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A Dark And Quiet Place

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New Orleans

Club Hell

March 28

Heather sank down on the edge of the bed, the mattress giving just a little beneath her weight. Annie lay on her belly, her head turned to one side on the pillow, snoozing booze-hard and drooling like a four-year-old. And reeking of nicotine, alcohol, and, faintly, of black smoke from the torched house.

If not for Simone, Annie might’ve died in that blaze too.

Heather pushed locks of blue/black/purple hair away from her sister’s face, then, squinting in the low-wattage light filtering in from the hall, she checked to make sure the gauze bandages on Annie’s arms and right hand were still secure.

That was one thing about hanging out in a nightkind household that she’d have to get used to—the lack of bright lighting. Maybe a compromise involving LED light bulbs for her and Annie and sunglasses for them could be worked out—though at the rate Dante went through sunglasses, she’d need to buy them by the case. He couldn’t hold on to a pair of shades to save his life.

Annie’s bandages looked fine—still in place and dry despite her no doubt enthusiastic plunge into the bottom of a vodka bottle; no, make that the bottom of two vodka bottles, according to Silver.

Guilt pinched Heather hard as she remembered Annie’s shocked, pale face and smoke-inhalation raspy voice—Simone never made it out . . .

Heather wearily rubbed her face with both hands. Exhaustion burned through her. Enthusiastic? I don’t know that and I’m not being fair. I think what she went through tonight should entitle her to a get drunk free card.

Heather needed to figure out how to get Annie checked over by a doctor without drawing FBI or SB attention. Not just for her burns and smoke inhalation, but to get her back on the meds she desperately needed. And into counseling or group therapy before her adventures in self-medication ended in razor blades and blood again.

But that was a task for later. Right now she needed sleep. Later, when her thoughts were focused and clear, she and Dante could hammer out a plan of action.

Ain’t running. Ain’t hiding.

Heather still couldn’t fathom what Dante had done. Cracked the cemetery apart like an egg, hard-knuckling his way into another world or dimension or whatever it was; faced down fallen angels and plucked his father from the pit.

Oh. And had grown wings. Just like in her vision.

Smooth black wings arch up behind him, fire patterns of brilliant blue and purple streaking their undersides. Gold light stars out from his kohl-rimmed eyes. He looks up as song—not his own—rings through the air. The night burns, the sky on fire from horizon to horizon.

Had he been fighting against the Fallen while the world burned or alongside them? Fear brushed icy fingers against her heart. At least that last part hadn’t happened.

But a traitorous voice inside whispered, Yet.

Dante still shielded himself from her, determined to protect her from the pain and darkness ravaging him from the inside out. Determined to protect her from himself.

She intended to set him straight. She didn’t need his protection.

Too late for that. I’m in for the long haul. And he needs to learn that a burden is easier when it’s shared.

Rising to her feet, Heather made sure that Annie was comfortably blanketed and the trash can close at hand—just in case—before striding out into the hall. She headed for the room Trey occupied across the hall and down.

With or without Dante’s shields, Heather felt his presence through their bond, burning bright and steady in a corner of her mind like a nightlight. She wondered if she was a nightlight for him as well.

And hoped she was.

PAUSING IN THE DOORWAY, Heather looked into the darkened bedroom. Tucked into a snoozing kitty-ball, Eerie was nestled against Trey’s back. Neon light from the bar across the street filtered in through the lace curtains, winking blue, then pink across the bed and Trey’s curled form. Glittered like Christmas across his face, his closed eyes.

A dark shape sat in a straight-backed chair beside the bed, caught in alternating flares of blue-pink-blue. Neon reflections danced in De Noir’s sleek, black hair. His scent—deep dark earth and green leaves—threaded through the room’s close air. Gold light glinted like tiny stars in his eyes.

“Trey’s Sleeping early,” Heather said. “Did you . . . ?”

Hearing her voice, Eerie lifted his head and yawned, tongue curling.

“Yes, Agent Wallace, he allowed me to ease him into Sleep,” De Noir said in a low rumble. “He’s hoping to awaken and find that the fire and the loss of his sister were only a bad dream.” He sighed. “I didn’t have the heart to reason him out of that hope.”

“I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t have had the heart either.”

De Noir looked at the Sleeping web-runner. “Once he’s awake again, I hope to convince him that his sister would want him to keep living.”

The words Dante had whispered to Trey after the fire circled through Heather’s memory. You gotta stay alive, mon ami, for Simone. I wanna kill the assholes responsible for her death, but that’s your right. Mauvais and Justine ordered it. I’ll help you find them and their house-torching buddies, and I’ll stand beside you as you kill them.

