SECRETS IN THE SHADOWS
JULES WASN'T THE NERVOUS type. In fact, he prided himself on his façade of calm confidencewhat most people considered arrogance. But tonight his nerves were making a rare and unwelcome appearance. When he arrived at the gate of Eli's mansion on the Delaware River and checked his watch, he saw that he was actually early for the weekly meeting. He was usually the last to arrive. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been early.
Eli buzzed him in, and Jules made his way down the moonlit path through the gardens that surrounded the house. Lights blazed from the windows of the ballroom that Eli had converted into a meeting hall when he'd founded the Guardians of the Night, before Jules was born. Through those windows, he could see that although he was early, he was far from the first to arrive. It looked like more than half the Guardians were already here. Patting his coat pocket to reassure himself he'd brought the papers, he went inside.
Heads turned when he stepped into the meeting hall.Eli, sitting in his customary chair by the fireplace, raised his eyebrows in inquiry, but Jules pretended not to notice.
"Is the city burning down?" Gray James, Jules's least-favorite Guardian, asked in mock horror. "A nuclear threat? Terrorists? Something must be horribly wrong if you're here on time."
A couple of the other Guardians snickered.
"Trou d'cul," Jules said, though by now everyone in the room knew that meant "asshole," so some of the fun had faded from cursing Gray in Quebecois.
Gray opened his mouth to say something else, but Carolyn, his mortal fiancée, elbowed him in the ribs and he shut up. Just as well. Jules would have loved an excuse to pummel the bastard, but Eli would never have allowed it. He took a seat as far across the room from Gray as possible and folded his arms across his chest. He felt Eli's eyes on him, but he refused to meet the Founder's gaze.
Tonight was going to be a mess, and Jules wished it were over already.
The last to arrive was Drake, the only one in their midst who'd succumbed to the blood addiction. While the Guardians fed on lamb blood mixed with milk, Drake fed on and killed mortals. Only those he considered the scum of the earth, but Jules had never been able to gracefully accept alliance with a Killer. Before last year's reign of terror, Eli had invited Drake to meetings only when his services as a true vampirewith greater physical and psychic strength fueled by the killwere desperately needed. Now, he showed up every week.
"You have something on your mind," Eli said, and Jules could no longer avoid his eyes. "Let's have it out in the open now."
Jules squirmed, his carefully rehearsed speech forgotten.
"What's the matter Jules?" Gray James taunted from across the room. "Cat got your tongue?"
Jules bared his teeth at the asshole, even as Carolyn gave him another elbow to the ribs. In the months that had passed since Jules had suspected Gray of being a serial killer, they'd reached something approximating a truce. That didn't mean they had to like each other.
He didn't dignify Gray's taunt with an answer, instead turning his attention to Eli. "I've found evidence of another Killer," he announced, pulling the handful of neatly folded printouts from his breast pocket. He held the papers up, but didn't unfold them. "I've found about a dozen newspaper articles online that document murders that look suspiciously like vampire kills."
"The hell you have!" Michael Freeman said. "I've been on paper patrol duty for the last six months. If there were a dozen suspicious murders, I'd have noticed it." He glared at Jules, as if Jules had directly questioned his competence. But Michael's youthful appearance did not lend itself to intimidation.
Jules made a calming gesture with his hand. "If they'd happened in Philadelphia, I'm sure you would have noticed." Once more, he turned his attention to Eli. "The murders occurred in and around Baltimore."
A few of the Guardians started murmuring softly to one another. If a Killer dared set foot in the Philadelphia area, the Guardians would destroy him or her as soon as they could. But they'd always been at heart a local organization, and they'd never gone as far afield as Baltimore.
Eli narrowed his eyes and peered at Jules with his too-knowing stare. "And why have you been scouring the Baltimore papers, Jules? I don't remember assigning you the task."
Jules wanted to look away, but Eli wouldn't let him. Damn the old man and his glamour! Eli's eyes narrowed even more at whatever he read in Jules's gaze.
"It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Ian Squires lives in Baltimore, would it?"
Eli finally let him go, and Jules dropped his gaze tohis feet. He was as transparent as plastic wrap! But where Ian was concerned, he found himself incapable of keeping his emotions under control.
Shaking his head, Jules looked up. "You saw the article in the Inquirer."
