"As did you."
"Yes." She hitched her bag of stakes higher on her shoulder. "Thank you for coming."
Too gorgeous. A feeling of awkwardness nettled her.
"Shall we?" He extended his hand.
Did he expect her to hold his hand? Or was he merely motioning for her to start walking? Too awkward. She headed north, leaving the bridge behind. He strolled beside her. Close beside her. For a big man, he moved very quietly. She adjusted her bag to hear the comforting rattle of stakes break the silence.
Why was he being so quiet? She tried to think of something normal to talk about. "So, do you always wear the same plaid?"
"'Tis the MacKay tartan. Ye doona like my kilts?"
"Oh, I do. I just wondered if you had more than one." She winced. Brilliant. Why not insult the man? "I mean, more than one style."
He smiled. "I have actually acquired quite a few clothes over the centuries."
Several centuries of fashion stuffed into one closet? It was mind-boggling. "You mean you still have wigs and waistcoats and lacy shirts?"
"Aye. Stashed away somewhere in my castle."
Her mouth dropped open. His castle? Good heavens, how could anyone have a normal conversation with Angus MacKay? He was... fascinating.
His hand brushed against hers as they walked.
She thought about moving a bit to the right, out of his reach, but she didn't. It would be too obvious and more... awkward. "You'll be able to hear an attack anywhere in the park?"
"Aye. Just to be safe, I asked Connor to patrol the northern half."
"That's good. We'll have backup, if we need it."
"Aye." His hand lingered close to hers.
Her heart beat faster. "It seems odd that we just met last Friday night."
"Aye." He entwined his fingers with hers.
Her heart swelled with longing. "This is only our fifth night together."
"When ye've lived as long as I have, ye realize how relative time is. I've endured centuries that passed in the blink of an eye as if I were barely breathing." He stopped and faced her. "Or I can experience an entire lifetime in the span of a few nights. All the hope and passion that makes life worth living, 'tis suddenly surrounding me like a gift from God."
"Oh, Angus." Then she was different. She was special.
"We canna deny what is happening to us, Emma."
She released his hand. "I don't deny it. But we also can't deny that there's no chance for us."
"No." She held up a hand. "I don't want to be one of a long line of human girlfriends. I - I feel special to you right now, just as I am. And I need to leave it that way. I want to be able to say good-bye when you go with my heart still full. Not drained and desolate. Can you understand?"
"How could it possibly be anything else but sad? We're from two different worlds."
He frowned. "We're more alike than ye think. And there has never been a long line of mortal girlfriends."
"You fed off human women for centuries. You told me you left them all very satisfied. That sounds like a long line of lovers to me."
"That was survival. That was me giving back to faceless women I canna remember, so I wouldna feel guilty for stealing their blood. Ye are different, Emma. I doona need ye in order to survive. But surviving is no' the same as living. Or the same as feeling human again. I am alive when I'm with you. Ye feed my soul."
She stared at him, unblinking. Good heavens, what could she say to this? Take me, I'm yours?
He turned his head to the side. "I heard a scream."
She listened carefully, but heard nothing.
"This way." He motioned for her to follow.
She jogged alongside him, going north. "I don't hear anything."
"They'll have control of their victim by now. There will be no more screams." After several minutes, he halted. "We're close now," he whispered. "Yer stakes are making noise."
She removed the bag from her shoulder and wrapped the stakes tightly together. "Better?" She cradled them against her chest.
He nodded and placed a finger to his lips. She followed him quietly as he left the brick pathway and headed through a grove of trees. The moonlight barely pierced through the canopy of budding leaves overhead. The air grew more chill. Angus became a large shadow that she trailed closely. A breeze ruffled the leaves and brought the sound of a male voice.
"Hey, man, leave some for me."
Emma's skin prickled with gooseflesh. Angus was moving very slowly now. She glanced around nervously, hoping all the dark shapes around them were only trees.
"Shit, what are you doing?" the same voice complained loudly. "That's no way to treat a woman. I wouldn't treat a ho like that."
"Hey, feeding is one thing, but you're killing her. That just ain't right."
Angus drew Emma alongside him so she could see the clearing in front of them. Moonlight gleamed off a huge granite boulder, tinting the clearing with ghostly shades of gray. A male vampire, dressed in black, had a woman pinned to the ground. She looked silvery pale in the moonlight. Her eyes were black and glassy. The only color was the red blood oozing from twin punctures on her neck.
A second vampire, a black man dressed in torn blue jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt, paced nervously close by. "Shit, man. I hate this."
The first vampire sank his fangs into the woman's neck once again. Emma flinched. The woman would never survive a second bite. Angus held her arm to keep her from moving forward.
"Cut it out, bro!" The black vampire jumped about, trying to get the other vampire's attention. "You're sucking her dry. She's gonna die!"
In a flash, Angus zoomed into the clearing, drawing his claymore. He pricked the first vampire in the neck. "Release her."
"What the hell?" The black vampire moved away.
Emma jumped into the clearing and blocked his escape. She pointed her stake at his heart. "Stay right where you are."
"Shit." The black vampire stared at her, then at Angus. "Who the hell are you?"
The first vampire rose slowly to his feet. Blood dripped from his distended fangs. He backed away, but Angus followed him, his sword aimed at the evil vampire's heart.
