The Bitten / Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen


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Chapter Fifteen

Feeling anxious about the bargain he'd just made, Carlos abandoned the stairs and made a hasty transport to the suite. He whirred through the shut door in a cloud of black smoke and saw Damali standing next to the sofa in a battle stance.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked as he paced over to the bar. "We need to talk."

She lowered her blade. "You okay? Why'd you whirl in here like that? The Australian piss you off that bad?"

"No, he was cool," Carlos replied, glancing at the walls. "McGuire and I understand each other. He's an ally." He saw the shock on her face. "Come here," he said. "Please."

When she got close enough to him, he cupped her cheek and transmitted what she needed to know. Damali's eyes widened, she stepped back, and threw a punch that he almost didn't duck in time.

Pure Neteru stained the air red. Damali stood, legs wide, weight balanced, knees bent, sword in both hands, and her eyes lit with rage.

He turned away from her and held onto the bar for support, breathing through his mouth. "You are going to have to calm down, baby, and let me explain."

She marched up to him and grabbed the back of his hair in her fist. Talk to me! Now! Because the hell I'm going to his room - unless it's to cut out his heart! Then she dropped her hold on him.

He looked up slowly, feeling a thin trickle of perspiration run down the side of his face. He reached out and cupped her jaw. It's not what you think. His guard will be down and he'll be unarmed and you'll have your blade on you.

"Oh," she murmured, grudgingly and then began to relax. "Okay."

She reached out to transmit again, but he caught her wrist and held it before her hand could touch his cheek.

"Give me a minute, all right?" he said slowly, then dropped her wrist.

Their attention whipped to the door when they heard a loud commotion in the hallway. His Hell-hound was barking wildly. It sounded like a tornado was tearing apart everything in its path. Suddenly it seemed to descend and they heard glass breaking and furniture being tossed about. The dog calmed its complaint to a snarl.

"What the - "

Carlos pulled her to him hard, covered her mouth with a kiss, both hands on either side of her head, locking her to him. McGuire. You've saturated the air. But he's obviously a man of his word. Probably went to go find his wife.

Damali twisted out of the kiss as a bloodcurdling scream rent the air. "Sounds like he's killing her," she whispered.

"Probably is," Carlos said, his breathing labored.

"What?" Damali's eyes went to the door, then came back to Carlos. "Why?"

"I would, too," he said, his smile showing her a hint of fang.

She put her hand in the center of his chest and said, That doesn't make sense.

He covered her hand and nodded. Oh, baby, yes it does...

"You seemed angry when you came up here." She slipped her hand from his hold.

He shook his head no slowly. "No. I was a lot of things, but angry wasn't one of them."

"Can you just tell me the whole conversation, coherently?"

Again he shook his head slowly. "Not right now I can't." His gaze scored her, then trailed down to the Isis.

"Why not?"

"It's a matter of honor," he said evenly.

Her hand went to her hip. "Whose?"

"Yours," he said in a low voice. He hadn't moved, his eyes now slowly trailing back up her arm to her throat. "Damali... back off for now." It sounded like a half-hearted request. "Please."

He could feel her mood lighten as she paced away from him a few feet. He walked out onto the terrace; he needed some air. He heard her footsteps behind him and sighed. But he allowed her hand to rest on his shoulder.

In fits and starts his mind tried to tackle the problem. The visit to the council to get a passport, the inspection, the ball of nerves this whole ordeal inspired, then Damali's fluctuations, then having to go head-to-head with a strong master, and now a hit of pure Neteru—all of it was wearing him out.

He sent fleeting transmissions, like slow sips, as not to batter her senses. If he came at her full throttle, he'd render her a vegetable, would fry her brain. The power struggle contained in a council to master negotiation was lethal to a human being, and he had no idea if even a Neteru could handle it. He even told her that, and could feel her body relax, then tried to communicate as best he could the way negotiations had gone down. The sender had to revisit the sensations in order to broadcast them. He was still feeling the aftershocks, and with Neteru in the air, it was no wonder McGuire had thundered down the hall in search of a female.

