Chapter 17

Byron walked out of the fog, a tall, dark figure with flowing hair and power clinging to him. Mist curled around his legs, touched his broad shoulders. The wind whispered to him, carrying a million secrets. In the distance the sea rose up, crested and foamed, crashing and booming in a rhythm as old as time. He seemed part of nature, his features timeless, his eyes old. Antonietta saw him clearly in spite of his moving. He raised his hand to the sky, and lightning forked, jumped from cloud to cloud.

Chapter 18

"Antonietta, we need you." Eleanor's voice was a soft hiss of anxiety. "Just as we did with Paul, I will enter and heal. Vlad will hold him to earth. You must chant and provide us with energy. The healing gift is strong in you. Your cousin's voice is a gift also. Teach her the words and have her join with us."

"No one has ever called my voice a gift before." Tasha's gaze was fixed on Byron. He was facing a full-grown jaguar. The animal lowered its head, eyes focused on its prey, the body crouched low in preparation of the attack. It was mesmerizing, so much so that Tasha held her breath.

Byron's lifted hand opened, palm facing the sky. Threads of orange red broke from the sizzling bolts of lightning, spinning tightly into a ball at a twist of his fingers.

"Antonietta?" Don Giovanni stepped from the maze, Celt at his side.

Instantly, the jaguar rushed, not at Byron, but at the head of the Scarletti family. Byron moved so quickly, his body was a mere blur, crossing the distance in the blink of an eye to reappear in front of the don. The orange-red ball of flames whistled through the dark sky, leaving a trail of sparks that lit up the night before burning out. The jaguar leapt at Byron's throat. The fireball intercepted the cat's body in midair, driving through it, leaving a wide, cauterized hole through the middle. The cat dropped lifeless to the ground at Byron's feet.

He barely glanced at it. Don Giovanni appeared so shaken, Byron gathered him close and assisted him to the nearest bench close to where Josef lay so still. "Let me help them with Josef, Don Giovanni, and then I will take you in."

Antonietta and Tasha's voices were soft and melodious, filling the night with the healing chant. Ancient words that sped up the healing process and provided the healer with energy and a soothing atmosphere to work in. Byron joined in the chant, feeding his sister energy. She worked slowly and methodically, making certain to close and begin the healing of every wound from the inside out. Time meant nothing to a healer. She worked until she was certain she had repaired every gash and every tear. When she merged back into her own body, she swayed with weariness. Vlad immediately slipped his arm around her.

Tasha tried to see them through the swirling mist, but the thick fog cloaked their bodies. "We should transport Josef to a hospital." The boy was still not moving. "And Nonno should be inside out of the weather."

Byron glanced up at the sky, noticing for the first time the wind and storm. At once the wild winds calmed, and the roiling clouds began to dissipate.

Antonietta, I must give blood to Josef. Will you take your family into the house? Of course. Where is Esteben ? The other cat? He is dead in the maze. He tried to attack your grandfather. Celt has a couple of scratches on him, nothing serious, but we should heal them to prevent infection. He sent her waves of love and warmth. I want you to notice how restrained I am being. I do not recall that going outside was part of our conversation at any time. Or fighting off jaguars or leaping from buildings. If you have the ability, why not use it?

Antonietta tried not to feel smug. There were so many other emotions to be feeling. As long as Antonietta could remember, Helena had been a large part of her household. As far back as when her mother was alive. Could Helena have really planted a bomb on her parents' yacht? It didn't seem possible. And what of Tasha's parents? Had she really arranged both of their deaths? Esteben or Helena could easily have poisoned their food or drink. And both had access to any of the cars. She let out her breath and swept a hand through her hair. To her surprise, she was shaking in reaction.

"How are we going to explain any of this to Diego?" Tasha asked fearfully. "He'll think we're crazy talking about our housekeeper and kitchen boy becoming wild animals." She didn't want to think too much about Esteben being a half brother.

I am going to incinerate the bodies and bring a lightning bolt from the sky. The cats, Esteben, and Helena, will all meet with a tragic accident at once. With today's forensics... Have no fears. I am certain the DNA will show both human and cat if there is anything left to find. A tragic event. The thefts from the palazzo will stop. No more poison will be fed to your family, and I will not have to worry day and night that someone is attempting to harm you. Diego will be given credit for finding out about Estaban and Helena. He will think he has discovered these things through investigation.

Antonietta took Tasha's hand. "Let's get Nonno into the house."

"Will Josef be all right?" Tasha clung to Antonietta as they hurried to Don Giovanni. The wind died down, but it was still cold, the sea thundering and spraying water into the air. They wrapped their arms around their grandfather's waist and walked him away from the body of the jaguar.

"Yes, his family will see to him. Don't worry about him."

