Dark Bites (Page 47)

Dark Bites (Dream-Hunter #1)(47)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

She glared at him. How dare he make light of this. “It has a substantial readership.”

“And Jeff used a pseudonym for not only us but himself as well. As the kid says, what better place to hide than under people’s noses?” Even as he said that, he couldn’t believe he was backing Jeff’s story. But then that was what friends should do for each other. “It’s nothing to worry over.”

“Nothing?” Celena was aghast at his light tone. How could he write this off as if it were nothing more than a simple hangnail that bothered them? “He’s exposed us.”

“No, Talon getting filmed in the middle of a hissy fit in New Orleans exposed us. Zarek getting caught on tape exposed us. This is minor. I mean, damn, Acheron was able to cover up all the others with little incidence. This, too, shall pass.”

Not bloody likely. “This is entirely different.”

“I agree. Jeff is mortal and only has a handful of years left to him, whereas Talon and Zarek have an eternity to continue being stupid. Let’s not shorten the kid’s life any more than we have to, shall we?”

He did have a point, but she hated to admit that. Besides, that didn’t matter. She was here to do her job. Rafael didn’t control her. She was a representative of the Council. “What happens to him isn’t my decision. It’s the Council’s. I’m merely here to collect him.”

“He’s just a kid.”

“He’s only two years younger than I am and he’s certainly old enough to know to keep his mouth shut.”

“Haven’t you ever done something you knew you shouldn’t and then regretted it?”

She didn’t hesitate with her answer. “No.”

“No?” he asked incredulously. “You’ve never once broken a rule, lied, or got away with anything?”

“Only once in junior high when my sister came home late, because I didn’t want to get her into trouble. Then one week later, she did it again and was injured in a car wreck, trying to get home before dawn, which taught me the value of lying to help someone. Since then I’ve never told another one and I don’t intend to start now. I have integrity.”

“Wow. You have one boring life.”

“I resent that.”

Those dark eyes teased and tormented her with a mixture of amusement and pity. “Resent all you want, but it’s true. How have you managed to live such a perfect life?”

And that she resented even more. “It’s not perfect. It has moments of…” She paused as she realized what she’d almost let slip. There were times when she really hated how uptight she was. But every time she’d ever tried to do something that was even remotely fun or even the least bit dishonest, she’d paid for it in the worst sort of way.

Like the time in high school when her sister had talked her into skipping school. They’d no more than driven down the street when her sister had plowed into the side of a Mercedes. Or the one time Celena had cut a man off in traffic only to get a flat tire immediately.

She had bad karma, which kept her perpetually toeing the line. If she’d been Jeff, the moment they published that story she’d have probably died of ink poisoning or something equally as bizarre.

But this wasn’t about her. It was about a man who’d broken his Squire’s oath, and he needed to be reprimanded.

Rafael tilted his head as he waited for her to finish her sentence. She was thinking of something, and from the darkness of her eyes and the furrow of her brow he could tell it was painful for her. “Of?”

Her expression turned blank. “Nothing.”

Rafael gave her his best smile as he considered a way to save Jeff and to get him the one thing he wanted most… more time with a woman who tempted him.

“C’mon, Celena. Learn to live a little.”

“I have rules to follow and a job to do. Surely even you can appreciate that.”

“But don’t you want to break free and have some fun just once in your life?”

She didn’t answer, but by the look on her face he could tell that he was getting to her.

“Look,” he said, trying to weaken her even more, “let’s make a deal. Give me a week and if I can’t get you to break one single Squire’s rule, I’ll hand Jeff over and let you hang him… Hell, I’ll even buy the rope. But if I do get you to break a rule… one teensy little rule, you’ll let him go.”

She shook her head. “It’ll never work. The Council won’t wait a week.”

“Sure they will. Tell them you can’t find him and that you’re looking for him.”

Her face hardened. “I can’t do that. It’s a lie.”

She was a tough one. He’d never met anyone with so much resolve to do the right thing before. But then again, he’d been a pirate in his mortal life and high moral fiber wasn’t exactly something they had a plethora of. In fact, those possessed of that madness usually found themselves killed off fairly quickly.

It was part of what he found so fascinating about her. How could someone live her life as she did? He didn’t understand it, and a strange part of himself wanted to.

It was the same part of himself that wanted to know more about this woman other than the fact that she looked edible in those black jeans and crop top.

“You know,” he said playfully, “it’s not a lie. You really don’t know where he is, and I can make sure that he runs from you for eternity.”

She let out a tired breath as if she were suddenly tired of fighting him. “Why are you doing this?”

For once, Rafael was honest. “Because as stupid as he is, Jeff is a friend of mine, and I’m not going to hang him out to dry.”

Celena had to admire that. Many Dark-Hunters could care less what happened to their Squires. To them a Squire was a servant, plain and simple.

“C’mon, Celena.” He gave her a wink. “It’s the only shot you have at getting him.”

“And if I don’t break a rule in a week’s time?”

“I’ll hand him over.”

She cocked her head as she considered that. Rafael wasn’t exactly known for keeping his word. “You swear?”

“Every day.”

She hissed at him. “That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

For the first time, his handsome face turned completely serious. “On my word as a pirate who died defending his crew, absolutely.”

