Nightshine, p.51
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       Nightshine, p.51

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 51

 

  They had arrived just before dawn, and at first the dock appeared empty. It was only when Agraciana stepped off that an elderly man emerged from the shadows and called her name.

  “Papi?” She ran to him, halting only when she saw the silver-haired woman standing beside him. All the color drained out of her face. “Mama?”

  The woman nodded, her eyes bright with tears as she held out her arms.

  Charlie tensed as more people walked down the dock, until she saw the flashlights and blankets they were carrying.

  “I think we’re among friends,” Sam told her.

  The islanders remained on the boats, almost huddling together as they watched the villagers. Their odd behavior reminded Charlie of the near-complete isolation they had lived in for most of their lives.

  “Tlemi. ” She smiled at the redhead. “It’s okay. Come with me and Sam and meet Agraciana’s friends. ”

  Colotl took her hand, helping her off the boat and walking beside her down the dock. He appeared braced for another battle, but did nothing as the excited villagers surrounded them. Everyone talked all at once as kind hands draped blankets over the islanders’ shoulders. Another woman brought a tray of brightly colored ceramic mugs filled with a steaming brew that smelled spicy-sweet, and began handing them out as the other islanders cautiously approached.

  Colotl took a sip from his cup, met Charlie’s gaze, and grinned like a boy.

  Drew left Agraciana with her parents and came over to Charlie and Samuel. “Gracie says they’ve got food and cots for everyone over at the church. The men of the village will keep watch so we can get some sleep. ”

  Charlie frowned. “How did they know we’d come here?”

  “A man and a woman stopped by here an hour ago,” he said. “They knew everything that happened to us. They also brought Gracie’s mother home. ”

  “Who were they?” Samuel asked.

  Drew shrugged. “No one recognized them, but Gracie’s father said the woman wore a red flower in her hair. She also had a tattoo on the back of her hand. ” His mouth hitched. “A dove. ”

  “Sam. ” Charlie watched the sun glisten along the gleaming white hull of the vessel sailing into the bay. It had been three days since they’d escaped the island, and while the villagers had taken good care of them, she was more than ready to go home. “Is that our ride back to the States out there?”

  Samuel shaded his eyes for a moment to have a look before he continued reeling in his line. “I believe it is. ”

  “That’s not a boat. ”

  “It’s not?” He peered again. “How odd. It bears a striking resemblance to one. ”

  “It’s a yacht. ” She turned to him and planted her hands on her hips. “You chartered a yacht. ”

  “We’re smuggling thirteen people into the United States,” he reminded her.

  “Thirteen American citizens who were experimented on by mad scientists before they were sold to a vampire,” she corrected.

  He nodded. “Whatever you want to call them, honey, they’re still not going to fit on a rubber raft. ”

  Agraciana appeared at the other end of the dock and waved. “Come to the church,” she called to them. “Dinner’s ready. ”

  Samuel secured the hook to the fishing pole before shouldering it and pulling out of the water the string of fish he’d already caught. He surveyed them with satisfaction. “I’m going to miss this. ”

  Charlie picked up his bait bucket, wrinkling her nose at the contents. “I’m not. ”

  They walked down the dock and through the dunes to the shell-lined path leading to the church that had served not only as their hotel but as the village’s command center. Over the last seventy-two hours Agraciana’s family and neighbors had gone into action, bringing a seamstress with piles of garments she altered to replace the islanders’ worn clothing, a cobbler to fit them with shoes, and a hairdresser to trim their shaggy manes. A lovely old red velvet lounger had been brought over specifically for Pici’s use, as well as a stereo, a television set, and a DVD player.

  Charlie had chuckled at the islanders’ reaction the first time the television had been switched on. At first it frightened them, until Samuel changed the station to one that showed cartoons, which soon fascinated them. While they couldn’t understand the Spanish dubbing, none of them seemed to tire of watching the antics of Tom and Jerry.

  The aroma of delicious food met them at the doors to the church, and Charlie and Samuel paused there to admire the sight of the picnic tables they had been using for meals, now laden with so many platters, bowls, and baskets the tops were completely concealed.

  The generosity made Charlie’s heart ache. “Every cupboard in this town must be bare by now. ”

  “Not for long,” Samuel said. “Tomorrow Drew and Agraciana will make sure everyone is amply repaid for their efforts. ”

  She glanced at him. “They’re staying behind?”