Antonietta didn't look back. Her eyes were already burning from overuse. But she knew exactly where Byron was. She had the impression of him gathering his nephew gently in his arms. She felt the tear in Byron's wrist as he opened his own vein. Felt his skin pressed tightly to Josef's mouth as Eleanor and Vlad awakened him with a strong command to feed. She felt the flow of Byron's life force passing into his nephew, replenishing starving, shriveled cells.

Do not forget to feed. I do not want you to come staggering into the house weak and useless.

Soft laughter greeted her.

You are getting to be very good at nagging.

I'm good at everything. She snapped her fingers. "Celt, come with me, boy.

Grazie, for watching over

Nonno. " The borzoi ignored the dead cat now that it no longer presented a threat and fell into step beside Antonietta.

I hope you are good at sitting through an all-night lecture on staying safe. I cannot be in two places at one time. Why not? You can do just about everything else. Haven't you learned that yet?

She conjured up the image of wrapping her arms around him and holding him close to her, sent him waves of warmth and love.

Don Giovanni staggered as they opened the terrace door. Behind them, a bolt of lightning crashed to earth, and black smoke rose, taking the smell of burning flesh into the clouds. Tasha glanced back and winced as she saw the black ring on the lawn where the jaguar had been. Eleanor, Vlad, and Josef were nowhere to be seen.

Tasha and Antonietta helped Don Giovanni to his room. He waved them away. "I'm not on my deathbed. I have no idea what happened tonight, but I'm cold, not hurt."

Antonietta kissed his cheek. "Of course, Nonno, we'll explain everything tomorrow. Sleep tonight."

"It's late for an old man," he conceded.

As Antonietta and Tasha stepped out of Don Giovanni's bedroom, Marita hurried up to them, her face tear-streaked and pale beneath her olive skin. "He's gone after Don Demonesini. I told Franco everything. Everything. I thought he might throw me out, but I never once thought he would go crazy and go after the don. Demonesini will kill him. You know he will. Franco is a gentle man. What was he thinking?" She wrung her hands together in agitation. "We have to stop him."

"Franco is a Scarletti, Marita. Demonesini hurt you. Of course Franco would go after him. I should have been prepared for that," Antonietta said.

"He took a gun."

Antonietta's fingers curled in Celt's silky fur. "That's not good."

"Shall I call Diego?" Tasha asked. "Maybe he could stop Franco before he gets into trouble."

"No, don't do that," Antonietta said hastily. "Franco could be arrested and charged just for going over there with the intent to do bodily harm."

"Ask Byron to go," Tasha said. "Franco would listen to him."

"Please, Toni, please ask him. Franco is a businessman, not a gangster. He can't go threatening Don Demonesini." Marita looked down at her hands. "What if something terrible happens? What if Franco gets hurt or is arrested?"

Byron. Franco has gone to confront Don Demonesini. I know I can take apart their business. I can ruin them financially, and I should have told Franco my plans. It would not have been enough. Demonesini touched Franco's beloved wife. He tormented her for years. Your cousin needs more than stripping his enemy of his money. Will you go and make certain nothing happens to Franco? I know you're tired and you need to feed, but I have to ask you. There is no need to ask. The jaguar is dead. Have Tasha call Diego and tell him there were two cats, not one. I will talk to him myself about what happened.

Byron looked up at the clouds. He was weary, and he did need to feed, but more than that, he needed to make Antonietta happy. She had gone through so much and handled it in her usual self-assured, unruffled way. It made him smile each time he thought of the way she had become distressed over a simple dinner when she took jaguar attacks and flying on dragons in stride. He would not allow Demonesini to hurt her family again.

Byron took to the sky, the fastest and most direct method of travel for one of his kind. The fog bank he had so carefully constructed had nearly dissipated, leaving him a clear vision of the city below. The Scarletti estate was enormous, encompassing the area surrounding the palazzo, up to the cliffs and in the other direction, going up into the mountains. The city was some distance away, and the Demonesini villa was built on the edge of the sea, right in the center of the most prominent villas in the city.

The water gleamed like glass, a silver layer over black obsidian. Byron reveled in his ability to see colors. Without conscious thought, he reached out to share his joy with Antonietta.

You gave me this, cara mia. I will always remember the bleak days and know what you have done for me.

Her soft laughter washed over his skin like a caress.

Diego is here. He's searching Helena's room and then will search Esteben's room for evidence of involvement in the theft ring. He's hoping to find names.

The villa's lights were just below him. Before breaking contact, Byron sent Antonietta kisses, enough to tide her over until his return. The verandah circled around the entire house. Byron shifted into human form and walked around the porch until he found an unlocked door. He entered the villa boldly, striding through the long hallway in the direction of the raised voices.