Bonded by Blood
Author:Laurie London

chapter NINE

ALTHOUGH DOM HAD driven out to the islands many times, he’d never made the ferry trip in the middle of the day, but then he didn’t want to wait any longer than necessary. He knew this conversation wasn’t going to be easy on so many levels.

When he stepped out of the car and the sun warmed his skin, he felt strangely out of place. An older woman, dressed in gardening clogs and a loud floral print dress, stepped over a row of hedges and ambled toward him.

“Hey, Shirl.”

“Good heavens,” she said as she pulled off her work gloves and kissed Dom on the cheek. “I could hardly believe it when Chuck told me you were coming out. Not that I don’t love your visits, but look at you—out in the sunlight like this.” She held him at arm’s length and looked him up and down. “I want to hear what’s going on, but I expect you want to explain things to Chuck first.”

“Is he up yet?”

“Go on in—he’s down in the pool. Back’s been bothering him lately and he finds if he swims when he first wakes up, it doesn’t ache so much the rest of the night. Can I bring you something to eat? How does lentil soup with homemade sourdough bread sound?”

He didn’t want to give her any additional work, but he hadn’t eaten since last night and she was a fabulous cook. “Well…uh…”

She brushed the dirt off her hand shovel. “Off with you. I’ll bring it down in a few minutes. Chuck’s always starving when he gets out of the pool anyway.”

Dom looked around, didn’t see any other cars. “No guests?”

“Nope. The place is empty right now. But we’re booked up come June. Oh, ouch.” A thin line of blood beaded up on her palm and she hissed a breath through her teeth. “I forgot he just sharpened all my garden tools.”

“May I?” Dom asked.

“Would you? Chuck would think I wasn’t being careful and I really don’t want to hear him go on and on about humans and blood and the fragility of life. After fifty years of marriage, you’d think I’d be used to it by now.”

He licked his thumb, rubbed it over her wound, and the bleeding stopped. “He just worries about you, you know. It’s in our nature to be protective of the ones we love.”

“Well, it can really be a pain in the you-know-what sometimes. What a dear.” She smiled as she examined her hand and flexed her fingers. “Good as new. Thank you. Now run along. I’ll bring you that food in a few minutes.”

On the covered porch, even before he stepped inside the lodge, he smelled the freshly baked bread and was instantly starving. He took the stairs to the basement two at a time, pushed open the double doors and when he stepped onto the sea-green tiles, Frank Sinatra blasted through the speakers. In the summer the Olympic-sized pool would be packed with vamp families wanting to play in the water away from the sun, but today it was empty except for Chuck swimming laps in one of the middle lanes. The tempo of New York, New York matched the man’s slow, methodical crawl stroke. Figuring it’d take a while for him to make the turn and swim back, Dom sat on a nearby cedar bench, but he’d hardly made himself comfortable when Chuck gripped the edge of the pool at his feet.

“Jesus, you’re like an octogenarian Michael Phelps.”

“Who?” Chuck pulled off his swim goggles and scowled in that you’re-an-idiot manner perfected only by the elderly.

“You know—Mark Spitz?” Nothing. “Johnny Weissmuller?”

“Tarzan?” Chuck brightened as he pulled himself up onto the pool deck. “I’ll take it as a compliment, then. Put on a suit and get your ass into the Jacuzzi with me. I’m not about to talk to you if I have to crank my head up to see you. There are clean ones hanging inside the locker-room door. Just don’t grab one of those banana slings you European boys seem to be so fond of.”

After changing into a loose-fitting pair of swim trunks, Dom exited the locker room and stepped into the Jacuzzi. Chuck had turned off the music and sat with his eyes closed on the far side of the tub, up to his neck in the bubbling water. The temperature was a little cooler than Dom was accustomed to, but he supposed they’d be able to stay in longer. This wasn’t going to be a quick little hi-how-are-you.

“Why in the hell are you taking a job down in San Diego anyway? I thought you hated Markem and his band of merry men.”

So much for pussyfooting around. “Santiago told you, then.”

That shouldn’t surprise him. Santiago had taken over as Region Commander when Chuck retired, and he often consulted with the man. But what else had he told Chuck?

“Markem’s gone,” Dom continued. “Took a transfer to the new unit in Australia. The rest of the field team is decent.” He rubbed his chest, trying to ignore the persistent ache lodged deep inside. It was the opportunity he’d been waiting for, wasn’t it?

