Misguided Angel Page 4

Schuyler looked behind them again. Their pirate boat was doing the best it could, but it wouldn't be long before they were overtaken. The Venators were much closer now, no more than fifty feet away. It rained even harder, and she and Jack were both soaked to the bone as the wind whipped up the waves and the boat rose and fell in a treacherous, roller-coaster fashion.

She planted her feet, hoping to get more leverage, as columns of water surged onto the deck. She only had two arrows left; she had to make them count. She armed up and poised to strike, just in time to see something fiery and blazing aimed right at her.

"Schuyler!" Jack yelled, pulling her down just as something exploded in the air where she had been standing. Good God, the Venators were fast--she hadn't even seen her assailant take aim and fire.

Jack kept one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand he kept protectively at her back.

"Hellfire," he muttered as another explosion barely missed the starboard and shook the ship. The missiles were outfitted with the deadliest weapon in the Venators' arsenal: the Black Fire of Hell, the only thing on earth that could end the immortal blood running in their veins.

"But why would they want us dead?" Schuyler asked, above the roar of the storm as she held the bow to her side. Surely the Countess did not wish them that much ill will. Did she hate them that much?

"We're collateral damage now," Jack said. "She was only keeping us alive while it was convenient for her. But now that we've escaped, her ego can't take it. She'll kill us just to make a point. That no one defies the Countess."

The boat bounced across the swelling waves, each time landing with a hard jolt, a rickety crunch of bolt and nail against wood and water. The engine was shot. It felt as if it was only by their sheer will that the makeshift speedboat held together.

Another blast rocked the helm of the ship, closer this time. The next one would sink them. Schuyler leapt from her hiding place, and in quick inhuman succession, pulled off the last two shafts. This time her arrows pierced the gas tank of the nearest Jet Ski, which exploded upon impact.

They didn't have time to celebrate, as another missile sailed over the bow, and Jack turned the wheel sharply to the right only to come directly upon a ten-foot-tall wave that swallowed the ship whole.

The pirate boat burst through to the other side, miraculously still intact.

Schuyler looked over her shoulder. Two Venators left; they were so close she could see the outline of their goggles and the silver stitching on their leather gloves. The Venators' faces were impassive. They didn't care if she and Jack lived or died, if they were innocent or guilty.

They only took orders, and their orders were to shoot to kill.

A crashing wave took them precariously off balance, the ship tilting forward until it was almost vertical, then slammed back hard on the opposite end. Any moment now they were bound to capsize. They were out of arrows. They were out of options.

We'll have to ditch the ship. We'll go faster if we swim, Schuyler sent. It was the same thing Jack was thinking, she knew. It was just hard for him to say it. Because swimming meant being separated from each other. Don't worry. I am strong. As are you. She exchanged a wry smile with her love.

Jack gripped the steering wheel, his jaw clenched. You're sure?

Meet me in Genoa, she told him. The nearest coastal town from their current location.

Thirty miles to the north.

He nodded, and a picture appeared in her mind, to show he knew it as well. A crowded port city ringed by mountains, colorful boats of every stripe bobbing in the harbor. From there they could hike through the rugged terrain to Florence.

Swim out as far as you can. I'll aim the ship at the remaining Jet Skis, Jack sent. He held her gaze for a moment.

Schuyler nodded.

On my count.

I can do this, Schuyler thought. I know I will see Jack again. I believe it.

There wasn't any time for a last kiss, or a last word of any sort. She felt Jack's countdown more than heard it--her body executing the commands before her brain could register them. By

"three" she was already diving off the edge, already plowing down into the deep, dark water, already kicking her legs against the tide, already measuring her breath. As a vampire she could swim underwater for longer stretches than her human counterparts--but she would have to be careful not to waste energy.

Above the surface she heard a sickening crash as the pirate ship slammed into their enemies. The darkness of the sea was absolute, but after a while Schuyler's eyes adjusted. She pushed her hands against the water, churning, churning, muscles pushing and aching against the heavy water. She watched the bubbles rise to the surface. She could go five minutes without air, and she had to make good use of it. At last her lungs screamed for oxygen, and she began to kick up toward the surface--she had no desire now except to breathe--so close--so close--yes--one more kick and she would break through--yes. . . .

A cold, bony hand grasped her ankle, keeping her down, pulling her back into the deep.

Schuyler squirmed and kicked. She twisted so that she could see who was holding her.

Below, a female Venator seemed to float effortlessly in the dark water. Her attacker assessed her coolly and continued to pull. You are under the protection of the Countess. To deny this protection is an act against the Coven. Submit or be destroyed.

The hand gripped her ankle in a solid lock. Schuyler could feel herself weakening--she would pass out soon if she didn't get air. Her lungs were about to burst. She was dizzy and starting to panic. Stop it, she told herself. She had to be calm.

The glom. Use the glom. RELEASE ME, she demanded, sending a compulsion so strong she could feel the words taking physical form, each letter an attack upon the Venator's cerebellum. The hand on her ankle shook slightly, and that was all Schuyler needed.

She burst away just as the Venator sent a compulsion of her own. Schuyler ducked and sent it back tenfold.

SINK!

The compulsion was a punch to the stomach, and the Venator flew backward into the deep, as if propelled downward by a sinking cannonball tied to her ankle. It would take her to the very bottom of the ocean, hopefully giving Schuyler enough time to get away.

She scrambled to get above the waves, finally breaking through to the surface, gasping for air. The rain, cold as a dead man's fingers, lashed her cheeks. She chanced a look back.

Their little motorboat was on fire. Burning, with sparks of black flames shooting up toward the heavens.

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