Misguided Angel Page 6

She leaned down and grasped his hand, pulling it gently from the branch. The hand was practically frozen in place, but it returned her grasp and squeezed. He was alive. With all her strength she pulled Jack out of the water in one quick motion and positioned him behind her on the Jet Ski.

He fell against her, his body as cold as an iceberg, and she could feel the weight of his exhaustion against her back. He was barely able to keep his arms around her waist as she pushed off into the darkness.

If she had been just a minute later, who knows what would have become of him. . . . Who knew what would have happened. . . . Who knew what . . .

Stop your doubting, my love. I knew you would find me.

Schuyler maneuvered the Jet Ski between two fishing boats and harnessed her craft next to the one that smelled marginally better than the other. The boats were empty, as fishing season was over. The owners would not return until next year. She helped Jack onto the deck of the boat and into its small cabin, which held a ratty couch. How ironic that they had started their day planning to escape from a boat, only to end up in another one.

She helped Jack out of his wet clothes, stripping him of his shirt, pants, socks, and shoes, and covered him with one of the thin ragged bath towels she'd found in the hold. "Sorry. I know it's not great, but it's all we got."

She rummaged around for supplies, finding a small kerosene lamp in the galley kitchen.

She lit the lamp, wishing it would give out more light, or at least more heat. Inside, the boat was almost as cold as it was outside.

"Are you comfortable?" she asked.

He nodded, still unable to speak, either in words or in her mind.

She turned her back and peeled off her own wet things, feeling shy around him, and wrapped herself in a towel as well. The nautical shower was working, probably left with a few gallons of water from its last trip, and she was glad for the opportunity to wash after such a long day. She was also thankful the boat contained a few dry clothes for them to change into: sailor shirts, swim shorts. They would have to do.

After she showered and dressed, Schuyler then helped Jack walk down the few steps into the small bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. It would rain again soon. The wind howled, lashing against the portholes. Schuyler made sure the latch on the cabin door was secure.

When Jack limped out of the shower, Schuyler was glad to see that he looked a little better. The color had returned to his cheeks. He picked up a blanket from the couch and threw it over his shoulders. "Come here," he whispered, opening his arms so that she could huddle against him, her back against his chest. She could feel his body begin to thaw, and she pulled his arms around her tightly, massaging his hands until they were warm again.

In a soft voice, Jack told her what had happened to him. He had stayed a beat longer on the boat to give Schuyler a head start, and had guided it straight at the Jet Skis. But the Venators had taken that as an opportunity to jump on board, and he had fought them off. One of them had gotten away--the woman who had come after Schuyler. The other one had been a fight to the death.

"What do you mean?" Schuyler asked.

"He had a black sword with him," Jack said slowly, raising a hand to the fire and making the flame leap. "I had to use it. It was him or me." He looked so anguished, Schuyler put a protective hand on his shoulder. Jack bowed his head. "Tabris. I knew him. He was a friend of mine. A long time ago."

Jack had called the Venator by his angel name. Schuyler sucked in her breath. She felt guilty for everything--all this killing--it was all her fault. She had been the one who convinced Jack they should seek refuge with the Countess. She was the one who had brought them to Europe. This quest was her legacy, not his--her responsibility she'd latched on his shoulders. She was the one who had planned their escape--no one was supposed to be hurt. She hadn't realized that the Countess would take it so far--the black sword--dear God. If Jack had not bested the Venator, then he would be the one whose immortal life was finished.

He drew her closer to him and whispered fiercely in her ear. "It had to be done. I gave him a choice. He chose death. Death will come to all, sooner or later." Jack pressed his head against hers, and she could feel the veins throbbing below his skin.

Death will come to all? Jack of all people should know that wasn't true. The Blue Bloods had survived for centuries. Schuyler wondered if he was thinking of Mimi--Azrael--just then.

Death will come to all. Would it come to Jack? Would Mimi exercise her right to a burning and extinguish Jack's spirit forever?

Schuyler wasn't as concerned about her own mortality as she was for his. If he died, there would be no life for her. Please, God, no. Not yet. Give us this time still. This small sliver of time that we have together, let it last as long as it can.

FIVE

Breaking Bread

Schuyler had fallen asleep in Jack's arms, but she woke up, blinking her eyes, when she heard a rustling noise. The fire in the lamp was still flickering, but the rain had stopped. The only sound was the lapping of waves against the hull. Jack placed a finger to his lips. Quiet.

Someone's here.

" Signorina?" A dark figure hovered by the doorway.

Before Schuyler could answer, Jack had sprung from his seat and held Ghedi by the throat.

"Jack! Wait, what are you doing? It's Ghedi--he helped me! He was the one who got me out of the water, Jack! Let him go!"

Ghedi's dark face had turned several shades of gray. He was holding a basket in his hands, which was now shaking slightly.

"Bossing . . ." he protested. "I bring food. Bread. Dinner."

"You serve us well, human," Jack said coldly. "Maybe too well. Tell us, who do you truly serve?"

Schuyler felt indignation burn her cheeks. "Jack, please! You're being ridiculous!"

"Only if he tells me who he really is and who he's working for. A Somali pirate wouldn't give a rat's ass about two American kids, especially once he was paid. Why did you follow us?

Are you a servant of the Countess?"

Ghedi shook his head, and looked them straight in the eye. "Have no fear, my friends, for I am a friend of the professor."

Schuyler was surprised to hear the Somali speaking perfect English, and no longer with the African intonations he'd affected before.

"The professor?" Jack asked, relaxing his grip slightly.

"Professor Lawrence Van Alen, of course."

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