Damien studied Ramsey as if seeing him for the first time. "Hard to believe we have one common goal, after all this. We both want to see Cuyler get out of this alive."
Ramsey lowered his eyes. "We have more in common than you know, Damien."
The other man frowned, parted his lips to ask something, but Ramsey cut him off.
"Look, it's no secret that I don't like you."
"You're not exactly my favorite person, either, Ramsey."
"Unpleasant as you are, though, you're not a killer."
"Thanks so much for informing me."
Ramsey blew air through his teeth. "You want to shut the hell up and let me apologize!"
"Is that what you were doing?"
Damien's stare was as hateful as ever, and Ramsey knew the one he sent back was as bad, or worse. Ramsey wanted to deck the guy, but he restrained himself.
There was another part of him that wanted to shake Damien's hand, call him friend.
"The one you killed, Anthar…" Ramsey swallowed the lump in his throat and shook his head.
"What about him?"
Clearing his throat, stiffening his spine, Ramsey answered. "He was the one who murdered my mother." He heard Cuyler catch her breath. "DPI knew all along. It's in my files, along with a lot of other…" He bit his lip, shook his head.
"Doesn't matter now, I guess. I just thought you ought to know."
"That you're not quite the bastard I had you pegged as being, all right? Now, if you don't mind, can we quit talking and get Cuyler out of here?"
Damien tilted his head to one side. "You aren't a bit afraid of me, are you?"
"Oh, hell yes, Damien. Scared witless. Don't you see my knees knocking?"
Damien chewed his inner cheek, eyes narrow. "You're an unusual mortal."
"You're both idiots!" Cuyler shouted the words as she crossed into the living room and peered through a curtain. "And insane, to boot, if you think I'm leaving here without you, Ramsey." There were tears glittering in her eyes. "We go together or not at all."
He went to her, unable to stop himself. Vaguely he was aware of Damien tactfully slipping out of the room, but his mind was focused on Cuyler. Her heart was breaking. He could feel it. Or was that his own? His hands slipped around her waist as she turned to him and he pulled her close.
"I'm not worth dying for," he whispered. "Cuyler, you have to go with him."
She threaded her fingers in his hair. "You love me, don't you, Ramsey?"
His eyes devoured her face. Her turned-up nose, her huge, dark eyes. That ruffly jet hair.
"Say it, just once, say it."
He nodded, his mind reeling with the force of what he felt. "I don't think love is a strong enough word. Hell, Cuyler, you've turned me inside out. Before you, I swear there was ice running in my veins instead of blood. A big hunk of granite hatred where my heart ought to be. You changed that." He lowered his head, captured her sweet mouth one last time, kissed her the way he'd been wanting to all night long. When he pulled away, he licked the taste of her from his lips. "Yes, Cuyler. I love you."
Tears flowed like rivers on her cheeks. "Then don't ask me to go on without you." She sniffed, swallowed, her voice became tight and thin. '"Cause I don't think I can."
"You'd have to sooner or later anyway." His thumbs swept the moisture from her cheeks. "You're immortal. I'm not and there's no way I can be." God, how it tore him apart to utter that lie. There was a way. He knew that now, was still jolted by the knowledge. But he couldn't tell her. She'd never leave if she knew.
She shook her head fast and hard, but he caught her face between his palms, held it still. "It's the truth. We would have had to face it eventually."
"I don't want to hear this!" She whirled away from him.
Damien reentered the room, clearing his throat to announce his presence. Ramsey met his probing gaze. It was knowing, that look.
"There's a door to the roof through the attic," Ramsey said, fighting for a level tone. "I want you to go with Damien now. They won't wait patiently much longer."
Damien went to Cuyler, took a gentle hold on her arm, and started for the stairs. The telephone jangled and Ramsey went rigid. It rang again, and this time the voice on the bullhorn shouted at him to pick it up.
His hands damp with sweat, he did.
His lips thinned. The voice belonged to Wes Fuller, his trusted superior. "What the hell do you want?"
"Wouldn't be a good idea for your two pals to go up on the roof, Bachman. We have sharpshooters high enough to hit them there."
He swore his heart turned to ice in his chest. He covered the mouth piece with one hand, waved to get Damien's attention. Damien halted halfway up the stairs and waited, watching Ramsey's face intently.
Ramsey cleared his throat. "What makes you think anyone was thinking about going to the roof?"
"Oh, we don't think. We know. I've been listening in on your touching little conversation."
"Maybe you'd like to meet me one on one, Fuller? Maybe you need a little dental work done, hmm?"
Fuller's laugh was low and throaty. "No, thanks. Look, I know you've been sniffing around in your files… among other things. How much do you know?"
The other man hesitated, then went on. "Your diabetes, for starters."
"I know I don't have it. Never did."
"And your insulin?"
"An experiment. To mask…" Ramsey glanced toward Cuyler on the stairs, and decided not to say any more.
"Go on, Bachman. Tell me, do you know about your blood type?"
"I know," he said softly, slowly.
"So you know all that crap you just fed the…lady was bull. You could join the ranks and live happily ever after with her. You realize that?"