"Wow," she whispered, awe in her voice.

"Yeah," he murmured, trying not to howl at the moon. Then he chuckled, the laughter a tension release. "Had to remember a few good episodes, girl, to make the offer worthwhile. You will be nice to the man, won't you?"

They shared a private smile, and she nodded. "I'll do him the way he deserves to be done," she said for any spies to hear.

Carlos smiled, but it was strained. Watching her play the game so good was not helping his condition in the least. But he was proud of her, knew she'd be able to smoke McGuire with one blade stroke. If not, well... he'd have to rescind the offer and rip out the man's heart. Nah, it wouldn't even come to that. McGuire's nose was wide open. This was a sure bet.

Peeping over her shoulder toward the door sheepishly, she smiled and shook her head. "Dead or alive, you know men are crazy, right?"

"Dead or alive, you know women are treacherous, right?" Carlos stared out at the moon. "Y'all make promises you don't keep, change your minds on a dime, and take a man through changes. You know that, right?"

"Like y'all don't? Beside... it's not a change, it's a bittersweet transition."

They both laughed, and she took his hand and led him inside as the timer locks began to engage to seal the suite. Safely shut in, he stood with her before the gurgling fountain, then began putting the room back together so no evidence of the damage could be seen. He had to do something to distract himself.

"It's late and we should probably go to bed."

He smiled as she walked in front of him, with the blade still in one hand, toward the bar. She took down a bottle of blood from the wine rack and then walked toward the bedroom. "But first, you definitely need to get something to eat."

"Yeah, I do," he said, his tone playful.

She ignored him and went down the steps - he had no choice but to follow her, then sealed the door behind them. She set the bottle down on the dresser and spun the locks on the terrace door, then closed the drapes. He didn't move toward the bottle, just stood transfixed as she walked around the room giving him wide berth, then sat slowly on the edge of the bed.

Half of him wished that she'd transform one more time; the other half of him was glad that she was back to her old self again.

"This is going to be a long day," he said, finally finding the will to walk over to the bottle and open it.

"I wouldn't want to make you vulnerable in a castle with a competing master," she said, not looking at him as she stretched out on top of the covers and tucked her blade next to her.

"I think he's distracted at the moment," Carlos said, taking a swig and leaning against the dresser, his eyes never leaving her voluptuous form.

"Never can be too sure," she replied, smiling. "But tell me about these other guys we're up against."

He took another healthy swig and swallowed it hard. "Is this what happens to a man once he gets married?" He'd evaded the question and delighted in her smile, the way it played on her lips as she tried to think of a quick comeback. Every instinct in him told him he needed his rest and should be regenerating for a major battle of wills that evening. But it was the way the soft candles lit her skin, and the way she glanced at him shyly... and there was just something so erotic about that blade being in bed with her, too.

"Tell me about the other masters, Carlos."

He sighed. "You've already met the Aussie, who is young compared to the others. Not much of a threat. But the one who rules the Asian continent has been around since the Ming dynasty, and they're as rich as shit. They've got resources like you wouldn't believe, D, and thousands of human helpers because the population density in his feeding grounds is ridiculous - just teeming with humanity. Have you seen the size of Asia? Plus, heroin... He and his first wife, Lai, are as old as shit, and shrewd as hell, but don't look a day over thirty. You think Shabazz has some martial arts moves... sheeit. This guy is pure lightning. His woman ain't no joke, either. Their shape-shift preference is the dragon; screw some panther or wolf transformation. Their asses breathe fire when pissed off."

Damali sat down on the bed slowly. "Who else?"

"There's the Transylvanian and his wife. He's a master strategist, has garnered more assets than the others, even though he's not as old. He's only been around since the sixteen hundreds - a ruthless sonofabitch descended from Dracula. He uses mind games, human armies, and has pretty much conquered a significant part of the world. Power grab for power grab, he's the one that most concerns me, not that the others aren't formidable. What he lacks in physical strength he's made up for in mental energy."

She raked her fingers through her locks and stared at the floor. "Cool," she said flatly, trying to quell her nervousness.

