Home > Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(13)

Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(13)
Author: Katie MacAlister

Alec pulled out a large set of keys and started applying them to the door.

Kristoff eyed me from toes to nose. I flushed for the umpteenth time that night and, in order to forestall the obvious comment, said quickly, "You can stop looking at me like I'm a big, fat liar, because I'm not."

Kristoff blinked for a moment in surprise; then his face hardened into its familiar suspicious expression.

For some reason, that just seemed to irritate me more than if he'd come out and accused me of trying to pull his leg. "You can believe what you want, but it's the absolute truth. The lady... what's her name... Kristjana mentioned Mattias and me getting married so he could die in my arms or something like that. So you can just wipe that you're-so-insane-you're-barking look right off your face."

Behind me, Alec started laughing. Kristoff's eyes lit from within with anger, and for one horrible second, I thought he was going to hit me. But instead he took two steps forward, backing me into the wall of the shop. "Do you have any idea who I am, woman?"

"I know you don't like me, and I have to say that the feeling is reciprocated," I told him, my stomach quivering, but whether it was from fear or anger, I wasn't quite sure.

Kristoff wrapped the long fingers of one hand around my throat, tightening them with uncomfortable pressure. "I could kill you right now."

Fear won out over the anger, but I wasn't going to let him see that. I clutched the material of my skirt with both hands to keep from grabbing at his wrist. "If I'm who you say I am, that would defeat your purpose," I pointed out, ignoring the fact that my voice was quavering. "You'd have to explain my death to the Brotherhood."

A slow smile curled the very edges of his mouth, but didn't do much to warm up his icy gaze. "I believe I would enjoy that."

My eyes widened at the threat obvious in his voice, but before I could protest, Alec interrupted.

"Stop frightening her, Kris. It serves no purpose."

His gaze continued to bore into mine for another few seconds, and I felt swamped by the waves of anger and hostility that all but rolled off him. He snarled something under his breath and released me, turning on his heel and stomping off down the alleyway.

I collapsed against the wall, my legs feeling like they were made of tofu. Instantly, Alec was at my side, propping me up, peering down at me with a concerned look. "Are you all right, Pia?"

"Yeah. Your friend is a bit intense, isn't he? I'm thinking anger management classes might be in order," I answered, rubbing my neck as I watched the dark silhouette disappear into the shadows.

To my surprise, Alec defended his friend. "He has no love for the reapers."

"Reapers?" I pulled my gaze back to him. "That's what the ghosts kept calling me. Who are they?"

"Reapers were once Ilargi. That is, technically they still are, although they were divided into two types, sun and moon reapers. The former were called Ilargi before they were all but destroyed. The latter... well, that is a long story."

"Ah. The Brotherhood of the Blessed Light," I said, nodding.

Alec eyed me for a few minutes before answering. "You do know of the Brotherhood?"

"No. Not really. I ran into a couple earlier, but that's all."

I thought he was going to tell me about the organization he and his buddy belonged to, but instead he changed the subject. "Kristoff had a mate. Not a Beloved, you understand, but a woman whom he considered his mate. Angelica and Kristoff were together for many decades. She was the first, killed three years ago. He has not forgotten her death. It haunts him still."

"Oh, how awful," I said, contrite at acting so rudely to a man who was mourning the loss of a loved one. "Poor man. I had no idea... I'm so sorry."

"It is no excuse for Kristoff scaring you, but it does, I hope, explain something about his mental state," he said, opening the door, which he'd managed to get unlocked. He flicked on a tiny penlight, flashing it around the room. "Let us hope we find something here to explain the unusual situation you say has clasped you in its grip."

We made a fast search of the bookshop, but there wasn't much to be found. Alec went through the papers stuffed willy-nilly into the drawers of an old rolltop desk that served as the owner's filing cabinet, while I examined each book on the rack where I'd nabbed my two books, flipping through the remainder to see if anything had been tucked inside any of them.

Twenty-five minutes later we returned to the car to find Kristoff leaning against its side, his arms crossed, his expression hard but relatively neutral. He was silent as we approached.

"There was nothing," Alec admitted with defeat. "But I do not discount what Pia has told us. I think we should investigate the matter further."

Kristoff came close to rolling his eyes, I could tell. "We have wasted enough time, Alec. We have few enough hours before dawn to reach the council as it is - "

Alec interrupted him, speaking in German.

I gnawed on my lower lip for a moment as the two men argued. I had a decision of my own to make - did I want to stick around and try to make them see reason, or did I want to get far, far away from the scary Kristoff? There was nothing to guarantee that the next time he felt like throttling me, he would stop before actually killing me.

Unbidden, my eyes went to Alec. Although Kristoff had more of a stark, visceral physical appeal, Alec was certainly no slouch in the looks department. If anything, he could be thought the better looking, since his expression was warmer and friendlier.

I thought back to the twenty-five minutes we'd spent together in the musty darkness of the bookshop. Twice he'd brushed against me as we searched, and once, as he leaned over to fetch a scrap of paper, his arm pressed against my breast. He'd apologized and moved away, but I could still feel the sensation.

My fingertips touched my neck. Then again, I could still feel the steely grip of Kristoff's fingers.

I shook my head sadly. Even if there was a spark of interest in Alec to be breathed to life, the whole situation had a bad feeling about it. The sane thing, my down-to-earth brain pointed out, would be to leave now and not look back.

I did just that, not stopping to say anything, just spinning around and racing down the alley to the lighted square filled with people who would keep me safe. There was a shout that followed me, but I made it to the crowd without being stopped, breathing a sigh of relief that had far too much regret in it to make me happy. "Second time lucky, I guess," I said to myself as I squirmed my way through the pulsing crowd to its center.

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