“It’s about time the Council pulled its head out of its ass and put some Agency personnel down there. I’ve been telling them for years we needed to open up a field office somewhere in the Carpentaria Region. With their UV indexes off the charts, it was only a matter of time before the Darkbloods set up shop. I’ll bet those bastards have a hey day with the high levels of energy in the indigenous population. So what happened to make the Council put an office down there? A bunch of humans go missing? Bodies found mysteriously drained of blood?”

Dom shrugged. “No idea.”

“When are you leaving for San Diego? I haven’t told Shirl yet. She’ll be devastated, you know. Thinks of you as the son she never had and was thrilled when you came up here.” He cleared his throat as he examined his pruned fingers. “So why in the hell are you going? What’s so goddamn appealing about California?”

Dom kept his eyes down. “I don’t have a start date yet.” He balanced his hand loosely on the surface of the water and watched the bubbles rise between his fingers and float his arm outward. He moved it back and it started all over again. “But I’ve got to go, Chuck. You know I do. Our latest intel shows he is somewhere in Southern California.”

“Son, what happened that night in Madrid?”

When Dom didn’t answer, Chuck sighed. “Keep it locked inside and it’ll continue to fester like a shard from a silvie. You can’t keep doing this, you know. At some point, you’ve got to forget about the past and start living for yourself.”

“I will never forget.” Dom twisted the twin rings on his thumbs, studied the intricate pattern of the filigree. His recollection of that night was as fresh as if it happened yesterday. “I saw my parents’ ashed remains.” The windows had been left open; the draperies flapped like untethered sails in the evening breeze, no longer gathered neatly against the wall with his mother’s fussy golden tassels. “I sifted through what was left of them and retrieved their matching wedding bands—these.” He had them resized so they’d be with him always. Constant reminders of what Pavlos had done and the vow Dom had made to kill him. “So, no, I can never forget.”

The Jacuzzi jet timer stopped with a click, the bubbles faded into nothingness, and he stared into the water again.

“I guess what I’m saying is not to forget them,” Chuck said, “but that it’s about goddamn time you moved on. It wasn’t your fault. Your father would be proud of what you’re doing now. Don’t scoff at me, young man. You’re doing good work here in the Northwest. The cities are as safe as they’ve ever been thanks to your tenacity and dedication. Bringing Pavlos to justice is the Agency’s number one priority. We’ll catch him, son. It doesn’t have to be you.”

Dom slid under the water, resurfaced and pushed the dripping hair off his forehead. Chuck just didn’t understand. “It was my fault. My mother sent word to me that Pavlos was threatening my father. She feared for their lives and needed my help. Even though I was on duty that night and should’ve been easy to locate, no one knew where I was at first. I was at an inn with a lady friend and otherwise engaged. Not really what you call dedication to my work.”

“Well, you’re a damned fool to blame yourself. Your father knew he faced risks. None of us predicted Pavlos would take it as far as he did.”

“My father wasn’t a Guardian, either. He was an optimist who failed to fully grasp that a powerful evil resides inside many of us, too strong to be swayed by reason and logic. But me? I knew better. After Alfonso fell into the Darkblood ranks, I should’ve realized my parents were a target. Did you know he tortured them, Chuck? That Pavlos— My mother—”

He balled his hands into fists and forced himself to say the words. “From the position of their ashes—my mother’s on the bed and my father’s on a chair—it’s clear that he raped her and forced my father to watch. He’s done that kind of thing before. When I arrived, one of my father’s cigarillos was still glowing on the nightstand. Minutes, Chuck. I failed my parents by a few goddamn minutes.”

It was Chuck’s turn to stare into the water. “Why are you so eager to blame Alfonso? He was a young kid mixed up with some unsavory friends.”

“Yes, and those unsavory friends happened to start the whole Darkblood movement. Jesus, Chuck. The correspondence from my mother all but implicated him and the house staff confirmed another person was in the carriage when they were murdered. After I kill Pavlos, I’m going after my brother.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes until Shirl pushed the door open and set a tray of food on a table, breaking the somber mood. They climbed out and Chuck threw Dom a towel from a nearby shelf.

“Was that all you came to talk to me about?” Chuck asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Santiago tells me you’ve met a woman.”

Oh for chrissake. Was nothing private anymore?