“Grace has been helping us keep an eye on her, and she’s doing a great job,” said Paul.
“In the meantime,” said Joseph, “on Tynan’s advice, I’ll give orders for all the Theronai to track down sgath and kill them. If parts of her mind are in the sgath, killing them may help free her.”
“Madoc has been doing that for days now and it appears to be helping,” said Tynan. “Time will tell.”
Joseph wanted to ask more questions. He wanted to go to Nika to see if she could save him, but he didn’t dare. He was the leader of the Theronai. His needs had to come last, after those of all his men. He promised himself that before he called the leaders overseas, he’d go to her.
“What about those wounded in the attack?” asked Joseph, hoping to distract himself with duty.
Tynan’s eyes lit with an icy glow for a split second—so brief that Joseph wasn’t even sure he’d seen it. “Cain is still unconscious. Logan, Alexander and I are doing all we can, but it’s not looking hopeful. There are a few wounded humans, all of whom will recover.”
But they’d lost two. Rosemary and Dylan had died protecting their son.
The weight of that loss hung heavy around Joseph’s heart. Dabyr was supposed to be a place of safety and refuge. He’d promised all the humans they’d be safe here.
He’d been wrong, which made him wonder what else he’d been wrong about. How many other mistakes had he made? And how many of these mistakes were going to mean the suffering and death of those he was sworn to protect?
“If you need anything, let me know,” said Joseph.
Tynan gave him a formal bow of his head. “Of course.”
“Now, on to why I’ve brought you all here. It’s not good news.”
Drake rolled his eyes and scoffed, “When is it?”
Joseph hated speaking the words, but he had no choice. “We all believed that our walls were safe, that the Synestryn couldn’t get in unless they came through the front gate. Obviously, we were wrong.”
The men shifted uncomfortably. Except for Iain, who sat utterly still, his face expressionless.
Joseph knew they were all thinking the same thing. There was no way to keep the humans here safe if those walls didn’t hold. There weren’t enough of them left to stand guard and still fight the war. If the walls fell, they’d have to choose which vow to uphold—protect the humans, or kill the Synestryn and protect the gate.
“The good news is that the wall didn’t fall because it was weak, or because the magic embedded in it had failed.”
“Then why?” asked Drake.
A bitter taste flooded Joseph’s mouth. “Someone inside Dabyr let them in. They sabotaged the protective stones and created an opening.”
Thick, stifling silence filled the room. It had taken Joseph hours to digest the news Nicholas had given him. He figured he owed his men at least a few seconds.
“Who?” asked Iain, punctuating the question with the hissing ring of steel on steel as he drew his sword.
Joseph held up a staying hand. “Stand down, Iain. We don’t know. Yet.”
“How did you learn this?” asked Angus. The lines on his face deepened with fear. He had more to lose here than anyone—both a wife and a child. The only Theronai child left to them.
Joseph looked at Nicholas and gave him a slight nod.
Nicholas rose gracefully to his feet. “I went over the video surveillance of the attack. The breach happened at a point covered by two cameras. Both of them had been disabled.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t some sort of glitch?” asked Paul.
“Yes. I went back through the video to the point where the cameras stopped working. They were disabled one at a time. Whoever did it was visible on some of the hidden cameras, but they knew enough about our security to keep their face averted.”
“Who is it?” asked Iain in a quiet voice.
“I can’t tell. It’s a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt. I got some footage of the back of his head.”
“Show me,” said Iain.
Nicholas flicked a nervous glance at Joseph. Iain’s sword was still out, gleaming with lethal intent.
“Put the blade away, Iain,” ordered Joseph.
“I’m going to kill him,” said Iain. His voice was cold and steady, just like his dark gaze.
“No one is going to kill anyone until we are sure who this is and question them. Now put the sword away.”
Iain sheathed his sword.
Nicholas opened his laptop computer and typed in a few keystrokes. He spun the thing around so the rest of the room could see the video footage. The image was clear, but there wasn’t much to go on—just a few flashes of the back of a man’s covered head. One shot of a gloved hand.
“Anyone recognize him?” asked Nicholas.
No one spoke.
“Are you sure it’s someone who lives here?” asked Paul. “Could it have been an intruder?”
Nicholas shook his head. “It’s possible, but I checked all the entries through the front gate for the ten days leading up to the attack and he doesn’t fit any of the people who came in.”
“He could be a human,” said Iain.
“Maybe. It’s hard to tell just what his build was like under the baggy sweatshirt, but he could have disguised himself—made himself look bigger so we’d think it was one of our own.”
Tynan had been quiet through all of this, but Joseph saw the slight frown marring his brow.