"But you stay away from that African bastard, hear me?"

Damali looked up. The tone of Carlos's voice stunned her.

"I'm serious, D. He's been around since the pharaohs and - "

"Do not tell me you're jealous?" Damali shook her head.

"I'm not jealous," Carlos said louder than he'd intended. "I don't care if that motherfucker can drop ten inches of battle fang and has wonders of the world built in his and his wife's name! So what if he's got pure gold and diamond mines, and shit. What do I care? I ain't worried about him transforming into a Sphinx, or some shit. Fuck all that, I got something for his ass if he goes there. The point is, he's got like three hundred wives, but still is always looking for the next one to be the one. So, I don't care if his moves were recorded on ancient scrolls or in the damned Kama Sutra. I ain't jealous. Feel me? But, if he pushes up on you, if any of them do, all bets are off. I'll - "

"Be cool and do this the way it needs to be done, Smooth," she said, exasperated. Like she would go off with some master vamp just because he had longer... fangs than Carlos. It was ludicrous. "Go to sleep, man."

"Aw'ight," he said, pushing himself away from the dresser. "You stay on your side of the bed and I'll stay on mine."

"Liar," she said, with a sultry smile.

Carlos was in a truly foul mood when he woke up. She knew he was irritable from tossing and turning beside her all day, but that's how it had to be - no sex until they got to a safe place. She also didn't care if meeting the other masters was making him trip. All she could do was watch him stalk around the suite in his hunter gear. Fatigues, a matching safari hat, bowie knife, combat boots, and a vest loaded with stakes. She shook her head. Men.

Damali let her breath out hard and began rooting in the trunk for something to wear. Ignoring him, she went into the bathroom, closed the door, and turned on the tub. Save it for the hunt, she thought grouchily and chuckled to herself when she heard him mutter something back.

There were several problems with the plan - A, she knew she had to get to her team to go over this whole concert madness one more time to be sure everything went down smoothly, B - she and Carlos had to live through one more night in the house of horrors, and C - she hadn't been in full combat with another master since Nuit, and she'd gotten lucky dusting Vlak. Now four of them would be converging upon the castle. This was not good. Why in the world would he have allowed her to talk him into something this crazy?

She took her time bathing, thinking, delaying the inevitable. Images of the baby were firmly implanted in her brain. Yeah, she had to clean this joint out.

"Any night now," Carlos hollered, growing impatient. "We're having breakfast with the McGuires, you know."

Damali almost laughed. Breakfast with the McGuires indeed. Weren't the 'hood rat and the orphan being quite social?

"All right, all right," she said, stepping out of the bath and wrapping a thick Turkish towel around her. "I still have to dress and put on my makeup." That's when she remembered that there wasn't a single mirror in the castle. She swore, then shrugged, resigned to do her best.

She peered out of the bathroom door and could see Carlos on the terrace. "Can I talk to you a minute?"

"Yeah, D, but hurry up," he said, sounding surly. "The other diplomats will be here soon."

When he didn't move and continued to give her his back, she went to him, too disgusted for words, and touched his shoulder. "I meant can I talk to you?" she repeated.

He still didn't turn around, just kept watching the surf. "Then put on some damned clothes, first."

"Ouch," she said and withdrew from him. She glanced around at nothing, tasting her mouth, cool with fresh mint. "What does a councilman's wife wear to a masters' hunt?"

"I don't know!" he bellowed, and strode into the suite, slamming the terrace doors closed behind him.

She was so sick and tired of his moods and him bossing her around that she could scream. But she tried to remember that his nerves were fried. The masters' hunt, plus everything else, was freaking him out... but like she wasn't on edge, too. Finding a calm place in her mind, she called him again. "Come here," she said gently, but her tone was firm.

Begrudgingly, he came to her and touched her cheek without looking at her, keeping his line of vision on the wall.

