Misguided Angel Page 3

Schuyler rushed for the other Venator, but Iggy was gone 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 suddenly couldn't move. Iggy had hit her with a stasis spell when he'd stolen 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.

Schuyler had to get out of the spell. She wrenched herself forward with every ounce of energy, 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 got there first, but as he turned Jack over, he did a double take. Jack was unharmed, alive, and smiling grimly.

He leapt to his feet. "Tsk, tsk, Venator. How could you forget an angel cannot be harmed with a blade of his own making?" Jack 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.

"Anytime." She smiled. She had taken the edges of the spell that had paralyzed her and hit the Venator with it.

Jack took it from there, and with a powerful gesture, he threw the fat guard off the side of the cliff, sending him crashing to the water below. Schuyler rolled the unconscious Drago to the edge and threw him over as well, to join his friend in the ocean.

"You got the tank?" Jack asked as they scrambled down the face of the cliff 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. 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 befriended him during one of their supervised trips to the Saint-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 was lithe and quick, with a merry, handsome face and skin the color of burnished cocoa. He jumped off the starboard. 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 massive engine roared to life as they sped away from the shore. Schuyler glanced to where the two Venators were floating lifelessly in the water. She comforted herself with the knowledge that both would survive. They were ancient creatures and no cliff-side 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. More Venators, on Jet Skis with a black-and-silver cross insignia emblazoned on the windshields. Their forms grew larger and larger as they drew closer. Apparently Iggy and Drago hadn't been their only jailers.

Escape was going to be harder than they thought.

THREE

Into the Deep

The first drops of rain fell like gentle kisses on her cheek, and Schuyler hoped it would be nothing but a mild shower. But a glance at the ever-darkening sky told her otherwise. The calm blue horizon was now a palette of gray, red, and black; the clouds swirled together to form a heavy, solid mass. The rain, which had begun like a quiet afterthought, suddenly drummed against the deck in a rising staccato. The thunder cracked, a deep rumbling boom that made her jump.

Of course it had to rain. Just to make everything more complicated. Schuyler reached behind Jack and holstered a short bow they had asked Ghedi to procure and stow in the smuggler's locker, a hidden compartment located in the bilge.

During their month at sea they had passed the time by preparing for this escape. After hours, Jack had schooled Schuyler in the fine points of Venator craft (subterfuge, ammunition), and with Iggy's and Drago's approval, had taught Schuyler a rudimentary course in archery. With her steady hand and eye, she had proven an even better shot than Jack. She removed several ironwood arrows from her pack, more handmade weapons fashioned during their captivity.

Schuyler holstered one against the bow and took position.

Their pursuers were still a long way behind for now. She could see them clearly even through the wind and fog. She bent her knees slightly and willed herself to be a statue in the moving sea, raising the bow and drawing the arrow as far back as she could. When she was sure she had her mark, she let it fly. But the Jet Ski expertly dodged away.

Unperturbed, she reloaded the bow. This time when she drew the arrow, it lodged in a Venator's knee. The Jet Ski swerved uncontrollably in the water, and Schuyler felt triumphant until the Venator righted again, unfazed by his gaping wound.

Meanwhile, Jack kept his eyes straight ahead, a steady hand on the throttle. He was giving the engine everything it had, and it was burning up too fast and too hot--throwing off a shower of sparks and making a horrid sputtering noise.

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