Home > The Bitten (Vampire Huntress Legend #4)(7)

The Bitten (Vampire Huntress Legend #4)(7)
Author: L.A. Banks

The van came to a sudden stop. Berkfield and the scientist's gaze locked.

"You have twenty-four hours to make your decision. Push nine-one-one on your garage-door opener between now and then, and we'll come collect you. They won't expect the code to be imbedded there. Ignore our offer, and you're on your own."

A henchman motioned for Berkfield to open the door. "You're home. You never saw us. We do not exist."

Chapter Three

Carlos stood outside the compound door, his arm draped over Damali's shoulder, willing his breathing to normalize. He wasn't sure if it was his proximity to her, or the fact that he had to explain some real bad news to her people.

Regardless, he hated going into her compound, which looked like a maximum-security prison. The concrete walls, iron-sealed windows, floodlights, and lack of trees until you hit the property border a mile away, gave him the feeling that he was walking into the federal pen. Maybe he was. He just hoped that he'd get out alive this time.

Besides, this whole situation was bullshit. He'd had to splatter the front of his Beverly Hills lair with a courier's guts, all because Damali was trailing ripe Neteru scent and the dumb bastard had reached for her. Damn straight he had to rip out the brother's heart, but he also had to clean up the mess before any neighbors noticed and wondered why there was black blood dripping down the white marble columns and the huge oak-paneled door, and why the stained-glass windows were streaked with innards.

Carlos let his breath out hard in disgust. He loved this woman dearly, but she always created drama! Council was right. It was time to get some guards at his doors, some security measures in place. He had descended and couldn't roll solo anymore. If he were in his right mind, he'd just make Damali his queen and battle the expected consequences. He glanced at her. No. He wasn't in his right mind to give her back to the Guardians.

When Carlos heard the locks engage, a thousand ways to begin the dreaded conversation tumbled through his brain. There was no easy way to say any of it. Worst part was, he had no idea how Damali would react when she found out he was taking her there for good - not just until he came back up from Hell.

"Que pasa?" Rider shouted, pounding Carlos's fist with a wide smile as they entered the outer safety chamber.

"Everything is everything," Carlos said, returning the pound, but keeping a watchful eye on the team's sharpshooter as they all moved deeper into the interior hallway. He immediately scanned the tall, muscular white guy with dirty-blond spike hair, and returned his smile - once he was sure that Rider wasn't packing. Even if the guy was in his forties, Rider was an all-pro vamp assassin.

"Hey y'all!" Damali hollered. "Can a person come home and get some love?"

"You know that ain't no problem from me, D," Jose said, embracing her quickly, then stepping back.

"We got nothing but love for you, li'l sis," Rider said laughing. "C'mon in... er, uh, him, too?"

"Yes," Damali said, slapping Rider on the back. "If he wasn't cool, why'd y'all leave me with him for a month?"

"Point taken," Rider said, stepping aside. "You're in."

Carlos moved forward with Damali next to him. The young bucks were no problem. Jose looked like his younger brother and had a soft heart, would hesitate if something ridiculous jumped off. However, he paused when he saw the quick flash of resentment on Jose's face. Something primitive and possessive rose in him and he fought it back down. Had to be Damali's Neteru still working his system. Jose wasn't a contender. He was family. He shook off the sensation. Kid was just probably still spooked.

His gaze scanned the others, sensing for signs of resistance. Dan was a nervous, wiry blond with no real combat under his belt. But J.L. had some Jet Li moves on him... Carlos gave the Asian kid a nod, then issued his most disarming smile to the others.

"Long time no see, hombre," Jose finally said, laughing tensely, using his head to motion for them to enter beyond the first isolation chamber.

Good. The noses, Rider and Jose, were out front, and hadn't picked up anything unusual. Everybody had on T-shirts, jeans, sweats, no place to conceal a weapon, or get to one quickly. Big Mike, their audio sensor, had lowered his shoulder cannon and was all smiles. However, he wasn't sure he liked having a huge, six foot eight, two-hundred-and-seventy-five-pound, old school linebacker walking behind him. Big Mike was usually cool, but even Carlos knew to always keep an eye on the team's giant.

He also noticed that the tactical sensors were hanging back. Shabazz, Dan, and J.L. just nodded, and Marlene had her arms folded over her chest. Not good, especially the positions of the two older ones, Shabazz and Marlene. However, if J.L. was out front, then maybe he'd temporarily abandoned the monitors before he could pick up two cold bodies incoming.

But Carlos wisely noted that Shabazz was strapped - openly had a Glock on his hip and one in a shoulder holster, sending a quiet message to be cool, no doubt. Carlos scanned the streetwise Guardian from the 'hood. Instinctively he knew the old dude could feel trouble. It was as though Shabazz's shoulder-length locks telegraphed the vibrational changes, almost like a current, and Marlene was a freakin' seer. She had on a long, flowing, African-print robe - a great place to hide anything with a silver tip. The two of them together, late forties, early fifties, would surely be able to tell that something wasn't right with their girl. He just wanted the chance to explain.

"Oh, so now I'm like chopped liver," Damali said, laughing when no one else immediately moved forward to greet her, then she embraced her team members one by one. "Dag, you all act like I'm a stranger."

Carlos hung back in the entryway, watching as the tactical Guardians bristled slightly from her hug.

"Thought you weren't coming home, you were gone so long, kiddo," Marlene said with a sly smile, but her eyes were carefully scanning Damali the whole time. "Doesn't leave much time for us to get ready to do the Australian gig and all that goes with it."

"Yeah... well... what can I say?" Damali replied, her smile widening as she glanced at Carlos. "Let's go inside and catch up. Y'all got anything good in here to eat?"

Carlos didn't say a word as he monitored the uneasy glances that passed between the Guardians. But they followed her down the long cement corridor to the back of the facility; half of the team in front of him, the other half behind him, making him feel boxed in and claustrophobic. As they walked, he glanced up at the holy-water sprinkler system, hoping that there'd be no accidental discharge. He shook his head. No, it wouldn't be an accident at all.

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