Ramsey stiffened. "What's your point, Fuller?"
"I could let you go. Her, too. I could pull back and let you both walk out of here, right now. I have the authority."
Just like that. Fuller let the words hang in the air for a long moment. But Ramsey wasn't stupid. There was more. It was either a trick to get them to let their guard down, or Fuller wanted something. He wasn't certain which.
"What's the catch?" He tried not to let the sudden surge of hope come through in his voice.
"Finish the assignment you had before this one. That's all. Not so much to ask, is it, Bachman?"
Ramsey closed his eyes, knowing exactly what Fuller wanted. The job before this one had been the capture of Damien Namtar, the most powerful, the oldest, probably the first of all vampires.
Ramsey had had no qualms about hunting him down a year ago, when he'd believed with everything in him that the man was a heartless predator, a killer. But now he knew better. He'd wronged Damien with his persecution. And he owed the man.
More than ever, Ramsey knew what would happen to Damien if he were turned over to DPI. They were the heartless killers, not him. God, it was all so clear now.
Why had it taken so long?
"How do you expect me to do that?" he asked, just to stall, trying to think of some way out of this trap.
"The tranquilizer, Bachman. There are filled syringes in the desk, bottom drawer. Just stick him, and leave the rest to us. You and your pet can walk away and never look back."
Ramsey turned and met Damien's steady gaze. Not looking away, he replied, "It might take a little while."
"I can give you an hour, Bachman. Not a minute longer." The connection was broken.
Ramsey licked his lips and put the phone back in its cradle.
"What?" Cuyler whispered. "What's going on?"
"Nothing." His gaze shifted to Damien's and he got the odd feeling the man knew every word that had been said. "I bought us some time, is all." He reached for a piece of paper and a pencil, and scribbled quickly. "They can hear every word we say, so be careful."
When he held it up, Damien and Cuyler came back down the stairs. Cuyler looked at it, blinked in surprise, and showed it to Damien.
Ramsey looked around the house, feeling more trapped and helpless than he ever had before. More, even, than when he'd awakened in Cuyler's castlelike hideaway.
The thought made him close his eyes and wince inwardly. He'd give a limb to be there with her right now. He'd let so much time go to waste, time when he'd been alone with her in that magical place.
They could never go back there now.
Inspiration struck, and Ramsey tilted his head so they'd follow, and headed for the basement. The place was solid, lead-lined and secure. Ramsey didn't think they'd be heard down here. Still, he whispered what he had to say.
"Damien, we need to exchange clothes."
Damien lifted one brow, then lowered it, his eyes narrowing in understanding.
"There's no time to go into it," Ramsey lied. "Look, there are sharpshooters out there. If you head for the roof, they'll pick you off so fast it'll make your head spin. I have a plan."
Damien nodded thoughtfully and lowered himself to the bottom step. "Tell me about it."
"I told you, there isn't time."
Cuyler looked from one to the other. "I don't like this, Ramsey. Tell me the truth, what did that bastard say to you on the phone?"
Ramsey looked away, chewing his lip. "Nothing you need to be concerned about."
"No," Damien agreed. "He simply offered to let you and Cuyler go free, in exchange for my capture. That's it, isn't it?"
Ramsey's head came up and his eyes flashed angrily. The jerk was going to ruin everything.
"And you planned to put on my clothes, pretend to be me, and give Cuyler and me time to escape."
"Ramsey, you can't!"
Ramsey clasped her hands in his, squeezing to calm her, while glaring at Damien.
"You had to spill it all? You couldn't just take her and go?"
Damien gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. "An unusual mortal," he said again, as if to himself.
"I've had enough of both of you!" Cuyler tugged her hands from Ramsey's and stalked through the basement, peering through the narrow windows, whose bottoms were level with the ground outside. One after another, pacing back to the first again as Damien and Ramsey continued their silent battle of wills.
"Here!" Her shout caught both men's attention. "Okay, see that DPI car right there? It's the closest one to the house."
Damien glanced at Ramsey. Ramsey only shook his head.
"I won't bother trying to explain to you two. You're too busy with your own tug-of-war to listen. Ramsey, get Fuller on the line again. Tell him you agree to his terms, but he has to pull all the police off the highways. The chopper has to land. Tell him you'll surrender Damien only to him and those two clowns he has with him. Everyone else has to leave. Especially those sharpshooters. I can see one from here, up in a tree. We won't stand a chance unless we get rid of them."
Ramsey frowned, rising, gripping her shoulders. "Honey, I don't know what-"
"We'll need a distraction. Then we make a run for that car. We'll squeeze through this window, and…" Her words came to a stop as she pulled free of Ramsey, clambered onto a wooden box, and pried the window from its opening.
Ramsey could only watch in wonder as she wrestled it free, and very quietly climbed down, setting it aside.
"Look," she whispered, even more softly than before. She pointed to the shrubs growing between the house and the car. There would only be a few yards without cover.
She nudged Ramsey's shoulder. "Go on, get up there and make that call."READ MORE >>