And she remembered Trey’s reply. Can I stop living after that?

Ain’t up to me, cher. But ask me again when they’re all dead, yeah?

Heather blinked rapidly until the burning in her eyes faded.

“Where’s Dante?” De Noir asked, his tone casual, but something else altogether shadowed the planes of his face, strained his voice.

“He went out to feed.”

De Noir shook his head. “Even with his migraine.” A muscle twitched in his jaw. “I offered to help him, but he refused my touch, refused to let me ease his pain.”

Even though Heather wished Dante would’ve allowed De Noir to cool down his migraine, she understood why he hadn’t. Dante loved his father, but he no longer trusted him. And the intimacy of mind-to-mind contact required trust.

“It’s too soon,” Heather allowed. “I hope you can see that.”

De Noir sighed, then nodded. “I suppose I can at that, Agent Wallace.”

“Please, just call me Heather. I’m not with the Bureau anymore. According to the FBI, I’m a much-valued agent, but one now lost to paranoid delusions due to a hereditary mental illness and in desperate need of treatment.”

De Noir arched an eyebrow. “Are you expected to survive said treatment?”

Heather shook her head. “I’m sure it’ll end in a tragic suicide.”

“And Dante?”

“Snipped as the final loose end linking the Bureau to Bad Seed.”

“I believe they would very much regret finding him.”

“Not if they triggered his programming. Forced him to obey. It’s already happened once. He was used to murder a man in Seattle.”

De Noir sucked in a breath at her words, his face blanking as though she’d slapped him. His fingers tightened around the arms of the chair. Wood creaked. “I believe they are very much going to regret that, as well,” he finally said, his voice cold enough to sheet the room in ice. Neon blue light strobed across his face.

“I don’t care if they regret it or not, just as long as they can never use him again,” Heather said, throat tight. Her hands knotted into fists as she remembered tranking Dante after he’d completed his assigned “task”—the murder of FBI SAC Alberto Rodriguez. Remembered the relief in Dante’s eyes.

“It seems I’ve missed much in these last couple of weeks,” De Noir said softly, drawing her attention back from its dark trip down memory lane.

“I don’t know if ‘missed’ is the right word,” Heather said, feeling a smile brush her lips. “But yes, a lot’s happened.”

“I never imagined he’d have wings,” De Noir mused. Pink and blue light strobed in alternating bands across his face. “Even though he’s a creawdwr and True Blood, he’s still only half-Fallen.”

He rose to his feet, muscles rippling, kilt swinging against his knees, then went to the French windows and pulled down the shades behind the lace curtains, blocking out the neon light and the approaching dawn. And deepening the room’s gloom.

“It happened after he jumped on Gabriel and fed on him,” Heather said.

De Noir turned around and stared at her. “He attacked Gabriel?”

“Pretty much the moment he laid eyes on him.”

De Noir laughed, the sound low and delighted. “Well, well. I doubt Gabriel’s ass will be warming up the Black-Starred throne for much longer.”

“Why’s that?” Heather asked.

With a small chirp, Eerie hopped off the bed and rubbed up against Heather’s legs. He arched his back for pats. Bending, Heather obliged him, stroking her fingers along his warm, soft fur. Scratching his head.

“The Elohim will view the attack as a humiliating and humbling rejection of Gabriel by the creawdwr.” A dark smile played across De Noir’s lips. “Hardly an endorsement of his ability to lead.”

“Gotta admit, that doesn’t break my heart,” Heather said, straightening. “Gabriel came across like a true dick.”

De Noir laughed again. “For good reason. He is a true dick.”

Done with pats, Eerie padded back to the bed and leapt onto the mattress in one smooth, graceful bound, then curled up against Trey’s T-shirted back again.

“Do you need anything before I go?” Heather asked, stifling a yawn with the back of her hand.

De Noir sat back down in the chair. “No, thank you, Agent Wal—Heather.”

A burr of pain and heat prickled against Heather’s thoughts as she turned to leave. Her heart gave one hard kick against her ribs. She sucked in a breath.

De Noir’s lambent eyes narrowed. “Are you all right?”

The pain vanished as though the burr had been plucked away. But as with pricked flesh, a trace of the hurt remained. “I’m fine,” Heather answered truthfully. Dante, on the other hand . . .

Whirling around, Heather hurried down the hall. Dante had returned to the club, but even though he’d fed, his migraine still raged. She looked for the dark and quiet place she knew from experience that he would need. And found it in the second to the last room on the right.

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