One - I haven't eaten human food or had any water in twenty-four hours, and I'm starved. I'm also afraid to drink out of their taps. Two - they can't see me eat in here. Three - I can't see my reflection, because there aren't any mirrors, so I need you to dress me. Four - I'm worried sick that you'll get hurt tonight. Five - if you do, then I'll be in a castle with four serious world masters and their wives. Six - I have to get to my team. Seven -

He snapped his fingers and dressed her, and then touched her face again. I cannot feed you in here; they'll pick up the scent if I bring you something from the human servants' kitchens. Even water poses a risk around old masters. The best I can do is play it off and say you have to go to meet your band to prepare, and I suggest you fill up while with them, then I'll have to figure out a way to get you a swig of blood under radar to chase it.

"Eeewww..."

He held the bond. At least rinse your mouth out with it, and dab a bit at your throat... then tell them that you ate at a good restaurant at the hotel. But this was what I was trying to tell you, D. I don't like variables. Neither one of us thought about the human food problem. That's why I was so against this -

"All right," she muttered, cutting him off. She didn't want to hear I told you so. "If that's the best you can do, cool." She couldn't focus on that right now and shifted her attention. She sent him a mental note about what she wanted to wear, then looked down at her clothes, and had to admit she was impressed. He'd put her in a pair of low-cut, fawn-suede, flair leg pants that laced up the front where a zipper might be, and a nice pair of Prada mules. Cool. She liked the pants, but they were gonna argue for sure about the top. That she had not asked him for. A tank top was what she'd ordered. She was not sashaying down there in a leather bustier, even though it did match the pants.

"I was gonna give you a silk top, but for the crowd we're meeting, this is better."

"Yeah, right," she muttered, hating the fact that he was probably right - but also knowing that he liked it just as much as the dignitaries would. "Makes me look hoochiefied, Carlos."

He laughed, and she was glad he did. It broke the tension, made his more suave control come to the fore, and he was definitely gonna need that down there.

"My makeup okay?"

He tilted his head to the side and shrugged. "What do I know? I'm just a guy."

"Come on, stop playing."

He chuckled harder and traced her face with one finger. "All right. I liked the look you had yesterday."

She could feel her shoulders drop two inches from relief.

"Bring both the Isis and the dagger," he said, creating a low-slung snakeskin holster for it around her hips by placing both of his hands on them.

"They'll let me bring it in the chopper?"

"I think McGuire would appreciate it... and oh, yeah, he told me to tell you he was honored that you liked his castle - do mention that I told you." You'll need the weapons in case one of the females attacks.

"All right, baby," she said, her eyes narrowed. But if one of those bitches rushes me, it's on.

Damali held Carlos's arm as they followed the butler to the wide deck off the dining room, her eyes scanning their surroundings as they passed through the elaborate rooms. A predator could be anywhere. As soon as the thought entered her mind, she could feel Carlos's bicep tense.

"G'evening," McGuire said, standing as the couple entered and the butler quietly slipped away.

"G'evening Master McGuire," Damali said after Carlos nodded, using her most courteous voice. He, too, was dressed in combat fatigues, matching black safari hat, and black shades. She glanced at his mate, Evelyn, her white silk Ellen Tracy pantsuit fluttering in the wind, and wondered how the female vamp still existed. But up in the chopper, she could be an asset. "Evelyn, good evening. Thank you for hosting us here. Our stay has been lovely."

Damali slipped out of Carlos's light hold and slid into the seat he held out for her.

"Good evening, Mistress Rivera," Evelyn said, but there was no threat in her tone as the female vampire moved closer to her. "I am so glad to have you grace our humble house."

Damali glanced at Carlos and then toward McGuire. This was not what she'd expected.

"Lady McGuire," Carlos said, taking her hand, kissing the back of it slowly, while looking up into her eyes. He held her gaze for a moment, then let her hand fall away. "Thank you for enduring any disruption to your household that our impromptu visit may have caused."

"The pleasure was all mine," she breathed, smiling at him, and then giving Damali a sidelong glance. "You must be starved." Evelyn motioned for the butler, and he immediately brought two large decanters and fresh goblets.

