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She caught Jack's eye briefly. Get ready, he sent. She continued to smile and eat, even as her stomach clenched. She turned briefly to see what Jack had seen. A small motorboat had pulled up to the beach below. Who would have known a former North African pirate from the Somali coast would prove to be such a reliable contact?
Schuyler thought. Even from far above, she could see that he had brought them what they had asked for: one of their fastest speedboats, jerry-rigged with a grossly oversized engine.
Iggy popped open a bottle of Prosecco, and the four of them toasted the sun-drenched coastline with friendly smiles. He lifted his hand in a wide gesture as he gazed down at the midday feast. "Shall we begin?"
That was the moment she had been waiting for. Schuyler sprang into action. She leaned back and appeared to lose her balance for a moment, then bent forward and tossed the full contents of her winegla.s.s into Drago's face. The alcohol stung his eyes and he looked baffled; but before he could react, Iggy slapped him on the back and guffawed heartily, as if Schuyler had made a particularly funny joke.
With Drago momentarily blinded and Iggy's eyes closed in laughter, Jack moved to strike. He slid a shank out from his shirtsleeve and into his palm, flipped it around, and drove the knife deep into Drago's chest, sending the Italian sprawling to the ground, bleeding from the hole in his torso. Schuyler had helped Jack make the blade from one of the deck boards; he had hollowed out the back of a loose stair tread and whittled it against a stone she'd found on a dive. The plank was made from ironwood, and it served as a dangerous and deadly little dagger.
Schuyler rushed for the other Venator, but Iggy was up before she could stand. This they had not counted on. The fat man could move. In an instant, he had pulled the shank from his friend's chest to use as a weapon of his own and turned toward Schuyler, the laughter having died from his eyes.
"Jack!" she cried, as the Venator charged. She couldn't move; Iggy had hit her with a stasis spell when he'd recovered the blade, which he was now holding above her chest. In a moment it would pierce her heart-but Jack dove between them and took the full brunt of the blow.
There was no time to scream. She had to get out of the spell, everything was going wrong too quickly. There was no time to even think of Jack or whether he had survived. She wrenched herself forward with every ounce of energy she had, fighting the invisible web that held her. The sensation was like moving in slow motion through a thick ooze, but she found the spell's weak link and broke through. She screamed as she ran toward Jack's seemingly lifeless body.
Iggy was there first, but as he turned Jack over, he did a double take. Jack was unharmed, alive and smiling grimly.
Jack leaped to his feet. "Tsk, tsk, Venator. How could you forget an angel cannot be harmed with a blade of his own making?" He rolled up his sleeves as he faced his adversary. "Why don't you make it easy on yourself ?" he said mildly. "I suggest you go back and tell the Countess that we are not a pair of trinkets she can keep in a jewelry box. Go now, and we will leave you unharmed." For a moment it appeared as if the Venator was about to consider the offer, but Schuyler knew he was too old a soul to take such a cowardly route. The Italian removed a nasty-looking curved blade from his pocket and pounced toward Jack, but suddenly stopped in midair. He hung there for second with a funny look on his face, part confusion and part defeat.
"Nice move with the stasis," Jack said, turning to Schuyler.
"Any time," she smiled. She had taken the edges of the spell that had recently paralyzed her and hit the Venator with it.
Jack took it from there, and with a powerful gesture, he threw the fat guard far off the side of the cliff, sending him crashing to the rocks below.
"You got the tank?" he asked, as they scrambled down the cliffside to the pirate boat waiting for them below.
"Of course." She nodded. They had planned their escape well: Jack had driven the yacht's anchor impossibly deep into the rocky ocean bottom, while Schuyler had emptied the yacht's fuel supply while she was belowdecks. The night before, they had sabotaged the boat's sails and the radio.
They ran across the beach toward the pirate boat, where their new friend Ghedi was waiting for them. Schuyler had met him during one of their trips to the St.Tropez market, where the former member of the self-styled "Somali Marines" was helping unload a pallet of fresh fish upon the dock. Ghedi missed his days of adventure and jumped at the chance to help the two trapped Americans.
"All yours, bossing," Ghedi smiled, showing a row of gleaming white teeth. He leaped off the starboard side. He would catch a ride back to the market on the ferry.
"Thanks, man," Jack said, taking the wheel. "Check your accounts tomorrow."
The Somali grinned more widely, and Schuyler knew the fun of stealing the boat was almost payment enough.
The ma.s.sive engine roared to life as they sped away from the sh.o.r.e. Schuyler glanced to where the two Venators were floating, lifeless, in the water. She comforted herself with the knowledge that both would survive; they were ancient creatures, and no cliffside fall could truly harm them. Only their egos would be bruised. Still, they wouldn't be able to recover for a while, and by then she and Jack would be well on their way.
She exhaled. Finally. On to Florence, to begin the search for the keepers and secure the Gate before the Silver Bloods found it. They were back on track.
"All right?" Jack asked, guiding the ship with expert ease through the stormy waves. He reached for her hand and squeezed it tightly.
She held it against her cheek, loving the feel of his rough calluses against her skin. They had done it. They were together.
Safe. Free. Then she froze. "Jack, behind us."
"I know. I hear the engines," he said, without even bothering to look over his shoulder.
Schuyler stared at the horizon, where three dark shapes had appeared. Their forms grew larger and larger as the crafts drew closer. Apparently Iggy and Drago hadn't been their only jailers.
Escape was going to be harder than they thought.
Many thanks and love to the people who helped bring this book to the world, especially my husband and collaborator, Mike Johnston; my editors, Jennifer Besser and Christian Trimmer, and the rest of the superfabulous team at Hyper-ion; my agent, Richard Abate; Kathryn Williams, for her helpful research. Thank you to the DLC, Green, Johnston, Torre, Ong, and Gaisano families. Thank you to my readers. Love to all!
Also by Melissa de la Cruz.
THE BLUE BLOODS SERIES.
Blue Bloods Masquerade Revelations The Van Alen Legacy THE AU PAIRS SERIES.
The Au Pairs Skinny-Dipping Sun-Kissed Crazy Hot THE ASHLEYS SERIES.
The Ashleys Jealous?
Birthday Vicious Lipgloss Jungle Cat's Meow Fresh off the Boat Angels on Sunset Boulevard Girl Stays in the Picture NONFICTION.
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