"Excuse me," Carolyn interrupted. "For those of us who are new to the Guardian worldwho is Ian Squires?"
Jules hoped Eli would answer the question, but he remained annoyingly silent, and all attention was focused on Jules. Memories battered at the barriers in his mind, but he kept them at bay. "He's the vampire who made me." His voice came out flat, though no doubt his eyes glowed with the hatred he'd harbored all these long years. "When the Guardians rescued me, Ian got away. I'd hoped he was dead. But he isn't."
"There was an article in the Inquirer last week," Eli said. "It had a picture of a 'philanthropist' who made a generous donation to the University of Pennsylvania."
Jules snorted. "If Ian is a philanthropist, then I'm the Easter Bunny. The article said Ian lived in Baltimore, so I started scanning the Baltimore papers. Like I said, I've already found a dozen suspicious murders. And if Ian has been living there for almost eighty years ..." How many people had died at Ian's hands? And how badly had his victims suffered before the sadistic bastard killed them? At least half the kills Jules had uncovered involved rape and tortureIan's specialties.
"So you would like me to send some Guardians down to Baltimore to hunt down Ian Squires and kill him," Eli said.
"In a word, yes." He tensed and held his breath, preparing himself as best he could for Eli's inevitable decision. Eli would send his Guardians to Baltimore, but he'd order Jules to stay here. He'd never put anyone on the task force who had a personal agenda. But Jules was damned if he was staying in Philadelphiawhile others got the pleasure of killing Ian. And he was prepared to face Eli's considerable wrath when he insisted on going.
"I hate to break this to you, Jules, but there are vampires in every major city in every country in the world. They're naturally drawn to the big cities, where their kills can go unnoticed. There aren't enough of us to police the whole world, or even the whole country."
Jules blinked. "Excuse me? I've just brought you concrete evidence that a Killer has been murdering people for eighty years, and you're telling me we're not going to go after him?" He tried to keep the outrage out of his voice, though he doubted he succeeded. Surely he must be hearing Eli wrong.
"If he were to come anywhere near Philadelphia, we would hunt him down and destroy him. But no, I'm not sending anyone to Baltimore after him." Eli held up his hand to forestall the protest Jules was about to make. "In case you haven't noticed, we're a little short on manpower right now."
"Oh for Christ's sake, Eli!" Jules shot out of his chair, unable to keep still. He'd thought he'd been prepared for the worst, but never in his wildest dreams had he supposed Eli would hear this evidence and do nothing. "It's not like we've got a daily influx of Killers we've got to deal with. We can spare a few Guardians for the hunt."
Eli's expression hardened, but he didn't otherwise react to Jules's outburst. "I also must say I find it terribly suspicious that Squires would suddenly make a large donation to the university. Vampires are hardly known for their philanthropy."
The other Guardians chuckled, but Jules didn't find it funny. "What's your point?"
"My point is it smells like a trap of some kind. Either Squires is hoping to lure you to Baltimore, or he's trying to lure some Guardians away from Philadelphia. I don't like either possibility."
"I can't believe what I'm hearing. You'll just allow him to keep killing, and killing, and"
"We have to choose our battles carefully, for solid, logical reasons. Not merely based on emotions."
From deep in his belly, Jules felt the rage bubbling and boiling. He wanted Ian dead. For a moment, he'd allowed himself to think he might get his wish, might get to kill the son of a bitch who'd fucked with his mind so badly that eighty years wasn't enough to mend the damage. And now, Eli had snatched that hope away with hardly a care.
The beast stirred within him, a primal force that didn't give a shit about logic. His throat tightened, his breath came quick and short as he battled for calm. His focus narrowed until all the Guardians save Eli faded from his vision.
"Control yourself, Jules," Eli said, his voice somewhere between a warning and a threat.
Last year, when Jules had been convinced Gray James was the Broad Street Banger, he'd found himself battling his temper on an almost daily basis. He'd thought he'd learned to control it, but now it felt almost like a separate being. One that longed to split his skin and burst out into the light.
"Eli, please," he croaked. God, how he hated to beg! Especially in front of all his fellow Guardians. "You don't know how much this means to me."
"Yes, I do." He'd dropped his voice to a soothing croon. "You've been carrying this hatred for a very long time. And you're feeling particularly volatile since"
"Don't say it!" The words came out a snarl, and he was shaking with the effort of fighting his temper. He had to control himself. Eli could squash him like a bug. Would squash him, if he thought Jules would go rogue on him.
