Authors: Meljean Brook
“You're describing half of the community, Drifter. Them white boys like to go around looking like dead freaks.”
Not all of them, but too many to make those that had gone after Charlie remarkable. “Any word about demons, maybe vampires who are thinking of working for them?”
Manny shook his head. “The only thing everyone talks about is how nervous they are.”
“Why is that?”
The vampire's eyes hardened into weasely little beads. “Well, we've been hearing about these other cities being wiped out. Then you Guardians come in with your Rules, and talk about these demons.” His fingers started working the ring; the whine came in again. “It was better back when only I knew about you, DrifterâVladimir and Katya never had to deal with everyone wanting to know what you Guardians are planning to do, what you are, what all of us are. And then comes that fancy vampire up from San Francisco, talking about changing the way things are done, telling us we should align ourselves with you Guardiansâthough you've never given
anything but shit.”
Ethan didn't figure Manny had earned anything but shit. “Maybe you ought to talk to that fancy vampire.”
“Vladimir and Katya did. No one got anywhere, except they got dead. So I don't think I'll be rushing into that, Drifter.” Manny looked away from him. “Was that fancy boy the same one that girl was talking about?”
Ethan stiffened. “What girl?”
Manny grinned. “I thought I could hear you coming, so I went on over to take a look. Fine bit of ass there. You should get a piece of that.”
Manny's grin slowly faded under Ethan's stare.
Ethan didn't disguise the menace in his voice. “You get back on your side of town right quick.”
He didn't wait for Manny to slink away, but Manny was fast enough that Ethan had just turned from him when the squeal of tires split the night.
Halfway back to Cole's, Ethan caught the presence of another vampire. And another. They were mostly shieldedâhe couldn't get a strong fix on their location.
He'd have to wait for them to come for Charlie. Going out and hunting them would only leave her vulnerable to any he hadn't sensed.
And he'd gone off half-cocked once in his life, hunting down men who'd transgressed against those Ethan considered his. But although Ethan had handed some of them what they'd deserved, he wasn't certain it had been worth it in the end, and he'd lost more than his life.
Now he knew that Caleb had lost, too.
Hell and damnation, he could have done without reading that newsletter. Over a hundred and twenty years had passed since that hellish week in an Eden jail cell; he'd known his brother couldn't have been alive. His grief had settled downâbut discovering Caleb hadn't made it out west was still tearing at his gut.
But Ethan would be damned if his brother's death meant his sacrifice was nothing, if it meant the demon had won.
Caleb had always claimed there were two things worth living for: good drink and a pretty woman. Ethan figured he could have one for his brother, and keep on protecting the other.
“So they must have used a crowbar on that gate, huh?”
Charlie nodded without glancing up. She didn't need to see Vin to know he'd be leaning against the bar, the cork-bottomed drink tray balanced on his splayed hand. That stance had accompanied every question he'd tossed her way that evening.
“Yeah, must have,” she agreed. And she didn't want to talk about it anymore. “What do you need?”
“G&T and a Riesling. Table tenâtake a guess.”
Charlie glanced over his shoulder. Table ten was in the restaurant, but she had a clear view through the lounge's entryway. Two men faced each other across the red vinyl booth. Both well fed and groomed. One sported silvering auburn hair, the other lighter with just a touch of redâa father and son, maybe. Surrounded by Cole's rock-and-roll memorabilia, with the Stones trolling about a little yellow pill, their conservative suits, spit-shiny shoes, and dark overcoats looked wildly out of place.
She guessed, “The gin and tonic for the uptight blond.” And he apparently needed it. The younger sat with his feet placed firmly together, his back rigid.
Vin shook his head, his choppy blue bangs brushing his eyebrows, the diamond studs in his ears winking. “That's zero for three tonight, Char. Junior wanted the wineâand your number.”
Charlie sighed and returned the Riesling bottle to the small refrigerator under the counter.
“I didn't think he was your type, but he said he knew you.”
She frowned and studied the blond's profile. It was vaguely familiar, butâ
He swiveled his head, met her eyes, and it clicked into place. She forced a bright smile and returned his wave. “Shit,” she muttered between her teeth when his fingers waggled in a beckoning gesture.
“One of Jane's.” What was his name? Patrick? Paul? Something with a “P.” “About five years ago, I think. Will you tell him I'll come over in a second?”
Better to go to him than wait until he approached her. If he was chatty, she could use work as an excuse to get away.
“Will do.” Vin placed the glasses on the tray, the tribal tattoo around his lower biceps peeking out from beneath the edge of his sleeve.
She watched him deliver the drinks, and delayed as long as possible by wiping down the counter. Five years. She didn't want to deal with this tonight, didn't want to lose the sweet buzz left over from her walk with Ethan by dredging up the past with a guy whose name she couldn't remember.
Peter? Or maybe the “P” had been in reference to something elseâ¦his job? A professor? Five years ago, he wouldn't have been old enough. A politicianâ?
She snapped her fingers in triumph. “Mark Brandt!” It was as close to a crow as she could produce.
Her lone customer at the barâa precise elderly gentleman in a tweed coatâraised his graying eyebrows. He was probably wondering if she'd been taking a few drinks and talking to herself as a result.
Her smile aggravated her sore cheek, so she kept it brief and nodded to his glass. “Another?” A swallow of their best single malt remained in the bottom.
He shook his head. A quiet one. Charlie was used to itâsome of them wanted to talk all night. Others never opened their mouths except to pour in more liquor.