Damali held up a hand and begged off breakfast. "I will feast after the hunt," she said smoothly. "I like to stay... hungry when so much excitement perfumes the air." She smiled. "Makes the feed taste so much better. Besides, Carlos loves it so when I suffer waiting for him."

This seemed to appease the lady of the house, because Evelyn gave her a sly pout. "Ah, Councilman Rivera, she's delicious."

Damali looked at the master of the house out of the corner of her eye. An expression of utter appreciation spread across his face. There weren't many vamps who could control the hunger so well. But she had to give them the impression that she was so much more than an average vamp.

"You know," Evelyn finally murmured, easing in closer, "we ladies should get to know one another, since our husbands are getting along so well."

Carlos and McGuire were now deeply entrenched in talk about the upcoming hunt. She wished she had baby Isis in her hand.

"Yes, I agree," Damali said, pleasantly. Her mind worked on a strategy as she stared into Evelyn's gorgeous but deadly eyes. She could feel the vamp trying to siphon her for information. Okay, so if that's how she wanted to play. Offering Evelyn a bit of juicy insider gossip, Damali laid a trap to form an alliance, but to also let the female know that she could take her, if Evelyn tried her.

"You know," Damali said in a conspiratorial murmur, "Carlos made me after he was turned council level, and - "

"What?" Evelyn sat back in her chair, all conversation at the table stopped. Then she lowered her eyes and her voice became tense with fear. "Mistress... I didn't know. Please forgive my insolence."

Damali blinked twice, confused, but went with whatever had freaked out the female vamp. "It's nothing," she said as calmly as possible. Then she noticed the shocked expression on McGuire's face.

"And she says it's nothing?" Evelyn looked up and glanced at her husband. "Harold, why didn't you tell me he'd made her a female master?"

"Councilman," the Aussie master said, his eyes wide with amazement, "I thought you made her before you descended..."

Carlos shot Damali a glance that told her to stay calm. Play it. Work it.

Damali reached over and smoothed the long, silky blond hair off Evelyn's shoulder. Just the touch alone seemed to stir her. "Darling, of course he did. It was mortal combat, we were both armed to the teeth, and I went down with my blade swinging. I'd nearly bled out." She paused, sensing the vamps' interest in the tale.

"But I'm no amateur," Damali said casually, leaning in close enough to Evelyn to nearly touch Evelyn's nose with hers, "and that's why from time to time I can project Neteru for my husband, or seem so close to human that it could confuse the unaware. I'm sorry that I upset you." Damali drew back, cast a loving glance at Carlos. "I will try to be more considerate, though. But bear with us, we're newly mated, and he so enjoys those memories of the night he turned me."

Evelyn had placed her hand over her heart.

"Mistress Rivera," she said her glance nervous as it flitted between her husband and Carlos back to Damali, "my deepest apologies for my behavior last night. I assure you it will never happen again."

"I will make up the offense my wife has caused," McGuire said, low in his throat. "She wouldn't be sitting here at breakfast, had I known how generous your husband truly is."

The Aussie stood and walked away from the table. Damali raised an eyebrow, and gave Carlos a provocative pout. "I know you fellas have much to discuss in order to strategize for the hunt. Why not let Evelyn and me have some time for girl-talk?"

Carlos gave her a slow nod. She could feel his tension as he stood and left the room.

"I am so sorry," Damali said, leaning in to whisper to Evelyn.

"Whatever for, Your Majesty?" Taken aback, Evelyn's eyes widened with surprise.

"Last night... I know Harold probably was a bit..."

"I should give you my throat," she said, laughing. "It's been quite some time since my Harold has been like that."

Okaaaay. "Well, then, there's no reason for us to have anything between us," Damali said. "Good."

Damali tried to keep from jumping out of her skin when Evelyn's hand gently slid up her forearm. The touch was so delicate, yet so sensual that for a moment all she could do was look down at it. It felt like cool silk had slid against her skin, and the sensation stirred every erogenous zone on her. She'd expected the touch to be cold or clammy - after all, the woman was dead. Was that what male vampires experienced at a female vamp's touch? she wondered. Valuable info.