  “For a few weeks, so Agraciana can have some time with her mother. ” He put his arm around her shoulders. “Charlotte, as soon as we return, Matthias will take charge of relocating the islanders. You and I have other business to attend to. ”

  Charlie knew Matthias had a network of safe houses and properties, but the islanders didn’t know him. “We can go with them, make sure they’re okay. ”

  “Unless you want to change your identity, we have to make a public appearance. Give the media a happy ending. ” Before she could say anything he added, “All it will take is one press conference. I’ve already arranged it and the cover story about our rescue. ”

  So it had begun; she had expected it, but not so soon. Everything would be so easy for him; he’d make a call, transfer some money, talk into some microphones, and his world would be just as it was before they were taken. Because Charlie had been on the job when she’d been kidnapped, she knew she was facing a six-week administrative leave and a mandatory psych evaluation. She had four hundred dollars and change in her checking account; not enough to cover even her rent for a month. Although under the circumstances, she wouldn’t be surprised to discover that her landlord had sublet her apartment and put her belongings up for auction on eBay.

  “Charlotte?”

  She gave him a blind smile. “Sure, I can do a press conference. We both want our lives back; we should do whatever it takes. ”

  Samuel closed the door to the church. “Forgive me, but I don’t want to be a lonely cripple again, or talk to you on a computer, or lie awake at night wondering where you are and what you’re doing. I want you with me. ”

  “You think you do. ” She tried to choose her next words carefully. “Sam, when we were on the island, you thought you were going to die. So did I. We said a lot of crazy things. We needed something good, and it was. It was wonderful. But it’s over now. ”

  His hands dropped away. “I meant every word I said to you. ”

  “I’m sure you did, mío. ” She turned away. “But we’re safe now, so I’m letting you off the hook. You can go back to Boston or wherever and sell your antiques and manage your millions. I’ll be fine. ”

  “You’re a brave woman. ” He put his hands on her shoulders. “You’re also a terrible liar. I didn’t know that. ”

  The only thing she could use as her last defense was the truth. “You don’t need me anymore. ”

  Samuel turned her around. “I love you, Charlotte Marena. Without you I have no life, so please. ” He touched his lips to hers. “Don’t leave me. ”

  She couldn’t read his thoughts until the sun set, but she didn’t have to. Everything he felt for her was in his voice, in his eyes, and in the heart beating against hers. “I won’t. At least, not until we’re very old, and gray haired, and ready to go to the next place. ”

  Samuel kissed her until the church door opened and Drew stepped out.

  “Sorry to interrupt, but Gracie needs to talk to you. ” He gestured inside.


  Charlie and Samuel followed him into the church, past the tables where everyone was still enjoying the food, and into the hall where the cots had been set up.

  Agraciana stood in front of the television, which was showing a funeral of someone important, judging by the hundreds of mourners in attendance. When she saw them she reached over and shut it off.

  “Is something wrong?” Charlie asked.

  “I am not certain. ” She reached into her pocket and took out a business card. “The man and woman who brought my mother home left this with her. In all the excitement she forgot about it. ” She offered it to Samuel. “They asked her to give it to you. ”

  He glanced at the card and showed it to Charlie, who read the two lines printed on it.

  “Michael Cyprien. I don’t know that name, but he has an international phone number. ” She looked up at him, but he only shook his head.

  “Should we call it?” Drew asked.

  “No. ” Samuel pocketed the card. “We should go have dinner with our friends. ”

  The media wanted much more than one press conference, but Samuel’s small army of attorneys and security guards as well as sympathetic city officials kept them at bay as they left the mayor’s conference room. After a brief trip to Charlie’s apartment to collect what she needed, their police escort drove them directly to the airport, where Samuel’s private plane waited.

  Charlie, who had never flown anything but economy class, tried not to gawk at everything while Samuel spoke to the pilot. After turning down the drink offered by the pretty flight attendant, Charlie sank back in the sumptuous cushions of her seat and closed her eyes.

  A big hand reached across her to buckle her seat belt and adjust the back of her seat to a reclining position.

  “I’m not sleeping through my first flight on the Concord. ”

  “It’s not the Concord, honey. ” Samuel tucked a weightless, prewarmed blanket around her. “It’s only a Learjet. ”
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