"since the death of your son," Eli finished insistently.
Jules clenched both his fists as Eli's words sent a stabbing pain through his chest. It had been two months since Luc died, and Jules hated that the thought could wound him so. Luc had been only two when Jules was forced to abandon him and his mother because he'd been transformed. He'd never really known his son, though he hadn't been able to resist keeping an eye on him from afar. How could the death of a man he barely knew hurt so much? Especially when Luc had suffered from Alzheimer's for years, his death a foregone conclusion.
But Eli had repeatedly warned him the end would hurt, and as usual, he'd been right.
"That has nothing to do with this," Jules insisted. He'd dreamed of revenge against Ian since the day Ian had bitten him.
"I think it does. I think it makes you vulnerable to your emotions. It's your emotions that tell you we should march on Baltimore, when your rational mind has to know"
"Bullshit!" Jules paced the room in great, angry strides, so furious he wanted to hit something. In some pocket of his mind, he was aware he and Eli weren't alone, but all his attention was focused on the Founder. He caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye, someone approaching him. Drake.
Jules turned toward the Killer. The rational part of his mind expected Eli to intervene any moment, but that didn't stop him from taking up a defensive position. Drake held his hands up in a placating gesture, but he'd lowered his fangs.
"Sit down, Jules," Drake said.
Adrenaline pumped through Jules's system, and he pulled his lips away from his fangs. "Make me."
Drake rolled his eyes. "You're being juvenile. But if you'd like me to make you sit down, I'd be happy to oblige."
Jules launched himself at the Killer, glad to have anoutlet for his rage even while he expected Eli to stop him. But instead of meeting his charge, Drake sidestepped.
Jules hurtled into the cluster of Guardians behind Drake. Hands grabbed hold of him, either hoping to restrain him or to keep them all from falling in a heap. He jerked away from the clutching hands, and his elbow smacked into someone behind him.
Then suddenly his feet weren't on the floor anymore. He flew through the air until he smashed into a wall. His back hit first, then his head. Pain exploded in his skull and his breath whooshed out of him. He slid limply down the wall, just barely conscious, fighting to suck air into his lungs.
Eli hadn't even gotten out of his chair, though all the other Guardians were on their feet. Gray James was snarling at him, fangs bared, but it seemed he was either in better control of his temper than Jules, or Eli was holding him back with glamour.
Jules winced when he saw Carolyn, tucked under Gray's arm, hand clapped to the side of her face.
Was that who he'd hit with his elbow? He shuddered, and the rage drained out of him as quickly as it had come.
Once more, he was lifted into the air by unseen hands. Another shudder rippled through him. How the hell was Eli doing this to him? Glamour gave a vampire the ability to manipulate the minds of mortalsand less powerful vampires. But not the power to lift a man off his feet without touching him! He braced himself, thinking Eli was going to smash him into the wall again. But Eli seemed to see that reason had returned. He released Jules from his glamouror whatever it waswhile Jules was still two or three feet in the air.
Jules tumbled to the floor once more. He refused to meet anyone's eyes. He couldn't have screwed this up any worse if he'd tried.
"Meeting adjourned," Eli said. "For everyone but Jules. We'll reschedule for tomorrow."
No one said a word as the Guardians filed out of the room. Jules kept his eyes fixed on the fleur-de-lis pattern of the rug, not wanting to see the various pitying or maliciously smug expressions he assumed were being tossed his way. He recognized Gray's ratty sneakers coming his way, and he recognized Carolyn's sensible pumps as she headed him off. He was going to have to apologize to her, though how he'd manage it with Gray around was anyone's guess.
But he was getting ahead of himself. First, he had to survive this little tete-a-tete with Eli.
The door to the meeting hall closed with a solid thunk, and Jules forced his gaze up. The look on Eli's face was not promising.
The Founder's physical age appeared to be around sixty. Of only medium height and a little on the thin side, he cultivated a harmless-old-man look. But no one could look at those deep, stormy eyes of his and think he was harmless. Jules shivered. The room always seemed to grow cold when Eli was angry, and he was mad as hell at the moment.
"We've discussed your temper before, Jules," he said, his voice deceptively mild while his eyes blazed and the temperature continued to drop.