There was a slight tremble in Evelyn's fingers as she moved them up to Damali's shoulder. Her lovely cat's eyes held a question; moonlight caught the barest hint of fang and made it glisten.

"You're so warm," Evelyn purred. "No wonder you drive him insane."

"Like I said," Damali whispered, trying to stay in character and not bug out, "there's no problem between you and me, now that we understand each other."

"Nothing has to be between us," Evelyn murmured. "Not even husbands."

Damali forced herself not to shrug off Evelyn's touch. Instead, she smiled. "Do you like him?" she asked, referring to Carlos.

Evelyn continued to caress Damali's shoulder. "He took an Isis in the chest for you?"

"Not completely," Damali said, shrugging casually to get Evelyn's hand off her. "My attack was off, he snatched the blade, but I still had my dagger, and when he pulled me to him, he got branded with it. Then he tore out my throat."

"How do you stand it?" Evelyn whispered, leaning in.

"I could allow you a night with him... now that we're friends."

Evelyn stared at her in disbelief, tears beginning to glisten in her eyes. "Mistress - "

"Damali."

"Damali," Evelyn murmured, close enough to Damali's face now to take her mouth. "What does pure Neteru do to him... any of them? I only experienced what the fragrance transforms them into. But an actual blood siphon would allow me to truly experience it."

It took everything in her not to knock the female vamp to the floor. She had to remember to play this like Carlos had told her. Mix a good lie in a whole lotta truth, but always get something out of the deal. "If you siphon me, as a female, it will have an adverse effect on you."

"Oh," Evelyn said, pouting and disappointed.

"But there is a way," Damali said, her voice cooing.

Evelyn perked up, her eyes searching Damali's. "Please, tell me."

"I want him to live through this hunt so he can show you," Damali said, her voice dropping to a seductive purr. "Only when he siphons me is he at his best. Unfortunately it drives us female vamps crazy - makes us want to fight. However, I could let him gorge and then send him to your room."

A sheen of perspiration dampened Evelyn's brow. "You would do that?"

"Or, I could stay and the three of us - "

"Please," Evelyn whispered, closing her eyes. "The hunt will be hours from now and the anticipation is already killing me."

"I just wanted you to know that I am truly sorry if I upset you earlier." Damali sat back and waited.

"It does make you want to rip out the female's throat," Evelyn admitted, finally opening her eyes to only half-mast. "But the residual effect is a wonderful high. There's nothing like pure adrenaline."

"Uhmmm-hmmm," Damali said, toying with the table linen.

"And when it hits the master's systems, they bulk to mortal-combat proportions, and will fight you on the way down. But the adrenaline hit that you both get on the double-plunge..."

Evelyn let out a slow, erotic hiss. "Say no more, please. Just tell me when."

"Perhaps after the concert." Damali held Evelyn's gaze. She needed an ally in the castle, and needed to be sure that at least one vamp couple would guarantee their safety through the blood sport going down tonight. Damali chose her words with care. "However, I'm concerned the other ladies might not understand... and Carlos and I rarely discuss such intimate details unless there's been a bond."

"The other ladies will not present a problem," Evelyn said, and reached out to caress Damali's face.

Okay, seal this shit like Carlos showed you, sister. Damali caught Evelyn's wrist and held it hard, then turned into it and planted a long kiss in the center of Evelyn's palm. "Ensure no ambush, and after I'm done with Harold, Carlos and I will come see you."

Evelyn shuddered hard. "I'll tear those bitches' eyes out if they offend my most honored guest."

Damali gave her an air kiss. "Thank you, darling. I'm so glad we had this little talk."

"The girls seem to be gettin' on," McGuire said, glancing over his shoulder.

"Yeah," Carlos said, a little anxious about what he'd just witnessed. Damali was awfully close up on Evelyn, and had taken the woman's wrist. Had Damali turned back, or what? And why did he have to find that shit so sexy?

Suddenly the sound of the choppers could be heard in the distance.

"Incoming," McGuire announced, his expression excited. "Let the games begin."

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