display a photograph. “Recognize him?” he asked, moving closer so Drake could get a good look.
Almost against his will, Drake’s gaze locked on the photograph. As usual with newspaper photos, it was grainy and indistinct. The face was that of a youngish black man, smiling at the camera. Drake didn’t recognize the face, but the guy must have been one of his kills. This was Fletcher’s usual MO in his quest to make trouble for Drake: show the Guardians photos of the victims and families, reminding them that although Drake only killed scumbags, those scumbags were still human beings.
If Drake had killed the man, surely he should recognize the picture. But no memory stirred. When had Drake become so inured to his kills that he couldn’t even recognize the face of a recent victim?
Fletcher must have read his hesitation and the reason behind it, for his face twisted in disgust and he snorted. “You’re as likely to recognize him as a mortal is to recognize the cow his steak came from.”
“Fletcher . . .” Eli said again, his voice a little sharper.
Fletcher’s eyes bored into Drake’s. “Give me one more minute, Eli,” he said, unfolding the newspaper all the way. “This story’s got a hell of a punch line.”
The headline that was revealed when Fletcher unfolded the newspaper struck Drake like a fist in the face.
“Undercover Cop Found Slain in Alley.”
Shock and dismay stole his voice, and he could do nothing but stand there and stare at the picture of the smiling mortal, and at the damning headline.
“Should I tell you about his widow and their kids?” Fletcher asked.
A denial wanted to crawl up Drake’s throat, but the truth was he had no idea if he was guilty or not. For a long, long time he’d been at peace with his nature. He couldn’t help his need to kill, but he could appease his conscience by killing people the world was better off without. He’d never considered the possibility of an undercover cop.
The silence in the room was an oppressive weight. Not even Drake’s few allies among the Guardians could come to his defense this time.
Was Fletcher telling the truth?
“I don’t recognize him,” Drake said, but his voice sounded shaky, not his own. “You’re just making this up, trying to stir up trouble.”
“Like hell I am! I saw you kill him. And now I have proof positive that you’re no different than the filthy, soulless Killers we destroy.”
Drake was the Guardians’ one exception to the rule that any vampire who was addicted to the kill had to die. Well, except for Gabriel, Eli’s son, but that was because Gabriel didn’t live in Philadelphia, in their territory. From the condemning silence that draped the room, he suspected that exception wouldn’t apply much longer.
“That’s enough, Fletcher,” Eli said, breaking the silence. “You’ve made your point. The meeting is adjourned. Drake, I’d like you to stay behind.”
Drake nodded, but didn’t look in Eli’s direction. He didn’t even consider making a run for it. Even if he somehow escaped the assembled Guardians, he couldn’t escape Eli’s glamour. Besides, he didn’t really think Eli was going to kill him, though he knew that’s what Fletcher and many of the other Guardians expected.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when Gray James, the only other member of the Guardians ever to have fed on a kill, clapped him on the shoulder, a hint of support. Gray had been forced into his single kill by his maker, but had managed to avoid becoming addicted. When Drake had been changed, more than a century ago, his maker hadn’t forced him to kill—he’d just neglected to mention that Drake had any choice in the matter.
Of course, given who Drake had been before he’d been turned, he hadn’t been as troubled by the killing as perhaps he should have been.
After Gray made the first move, a handful of the other Guardians made their own silent demonstrations of support. But most of them either ignored him or regarded him with undisguised loathing.
After the last Guardian was gone, Drake waited for Eli to pass judgment, every instinct in his body telling him he wouldn’t like that judgment one bit. At least the room hadn’t gone cold like it did when Eli was really, really pissed.
“Did you do it?” Eli finally asked, his voice carefully neutral.
Drake sighed heavily, but it did nothing to relieve his tension. All these years, he’d convinced himself that he was a Killer with a conscience, that he was somehow better, more worthy of life than other Killers. Had he been lying to himself all along? “I don’t know. I don’t recognize him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t kill him.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair. Just how much did Fletch hate him, anyway? Enough to lie about this?
Probably. In Fletcher’s black-and-white view of the world, all Killers were evil and had to be destroyed. If making up a story like this was the only way to get Drake killed, or at least kicked out of the city, then he might feel it was his duty.
