Sunset at last. With barely a whisper, the automatic shutters opened to reveal the panoramic view from the penthouse’s windows. Javier gazed down from one of London’s most exclusive Docklands developments at the Thames meandering far below. He glanced at his watch; seven-thirty, exactly three minutes later than the last time he’d checked his watch. He’d arrived here an hour ago, materializing straight from the island into Rafe’s new apartment. Since then, he’d paced back and forth, the knot of tension in his gut tightening until he felt he might snap.
He couldn’t keep still. He needed action.
London had changed since his last visit. Rafe had paid over three million pounds for this apartment in its fashionable enclave, yet when Javier had last been in this area, bombs rained down on it from German planes and it had been a place of relative squalor and crime. He and Gabriel had hunted down and killed two renegade vampires who’d used the chaos of the Blitz to murder humans and take their blood; an act prohibited by the Ancient Laws. Their behaviour had threatened to expose the vampires’ hidden world as London’s hard-pressed civilian police struggled to solve the horrifying crimes. That had been over seven decades ago. Back then, he’d been mated to Charlotte for thirty years.
Charlotte; Javier saw her chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and wide, infectious smile as clearly as though she was still by his side. He had fallen in love with her cut-glass English accent, acerbic humour, and intelligent, bookish ways. He’d always teased her, calling her his “English blue-stocking” and she, in turn, had called him her “beautiful, exotic Spaniard”. They’d been bonded through blood and had belonged to each other. He remembered her joy at giving birth to their daughter Beatriz. How pleased she’d been that their little Bee had inherited his golden-brown eyes.
Two years later, Charlotte was dead. Blown to pieces by a terrorist bomb in a Cairo restaurant. Human terrorists. He, Javier of Seville, had done what the human authorities failed to do. He’d tracked down the perpetrators and killed them. After that, he’d simply fallen apart. Nothing had eased the agony in his heart or in his body. It had been the reclusive Dowager Countess Reine, mother of his commander LaSalle, who’d helped him start to live again. She knew only too well how it felt to lose your bonded life consort.
Javier took a breath. Charlotte had been dead for eight years, so how could he have seen her less than three weeks ago? If Gabriel hadn’t seen her too, he would have blamed the whisky. No, he hadn’t been drunk. He’d seen his dead wife. Seen her, and chased her. And that raised another question. Why would Charlotte run from him?
It had taken the combined Intelligence networks of both the vampires and the Empaths over two weeks to track her down. Surveillance photos showed her in London where she was a regular in an exclusive and expensive West End club. The kind of place where the entry requirements were a platinum credit card, or a famous face.
That reminded him; he couldn’t go to a place like that in jeans and a T-shirt. Heading into one of the bedrooms, Javier flipped through the clothes the staff back at the island had, with typical efficiency, delivered to the apartment the day before. He didn’t care what he wore as long as he could move quickly if he needed to, and his gun didn’t show. In the end, he chose a black Armani suit and pushed his SIG Sauer into the waistband at the back. Lacing up a pair of black combat boots, he tucked his knife down the side of one of them. That would do. Finally, he slipped the black credit card and driving licence LaSalle’s team had supplied into his jacket.
He would leave shortly. Once again, he stood before the vast expanse of windows and stared into the night. He knew it couldn’t be Charlotte. Of course he knew that. There’d been nothing left in that restaurant after the massive explosion. Nothing of Charlotte, or the thirty people who’d died with her. What if…no, there was no what if. If Charlotte had lived, nothing on earth would have kept her away from him, their daughter, and her family. Nothing. What if she’d been suffering from amnesia all these years? He’d asked Gabriel and Max that question in desperation and they’d shaken their heads sadly, but firmly.
No, whoever that mysterious woman was, however much she appeared to look like Charlotte, she couldn’t be Charlotte. Something strange was going on and he intended to get to the bottom of it. So why did that little voice in his head, that thin strand of hope and longing, still keep up the refrain; what if? Javier swore violently and headed over to Rafe’s extensive collection of single malts. Reaching for a bottle, he stopped. Better not, he’d drunk rather too much the last couple of weeks and he wanted to keep a clear and cool head tonight.
His sword lay on the coffee table where he’d placed it on arrival. He cleared a space in the huge room and picked it up. It had been made in Toledo to his exacting specifications and felt like an extension of his own body. Shutting his eyes, he moved slowly and gracefully through a long sequence of movements. Half an hour later, he placed the sword carefully back on the table, his mind and body calm at last. Pocketing Rafe’s car keys, he stepped into the private elevator and hit the button for the basement garage.
Ten minutes later, he drove the sleek black Porsche through the maze of London’s streets. Javier smiled in the darkness; trust Rafe to choose a sexy French woman’s voice for his Satnav. He waited for yet another set of red lights to change to green. How on earth did Londoners put up with this every day? He should have saved himself the trouble of driving and simply shifted to the co-ordinates and materialized close to the night club. It was the way he and his kind normally travelled, and compared to this, it was hugely convenient. Still, the car was beautiful and arriving in it conspicuously would help get him into the club.
Javier swung into a parking slot close to the club and gunned the accelerator briefly before shutting the engine down, getting out, and strolling towards the entrance. The place shouted wealth and discretion. He was a regular at a club much like this one, in Monaco. A place where rich people went to spend their money and be seen by other rich people. The uniformed doorman gave him a quick, subtle inspection. The designer suit and Porsche must have passed the test because the man gave a polite and expectant smile.
“Good evening sir, might I see your invitation?”