He said it with such conviction that she found herself actually believing it. Besides, he was right. If he wanted to hide Jeff, there wasn’t much they could do to reclaim him. And knowing the two of them, Jeff and Rafael would probably rub all their noses in it, too.

“Okay. I’m going to trust you. In seven days, I’ll be back to collect him. Have him here and waiting.”

She turned to leave only to find Rafael’s hand on her arm, pulling her to a stop.

“Whoa, wait a sec, love. You don’t think it’s that easy, do you?”

“How do you mean?”

That devilish gleam returned to his midnight eyes. “There can be no faith without doubt. No strength without temptation. In order for this bargain to stand, you have to be here so that I can oversee your behavior myself.”

She stiffened at his implication. “My word is gold.”

“And usually mine is pyrite. At the moment, though, to see this through, I want you here to serve me. It’s only fair anyway, since you’re the reason I’m being deprived of Jeff’s service, such as it is.”

“Who will look after Ephani?”

“Call in a substitute. That’s what you would’ve had to do to find him anyway, right?”

Celena was beginning to hate this man. “You can’t be serious.”

“Quite. Now is it a deal, or not? Think quickly before I change the terms again.”

And he probably would, too, just to annoy her. “Fine, it’s a deal.” And yet even as she said those words, she had the sneaking suspicion that she’d just signed her soul away to the devil.

2

As soon as Rafael had Celena out of his house, he rushed to the basement only to find Jeff lying back on his black leather sofa, feet up on the coffee table, playing his PSP as if he didn’t have a care in the world. It was so unbelievable that Rafael stood in the doorway for a full minute, staring with a slackened jaw.

Jeff was the kind of man that as pirates they’d have buried alive in the sand and left to rot. Why? Because people like him really were too stupid to live. It was a public service to speed them to their graves.

Honestly, the temptation to kill him was there and it was strong. Damn strong.

Yet again, Jeff was lucky Rafael had mellowed tremendously over the centuries. Not to mention the small fact that Rafael wanted an opportunity to break at least one more major rule before one of them died.

Jeff had no idea that he owed his life right now to the fact that Celena had the most tempting lips this side of paradise and if Rafael wanted a taste of them, he had to get Jeff out of here before she returned.

Rafael grabbed the tiny remote from the table to his left and turned the PSP off.

“Hey!” Jeff snapped, looking up. “I was on level four and I didn’t save it.”

“Screw level four. I need you to get out of here, pronto.”

“And go where?”

“My boat in the marina.”

Jeff curled his lip in distaste. “And do what?”

“Live through the night, which is more than you’re going to get to do if you don’t stop lipping off. Now get up and get started. I’ve bought you some time, kid, but it’s finite. You have to go lie low for a week.”

While Jeff made juvenile noises of discontent, Rafael’s attention fell to his laptop, which was on the table at Jeff’s feet – that should do to keep him occupied and out of trouble.

At least until the poor bastard published something again.

Picking the laptop up, Rafael handed it off to Jeff. “Go write your great American novel, but for God’s sake, do what everyone else does and make the whole story up.”

Jeff grimaced at him. “You know I get seasick.”

“You’ll survive seasickness. Lead poisoning’s another matter. There’s enough staples and such on board that you should be fine. Keep your ass below deck and if you so much as look at the helm, I’ll cut your head off myself. You’re not to go joyriding or anything else on my boat – it really is worth more to me than your life. Do not leave the lower deck under any circumstances barring fire, and whatever you do, keep a bucket nearby and don’t puke on anything.”

Jeff screwed his face up as if that were the most sickening thought he’d ever had. “But I want to stay here.”

“And people in hell want ice water and if you don’t go to the boat, you’ll probably be able to take it to them in person in about twenty minutes. Get out, Jeff. Now.”

Jeff started to grumble as he got up, then caught himself. “Can I take the PSP?”

“If it will speed you on your way.”

“You got any more games for it?”

Raphael growled low in his throat as he picked the small black game case off the coffee table and chucked it at him. “Anything else?”

“A hooker would be nice.”

“Jeff…”

“I’m going. I’m going.”

The pain in Rafael’s skull returned as Jeff made his way back upstairs at a pace that would make a slug proud. Oh yeah, they’d have sacrificed him on the main deck ten seconds after boarding.

“Could you pick up the pace, Jeff? We only have another eight or nine hours until daybreak.”

He cast a grimace at Rafael over his shoulder. “You’re such a bossy ass**le.”

“Comes with being a pirate captain… which my father was, too, by the way. He wasn’t a merchant like you have in your story. He ate those for breakfast.”

Jeff actually stopped on the stairs. “Really?”

“Jeff!” he snapped. “Up. The. Stairs.”

Mocking his words, Jeff finally managed to make it up to the door. It took about fifteen minutes to get him packed and out of the house, along with more warnings about what Rafael would do if Jeff so much as scuffed a board on his boat.

Jeff had only been gone at most five minutes before Celena returned. Rafael had to force himself not to glance down the street after Jeff, since it was obvious the two of them must have passed each other on the road. But unlike Jeff, Celena was quick on the uptake and would realize why Rafael was looking north.

No doubt she’d catch the snail and salt him well.

“Welcome back, my lady,” Rafael said as Celena adjusted the black backpack on her shoulder as she neared his door.

She only grumbled in response as she stepped past him and entered his house. “I can’t believe I have to do this,” she said under her breath.