“I'll be right back if you change your mind.” She hoped he would now, so that she could put Mark Brandt off for another minute, but he only responded with a slow dip of his neatly combed head.
Strange that he didn't seem as out of place here as Mark did, she thought as she crossed the lounge. But then, Mark was on the wrong Capitol Hill; he probably looked on edge anywhere he wasn't amid movers and shakers. No one at Cole's came close to qualifying.
But he'd been nice enough, she remembered. Full of admirable ideals and ambition. Jane had dated him for six or seven months before he'd relocated to D.C.
Jane hadn't been hurt, so Charlie didn't have to hate him.
Mark stood as she approached the table. “Charlotte!” He took her hand in a two-fisted shake, his smile exposing his square, even teeth.
Well, he'd perfected the politician bit. His kiss to each of her cheeks was overkill, but maybe it was a D.C. thing. Hopefully he wouldn't realize her grin was more amusement than greeting. “Mark. It's been a long time.”
He pulled back, and his gaze dropped to her cheek before darting back up. “Not so long that you've forgotten me,” he said, smiling again. “How are you? You look well.”
That was sweet of him, but it said a lot that even with the bruise, she very likely
look better than when he'd last seen her. “I'm doing okay.” She shrugged and glanced at his companion. Mid-fifties, as good-looking as Mark with his regular features and healthy frame. His pale blue eyes were scrutinizing, assessing.
Almost like a cop. Charlie shoved her unease away.
“Charlotteâmy father, Bill Brandt.” Mark slid back into his seat. After a quick look from the older man, he added, “
Charlie said something she thought was appropriate, but dipped her hands into her pockets so she wouldn't have to shake his. On the table, their drinks sat untouched. She rocked back on her heels. “Soâhow is D.C.? Are you visiting long?”
“A few weeks.” Mark drummed his fingertips against the back of his opposite hand. “I'll return to prepare for summer session. I'm legal counsel to Senator Gerath.”
There was no mistaking the pride in his voice, but Charlie had no idea who that was. She shifted her weight, tried not to appear as ignorant as she felt. What could she say to that?
She grasped for something, anything, and was relieved when she remembered it was an election year. “You must be busy preparing for his campaign then.”
“Gerath was Ohio's incumbent in 2006. He'll serve another six-year term before running again,” the senator put in with austere tones. “It was a highly publicized race.”
She darted a look at the elder Brandt and said lamely, “That's right.”
Mark's hands clenched. “But there are other campaigns to support, Dad.” He turned back to Charlie. “We'll be swamped until November.”
Politics, she didn't know; overworked customers, she did. “Is this a vacation before the long haul?”
“A working vacation. Dad's reconnecting with the constituents before heading back to D.C.”
Mark's bland smile appeared again, similar to those she'd seen on hundreds of political ads. “The Heritage Theater. An out-of-town interest has been making noises about buying it, so we're raising the possibility of it being listed as a historical marker, hoping to keep it local.”
Considering that the current owners had giant sticks up their asses and looked down their noses at anyone who worked for Old Matthew, Charlie wouldn't be sorry to see it change hands.
But she only threw out another rote bartender's response designed to keep the conversation going. “You must have seen the first movie while you were over there, thenâ
Destry Rides Again
Mark looked to his father, and Brandt said, “We left early. My son doesn't appreciate the classics. Too much black-and-white.”
A slight flush colored Mark's cheeks, and Charlie said, “I don't like the end of it. Frenchy dies.” At Mark's blank look, she added, “The Marlene Dietrich characterâthe singer in the saloon.”
Mark nodded vaguely. “Ah, yes.”
Brandt leveled his pale gaze at Charlie's throat as he said, “Mark tells me that you used to sing.”
Her back stiffened, but she didn't let her expression change. “Yes.”
“One of those grunge groups?”
Mark apparently hadn't told him much, or the details had gotten smashed. “Not exactly,” she said with a tight smile.
Brandt held up his hand. “I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that kind of music, son. It brought Seattle a lot of attention and more money. And Miss Newcomb isn't offended.”
“No.” Not insulted, but even if she wasn't being paranoid and he
deliberately provoked it, he likely couldn't read the frustration in her voice. Not many people heard emotion over the rasp.
“And how is Jane?” Mark finally took a drink of his wineâmore of a gulp.
Had he fortified himself before asking that question? “She's good. Just Jane. Working, scatterbrained. You know.”
“Yes.” He wiped at a drop of wine on the edge of the glass and absently rubbed the moist pad of his finger around the gently flaring rim. A low wavering note sounded beneath his voice. “I heard that she was the brain behind the breakthrough in artificial blood production at the University of Washington a little over two years ago. Is she still there?”
Charlie's brows rose. Did he read medical journals in his spare time? He couldn't have known Jane was involved, otherwise. Though the research and conclusions had been hers, and she'd authored the article, the UW Medicine department heads had stood in the limelight during the brief media flurry surrounding the announcement. It was one of the reasons Jane's decision to leave UW had been easy for her.
“No,” Charlie said. “Legion made her an offer last year.”
The elder Brandt's hands fisted on the table, and he exhaled sharply.
It didn't surprise her. Legion Labs had been the center of an ethics controversy six months earlier, when a Californian congressman with financial ties to the corporation had pushed for government funding on one of Legion's research projects.
Charlie glanced at the senator, saw the disapproving twist of his mouth, and couldn't resist. “They aren't Microsoft or Boeing, but they do bring in a little money to the local economy.”