Jules had always thought the chill that accompanied Eli's anger was a trick of the minduntil he saw his frosty breath in the air. Marde! Just how angry was the Founder, anyway? Jules swallowed hard, his heart pounding. He wasn't entirely sure he wasn't about to die, though probably if Eli were going to kill him he'd have done it already.
Well, if he was about to face his death, he wouldn't do it on his knees. Jules forced himself to his feet, his back still aching from the impact with the wall. "I'm sorry, Eli." He almost snorted at his own pathetic words.
"If I'd known you were going to make such an ass ofyourself, I would have called you in here last week the moment I saw that article in the paper. Foolish optimist that I am, I thought you'd gained a measure of maturity."
Eli's criticism stung. But worse was knowing he deserved it. He was almost a hundred and ten years oldyou'd think he'd have learned more self-control by now. But seeing Ian's face in the paperso soon after he'd lost Luchad dug up issues he couldn't seem to rebury.
"I have no maturity where Ian is concerned," he admitted. "You don't know what he did to me."
"Yes, I do."
Jules shook his head, but didn't bother to argue. Yes, he'd told Eli some of the story, told him how Ian had once been his closest friend and then betrayed and bitten him. But he hadn't come close to telling it all.
"Come sit down," Eli said.
Jules noticed with relief that the room was warming again. He took a seat on the sofa nearest Eli's chair and waited for the lecture. But Eli just stared at him with those knowing, piercing eyes of his until Jules squirmed.
"You're at a very dangerous time of your life, my friend," Eli said with surprising gentleness. "Many vampires have ... strong reactions when the last of the people they knew as mortals die. It can cause something of a vampire mid-life crisis, as it were."
Jules couldn't help a little bark of laughter. "Should I go out and buy a red sports car?"
The corners of Eli's eyes crinkled slightly. "The red might clash with your hair. I'd advise black."
This time the laugh came more naturally. That Eli would tease him about his vanity relieved him to no end. Yes, he'd fucked up tonight. But Eli could forgive him for it.
"Mortals in mid-life crisis can do stupid things," Eli continued, "like destroying their marriages by looking for something better. Something that doesn't exist."
"And what kind of stupid things do vampires do?"
"Indulge in pointless revenge quests. Alienate the only friends they have by behaving like assholes. The worst of them can go rogue and start killing, but I know you wouldn't do that."
Jules winced, remembering how mindless he'd been in his rage. He'd hit Carolyn, for Christ's sake! He couldn't stand Gray, but he liked Carolyn. Not that he'd done it on purpose, but if he'd been in his right mind it never would have happened. He glanced at Eli.
"Why didn't you stop me when I went after Drake?" Keeping the Guardians from fighting with each other was usually part of Eli's job description. Vampires tended to grate on each others' nerves on some primal level, which made cooperation something of a challenge. If it weren't for Eli, the Guardians would have gone their separate waysor killed each otherlong ago.
"I wanted to see if you would stop yourself. You can't always rely on me to control your temper for you."
Jules forced a deep breath. He couldn't deny that Eli had a point. "I still don't understand why you won't send a task force to Baltimore. I understand why you won't send me, but"
Jules blinked in confusion. "Uh, because Ian is there, killing people, and we're supposedly dedicated to stopping people like him."
Eli shrugged. "Why not New York, then? I guarantee you there are Killers in New York. It's far too good a hiding place for Killers not to take advantage of it. I'm sure there's a bigger population there than in Baltimore. Or what about D.C.? Boston?" He shook his head. "There are too few of us. If we start taking on the world, we'll be destroyed."
"I'm not asking you to take on the world! Just Baltimore."
"Just so you can personally get your revenge. It's not a good enough reason, especially when the circumstances are so suspicious. It's not impossible for other vampires to band together against us, especially if they institute a divide-and-conquer strategy." He shook his head once more. "No, Jules. I can't risk it. I'm sorry."
Jules felt his temper rising again and ruthlessly tamped it back down. This was obviously an argument he couldn't win.
He didn't know how he was going to swallow the bitter pill of Ian alive and well and killing in Baltimore. But somehow he was going to have to. Because only the worst kind of idiot would defy Eli's direct orders and single-handedly take on a mature Killer on his home turf.
Copyright © 2007 by Jenna Black