Javier smiled, so it was that sort of place. If he didn’t provide an invitation, he wouldn’t be let in, and if he insisted, he would find himself facing a couple of large and muscular bouncers. A situation best avoided when he was trying to blend in. With lightning speed, he reached out and touched the doorman’s forehead to implant a suggestion.
That will not be necessary, I am a regular. I may go in.
“Oh, welcome back sir, do go straight in. Enjoy your evening.”
Ha, beat that, Obi-Wan Kenobi! Really, it was so easy, it was almost boring.
Javier headed into the luxurious interior. There was dim, mood lighting everywhere, but that wasn’t a problem for him. He could see as clearly in the darkness as, he supposed, humans could see in daylight. He stood at the top of a shallow flight of steps and scanned every inch of the huge room. A band played jazz to an appreciative audience; this was not the kind of club that catered to the very young. If this mysterious fake Charlotte was a regular, she hadn’t arrived yet.
He strolled over to the bar, exchanging smiles along the way with a small group of women who were obviously checking him out.
Pulling up a bar stool, he ordered. “Laphroaig please, no ice.” The bartender accepted his credit card with a smile.
“We have the eighteen-year-old, Mr Alejandro.” She’d noted the exclusive card.
“Perfect. Make it a double.”
Javier thanked her as she served his whisky, then he slid two twenty pound notes across the counter and showed her Charlotte’s photograph. “Have you seen this woman here?”
The girl hesitated and glanced around. In places like this, staff who couldn’t keep their mouths shut about the customers soon found themselves fired.
Javier ramped up the charm and smiled straight into her eyes. “Please, a simple yes or no is enough.” He leaned closer. Intimate and flirtatious.
The girl blushed and palmed the notes. “Yes, she looks like someone who’s been coming here three or four times a week for the last fortnight.”
“Does she come here alone, or with someone?”
“Oh, alone. She arrives alone, has a few drinks, listens to the band and leaves alone. I’ve wondered whether she’s waiting for someone. She’s not here to pick someone up like some of them are…” the girl trailed off and looked uncomfortable.
Javier smiled his thanks. Interesting, so the woman had only started coming here after her dramatic appearance in their Arctic Circle encampment. She was obviously the bait, and he was the fish. The question was, who was the fisherman and why?
“We haven’t seen you here before,” a voice purred in his ear.
Javier turned; he’d been joined by two of the women from the small group. They sat themselves strategically, one on either side of him. He smiled introduced himself. “Javier Alejandro, just passing through on business.”
One a redhead and the other a blonde, they were both very attractive. Why did women always hunt in packs?
“Please, allow me to get you a drink.” He ordered a bottle of Krug.
“Are you Spanish? What a lovely accent. I’m Julia and that’s Kate.”
The game had begun. Javier smiled as the conversation sparkled. He sipped his drink slowly, enjoying the smoky taste of the whisky. If it was any other day, he would launch himself wholeheartedly into this little flirtation. He liked women and they seemed to like him. When he’d come out of the black void a couple of years after Charlotte’s death, he’d thrown himself into this scene. There’d been numerous liaisons with lovely, interesting women, but they all had one flaw they simply couldn’t help. They were not Charlotte.
He flirted and laughed easily with the two women, but checked the entrance constantly. The club was packed and the music had changed. Javier tuned his acutely sensitive hearing into the many conversations taking place around the room. Nothing of note stood out except he realized the three tall men chatting up the three pretty girls in the far corner, were vampires. Not surprising really, there were many of them and night-clubs were only one of the places they frequented. The modern twenty-four hour society had opened things up for his kind. More and more of them worked night shifts in big cities all over the world.
How would these humans react if they knew? They’d probably trot out the usual tiresome stories. Then they would clutch their fragile necks in fear of having all their blood sucked out of them. Not a chance; human blood was abhorrent to vampires and forbidden by law. Javier suppressed a sigh; the revelation that vampires took blood only from one another would probably be disappointingly mundane. Humans preferred the Count Dracula version; virgins, sex, fangs, coffins, and exsanguination, were much more thrilling.
The woman Julia stroked his hand suggestively and Javier leaned attentively towards her. A strange, prickling sensation distracted him, sharpening and heightening his senses. The fine hairs stood up along his arms. He was being watched. Observed. He grew preternaturally aware of everything around him. Excusing himself, he started circulating the club, covertly scanning the crowd, his body poised for action.
His heart started drumming painfully as he caught a glimpse of his target. The woman must have slipped in through the back entrance. She stood as though part of a group of friends and searched the area near the bar. She’d lost sight of him. How long had she been standing there, watching? Javier wove his way through the room until he stood a few feet behind her. Now he was the watcher. The hunter.
Charlotte, it was Charlotte. Javier rubbed the centre of his chest as a wave of longing swept through him, so sharp, so desperate, he could barely breathe. He checked himself. No, it wasn’t Charlotte. This woman was taller and the whole set of her body was different. This was a deliberate and cruel trick and it was time to put an end to it. He was close enough to the woman now to hear the rapid nervous tattoo of her heartbeat. She took a step forward, her head twisting from side to side as she searched for him around the club.
Javier palmed his gun, gripped his target’s arm, and pulled her against him. “Don’t make a fuss. We are going to leave calmly and quietly, understand?”
The woman gasped and nodded. Javier wound his arm around her and steered her towards the exit. “I’m sure you realize I am armed. Smile nicely, querida, you and I are going to have a little chat.”
The two women at the bar watched him leave, their expressions disappointed. He smiled his goodbye.
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