"This park is under my protection," Angus growled. "Ye will do no more killing here."
"I remember you," the evil vampire spoke with a Russian accent. "You were at the ball last year at Romatech. You crushed Ivan's watch. You're Angus MacKay."
"So now you're following orders from Katya?" Angus asked softly. "Did she ask you to kill for her?"
"I would do anything for her."
"Then tell her this, Alek." When the vampire flinched, Angus continued, "Aye, I know who ye are. Ye were an errand boy for Ivan Petrovsky, and now ye're doing Katya's dirty work."
Emma glanced at the injured woman. How long were these guys going to chat while she lay there bleeding to death? "I'll call an ambulance."
Alek gasped when he looked at her. "You! You're the one I saw before. You killed Vladimir."
Emma swallowed hard. This was the vampire who had gotten away last summer. The only one who knew who she was.
"I was right." Alek glared at her. "The slayer is a mortal woman." He glanced at Angus. "But you're helping her, aren't you?"
"Angus." Emma gave him a pleading look. If this vampire lived, he would tell all the Malcontents that she and Angus were working together.
He charged at Alek, but just before his sword could make contact, Alek vanished.
"Nay!" Angus's sword impaled a tree. "The devil take it." He ripped his sword loose.
"Damn," the black vampire muttered. "Who are you guys? The vampire po-po?"
The vampire raised his hands in surrender. "You da man. I don't mess with no brother with a three-foot blade."
While Angus pointed his claymore at the black vampire's heart, Emma rushed to the injured woman. "She's dying. We have to help her."
"I've called Connor mentally. He should be here - " Angus stopped when Connor appeared beside him.
Connor quickly surveyed the scene. His eyes flashed with anger when he saw the injured woman. He glowered at the black vampire. "Ye bastard, I should throttle you."
"I didn't do it!" the black vampire shouted. "I know, I know, I always tell the po-po I didn't do it, but this time I really mean it. I didn't get a drop out of her. I'm still starving." He glanced at Emma with a speculative look.
She glared back. "Don't even think about it."
"Connor, can ye take the woman to Romatech?" Angus asked. "Roman can save her. Then ye can remove her memory and take her home."
"Will do." Connor gathered the woman in his arms, then vanished.
"Where's everybody going?" the black vampire asked.
"Who are you?" Angus stepped toward him.
He backed up. "I'll be a damned shish kebab if you come any closer with that super-sized switchblade. I've already died once this week, and I don't want to go through that again."
"Ye were transformed this last week?"
"Yeah. That psycho Russian dude did it to me. I was minding my own business, and business was good, if you know what I mean. I had a fine reputation. I had it going on. Then that son of a bitch Alek came along - "
"You were selling drugs?" Emma moved toward him.
"Now, ain't that just the way?" The black vampire frowned at her. "Just because I'm a brother, you assume I'm trafficking."
"Were you?" she asked.
He shrugged. "A man's gotta make a living. Look, girlfriend, I ain't got nothing against you, but I'm starvin', and you're smelling really sweet."
"Whoa, bro." He lifted both hands in surrender. "I didn't realize you were, uh, interested in those of a female persuasion, what with that skirt you're wearing and - "
"Enough." Angus slid his claymore back into its sheath. "Drink this." He opened his sporran and removed his flask.
"Nice purse," the black vampire muttered. "I know a guy who can get you a designer one real cheap."
"Whatever you say, man." The black vampire accepted the flask. "This ain't no poison, is it? You know, that's why those bastards killed me. They're making some kind of vampire poison."
"Yeah, that's what they called it." The vampire sniffed at the contents of the flask. "Whoa! This smells good. What is this shit?"
Ah. Now Emma understood why she'd smelled whisky on Angus's breath that first night. She waited for the black vampire to finish his drink.
And waited. She glanced at Angus.
His mouth twitched. "Apparently, our guest is verra hungry."
"Oo-wee!" The black vampire wiped his mouth. "That's some good shit." He upended the flask again, but it was empty. "You got any more of this?"
"We have dozens of bottles at home," Angus answered. "And we can get more whenever we like."
"No shit? You know, those damned Russians don't have anything to eat at their house. They go out every freaking night to attack people. I told them they should be attacking the local blood bank, you know, and storing up some snacks at their crib, but would they listen to me? No."
"You doona wish to harm people?"
"Hell, no. I ain't no killer." He winked at Emma. "I'm more of a lover, you understand."
"You're not exactly a law-abiding citizen," Emma reminded him.
"I gotta make a living. I - I have people depending on me."
"What is yer name?" Angus asked.
Phineas shrugged. "The brothers used to call me Master Phin." He raised his chin defiantly. "Now I wish to be called Dr. Phang."
Emma dropped her stake back into her bag. "Why would the Russians transform you?"
Phineas frowned and shuffled his feet. "They wanted easy access to some drugs. Their queen bitch is making that poison."
"Yeah, her royal highness bee-yotch." Phineas waved a hand in the air. "She had her evil minion kill me, then she acts like she's done me some big favor. Made me sleep on the floor in her basement like some kind of dog. And when I tried to go back to my family, she - she threatened to kill them all."
"We've stayed here long enough." Angus retrieved his cell phone from his sporran. "Alek could return with a dozen Malcontents. We'll teleport to the townhouse."
Phineas winced. "I ain't very good at that teleporting."