“What do you think, Tynan?” asked Joseph.
“I can find out if any of the humans know about this. All I have to do is feed from them and search their memories.”
“That might look suspicious,” said Nicholas.
“Not now. Not when there are so many still wounded and in need of aid. Put out the call for blood, and that will help mask our true task.”
“I don’t want anyone else helping you with this. I don’t want anyone outside of this room to know what’s going on.”
Tynan’s mouth tightened. “Then I suggest you don’t let any of the other Sanguinar heal you. If you’re in need, you must call me, or the others will learn what you’re trying to hide.”
Joseph didn’t like that one bit. Neither did any of his men, judging by their looks of disgust.
“We have no privacy with you leeches around,” said Iain.
“But the dozens of cameras and electronic locks that track your comings and goings are agreeable?” asked Tynan.
“They don’t screw with our heads,” said Nicholas.
Tynan held up his hands. His fingers were long and elegant, like he was born to be an artist or surgeon. “All I mean is that a secret like this doesn’t stay secret for long. Not in a place like this. We need to find out who this man is fast or he’ll be gone before we can. Assuming he isn’t already.”
“Agreed,” said Joseph. “Nicholas, I want you to compile everything you can on this guy.”
“I’m already on it. I’m also working on a program that will try to identify him based on his appearance by comparing his movements on this video with current images the cameras pick up.”
“You can do that?” asked Angus.
“Sure. It’s not a hundred percent, but it will help weed out people who couldn’t possibly be our guy. I figure if we can get our list down to a couple dozen possibilities, it will make things a lot easier.”
“Good,” said Joseph. “In the meantime, I want you all to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouths shut. Angus, Paul and Drake, try to keep this from the women if you can. They have enough on their plates right now without having to worry about this, too.”
The three bonded Theronai nodded their agreement.
“And when we do find him,” said Iain in a cold, emotionless tone, “you all can have your fun with him and question him all you like, but when you’re done with him, he’s mine to kill.”
Zach didn’t take Lexi to the compound as she had hoped. Instead, he pulled up into the driveway of a modest farmhouse just north of the Texas-Oklahoma border, well off the beaten path.
“What are we doing here?” she asked, eyeing the house. It was dark inside, but the light on the front porch was burning bright in welcome. No way was it big enough to be the compound she and the Defenders were after. There were supposed to be dozens of these guys running around.
“This is one of our Gerai houses. We’ll be safe here so we can get some rest,” said Zach. “I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.”
She was tired, but only because she’d been working every shift available for the past week. She knew after her phone call to Zach, she wouldn’t have much time, and she needed enough money to keep her and Helen safe once they were free. “I can take a turn driving. Just tell me where we’re going.”
Zach slanted her a suspicious look. “You just want my keys so you can run away again.”
She held up her bracelet and waved it at him. “How can I run when I’m wearing this thing?”
“I don’t know, but if anyone could find a way, it would be you. I wouldn’t put it past you to gnaw your own hand off if that’s what it took.”
“You don’t trust me, do you?”
“Hell, no. I’ve spent way too many weeks hunting you to make the same mistake twice. But on the off chance that you find a way, I want you to have this.” He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and handed her a thick stack of bills. Hundred-dollar bills.
Lexi looked at the money, staring at it. There had to be nearly two thousand dollars here. What the hell?
“If you are on your own again—if anything happens to me—I don’t want you to have to take a job at a seedy place like that one. I bet the men there like to paw at your ass, and I just can’t have that.”
She didn’t know what to say. She’d never had this much money at one time in her life.
“I can’t take it,” she finally managed to squeak out. She held the money out to him.
Zach took it, folded it in half and shoved it into the front pocket of her apron. “You might need it. I don’t. Just consider it payment for all that gas I made you burn running away from me.”
Before she could find an answer to that, he got out of the truck and grabbed her suitcase from the back. Lexi watched him shove the keys deep in his front pocket. She wanted to know where they were in case she did make it out of this mess. Not that it was likely. Unless there were some bolt cutters or maybe even wire snips in that house. Gold was soft enough that even a sturdy pair of scissors might get her somewhere.
And even if she did get free, what then? This was her opportunity to save Helen—to take out a bunch of dangerous maniacs before they could kidnap anyone else. She couldn’t run away from that. She couldn’t leave Helen to fend for herself.
Zach opened her door and offered her a hand down. He had nice hands. Strong, wide hands with just enough roughness to make her more sensitive skin tingle when he touched her.
When. Not if. She’d been with him all of three hours and she’d already lost it. At this rate, she’d be kissing his ass by dawn.