Misguided Angel Page 1

A Chase

Florence, 1452

The sound of footsteps on cobblestone echoed throughout the empty streets of the city.

Tomasia kept the pace, her kidskin slippers hardly making a sound, while behind her came the slap of Andreas's heavy boots and Giovanni's lighter step. They ran in a single file, a tight unit, used to this kind of discipline, used to blending in with the dark. When they arrived at the middle of the square, they separated.

Tomi flew up the nearest cornerstone and perched on a cornice looking over the broad panorama of the city: the half-built dome of the Basilica to the Ponte Vecchio and beyond the river. She sensed the creature was near and prepared to strike. Their target still did not know he was being followed, and her blow would be immediate and invisible, every trace of the Silver Blood eradicated and extinguished--almost as if the beast--disguised as a palace guard--never existed. Even the creature's last gasp must be silent. Tomasia kept her position, waiting for the creature to come to her, to walk into the trap they had laid.

She heard Dre grunting, a bit out of breath, and then next to him, Gio, his sword already unsheathed, as they followed the vampire into the alley.

This was her chance. She flew down from her hiding place, holding her dagger with her teeth.

But when she landed, the creature was nowhere to be found.

"Where--?" she asked, but Gio put a finger to his mouth and motioned to the alleyway.

Tomi raised her eyebrows. This was unusual. The Silver Blood had stopped to converse with a hooded stranger. Strange: the Croatan despised the Red Bloods and avoided them unless they were torturing them for sport.

"Should we?" she asked, moving toward the alley.

"Wait," Andreas ordered. He was nineteen, tall and broad, with sculpted muscles and a ferocious brow--handsome and ruthless. He was their leader, and had always been.

Next to him, Gio looked elfin, almost fey, with a beauty that could not be denied or hidden under his scraggly beard and long, unkempt hair. He kept his hand on his weapon, tense and ready to spring.

Tomi did the same, and caressed the sharp edge of her dagger. It made her feel better to know it was there.

"Let's watch what happens," Dre decided.




Off the Italian Coast

The Present


The Cinque Terre

Schuyler Van Alen walked as quickly as she could up the polished brass spiral stairs leading to the upper deck. Jack Force was standing at the edge of the bow when she caught his eye. She nodded to him, shielding her eyes from the hot Mediterranean sun. It's done.

Good, he sent, and went back to setting the anchor. He was sunburned and shaggy, his skin a deep nut brown, his hair the color of flax. Her own dark hair was wild and unkempt from a month of salty sea air. She wore an old shirt of Jack's that had once been white and pristine and was now gray and ragged at the hems. They both displayed that laconic, relaxed air affected by those on perpetual vacation: a lazy, weathered aimlessness that belied their true desperation. A month was long enough. They had to act now. They had to act today.

The muscles on Jack's arms tensed as he tugged on the rope to see if the anchor had found purchase on the ocean floor. No luck. The anchor heaved, so he released the line a few more feet. He raised a finger over his right shoulder, signaling to Schuyler to reverse the port engine. He let the rope go a little farther and tugged at it again, the stout white braids of the anchor line chafing his palm as he pulled it toward him.

From her summers sailing on Nantucket, Schuyler knew that an ordinary man would have used a motor winch to set the seven-hundred-pound anchor, but of course Jack was far from ordinary. He pulled harder--using almost all of his strength, and all eight tons of the Countess's yacht seemed to flex for a moment. This time the anchor held, wedged into the rocky bottom.

Jack relaxed and dropped the rope, and Schuyler moved from the helm to help him twine it around the base of the winch. In the past month they'd each found quiet solace in these small tasks. It gave them something to do while they plotted their escape.

For while Isabelle of Orleans had welcomed them to the safety of her home, Jack remembered that once upon a time, in another lifetime, Isabelle had been Lucifer's beloved, Drusilla, sister-wife to the emperor Caligula. True, the Countess had been more than generous toward them: she had blessed them with every comfort--the boat, in particular, was fully staffed and bountifully stocked. Yet it was becoming clearer each day that the Countess's offer of protection was morphing from asylum to confinement. It was already November and they were virtual prisoners in her care, as they were never left alone, nor were they allowed to leave.

Schuyler and Jack were as far from finding the Gate of Promise as they had been when they'd left New York.

The Countess had given them everything except what they needed most: freedom.

Schuyler did not believe that Isabelle, who had been a great friend to Lawrence and Cordelia, and was one of the most respected vampire dowagers of European society, was a Silver Blood traitor. But of course, given the recent events, anything seemed possible. In any event, if the Countess was planning on keeping them prisoner for perpetuity, they couldn't afford to wait and find out.

Schuyler glanced shyly at Jack. They had been together a month now, but even though they were finally an official couple, everything felt so new--his touch, his voice, his companionship, the easy feel of his arm around her shoulder. She stood beside him against the rail, and he looped his arm around her neck, pulling her closer so he could plant a quick kiss on the top of her head. She liked those kisses the most, found a deep contentment at the confident way he held her. They belonged to each other now.

Maybe this was what Allegra had meant, Schuyler thought, when she had told her to come home and stop fighting, stop fleeing from finding her own happiness. Maybe this was what her mother wanted her to understand.

Jack lowered his arm from her shoulder, and she followed his gaze to the small rowboat

"the boys" were lowering from the stern onto the choppy water below. They were a jolly duo, two Italians, Drago and Iggy (short for Ignazio), Venators in service to the Countess and, for all intents and purposes, Jack and Schuyler's jailers. But Schuyler had come to like them almost as friends, and the thought of what she and Jack were about to do set her nerves on edge. She hoped the Venators would be spared from harm, but she and Jack would do what they had to. She marveled at his calm demeanor; she herself could barely keep still, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet in anticipation.

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