But even if this was a lie, the very fact that it was possible was highly . . . disturbing.
“Sit down,” Eli said.
Drake didn’t like the tone of Eli’s voice, or the look on his face. He had a feeling that Fletcher was going to get his wish.
He’d allowed himself to become complacent during the decades he’d worked for Eli. But he, more than anyone, should have known that nothing ever lasts.
“Gabriel’s been after me for months to come to Baltimore,” Drake said, staying on his feet. That was a slight exaggeration. Gabriel, a fellow Killer and a born vampire of immense power, had invited Drake to join his fledgling Guardian organization in his home city of Baltimore, but the invitation had only been offered once. Still, Drake was certain he’d be welcome there. Of course, it would mean working for an unstable hard-ass with a cruel streak a mile wide. Somehow, he didn’t think Gabriel would make quite the benevolent leader that Eli did.
“I see,” Eli replied. The fact that he didn’t insist Drake sit down as ordered suggested he was already letting go. “And you’d like to take him up on his offer?”
Drake gritted his teeth. No, he didn’t want to. Philadelphia had been his adopted home for more than a century, and though the Guardians had never accepted him, he’d felt . . . comfortable here. Working for Gabriel would be anything but comfortable. Hell, Drake wasn’t even sure he’d manage to live very long with Gabriel as a boss. However, if he was going to be kicked out anyway, he might as well salvage what little dignity he could manage.
“You don’t really need me in Philadelphia anymore,” he said, forcing the words out. Now that Eli had learned how to create an avatar, an illusory version of himself that was capable of leaving the grounds of his mansion even though he couldn’t leave in body, he was no longer so badly in need of Drake’s strength. Guardians would forever be the underdogs against Killers, whose strength, both psychic and physical, was significantly greater. But Eli was one hell of an ace in the hole.
Another long and uncomfortable silence draped the room. Drake couldn’t help hoping that Eli would ask him to stay, but wasn’t surprised when he didn’t.
“It might be best for all involved if you joined Gabriel in Baltimore,” Eli said softly. “I’m sure that if you really did kill this man, it was under the assumption that he was just another criminal. And as you know, I’m in no position to throw stones. But I’m not sure that Fletcher and his friends won’t eventually take things into their own hands if you stay.”
Drake’s anger spiked. “Don’t play games with me, Eli. We both know that if you ordered him to behave, he would. If you want me gone, be man enough to say it.”
Eli merely raised one gray eyebrow and regarded him with mild condescension. “If I wanted you gone, I’d say so. And I don’t know where you get the idea that my authority is so unshakable it could survive anything. Provoke him enough, and Fletcher will risk the consequences of disobeying me. If you have an offer from Gabriel, I think it will be better for everyone if you take it.”
Drake still thought Eli was being a hypocrite, but the man was more than a thousand years old. Once he took a stance, there was no budging him.
“Fine. I guess this is goodbye, then.” Drake did his best to hide his pain under a stony façade.
Eli slowly rose from his seat. He had wiped all expression from his face, an infuriating trick of his. “I suppose it is.” He reached out his hand for Drake to shake.
Drake wanted to turn his back and get the hell out of there immediately, but he forced himself to shake Eli’s hand. Memories of other goodbyes hammered at the walls of his mind, but he savagely forced them away. There was no one better than he at keeping the past locked in the past where it belonged.
Of course, Eli being Eli, he wouldn’t just shake hands. He held on when Drake tried to pull away.
“You’re still one of the good guys,” Eli said. “Even if you killed this man. I hope you realize that.”
Drake wasn’t so sure. Once upon a time, he had most assuredly not been one of the good guys. Maybe he’d never really changed.
“Uh-huh,” Drake grunted, meeting Eli’s gaze once more.
Eli gave him a sad smile. “You’re too angry with me to talk right now, I know, but if you ever need anything, you know my number.” He finally released Drake’s hand.
Without another word, Drake turned his back and walked away.
Copyright © 2008 by Jenna Black. All rights reserved. Continues...
Excerpted from Hungers of the Heart by Black, Jenna Copyright © 2008 by Black, Jenna. Excerpted by permission.
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