Bay of sighs, p.13
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       Bay of Sighs, p.13

         Part #2 of The Guardians series by Nora Roberts
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  Giverny.”

  “I could do that.” Sawyer helped himself to salsa.

  “Yes, you could. And in a couple weeks, when the moon’s full, Riley goes wolf.”

  Sawyer threw back his head and did a very effective imitation of a wolf howl.

  “And me?” Sasha gestured with her drink. “I never know when I might be having a conversation and start prophesying.” She drank, sighed. “And after a few short weeks? It all seems absolutely normal.”

  “Because it is, for us.” Riley lifted her glass in turn. “So, here’s to us—and fuck the rest.”

  As they clinked glasses, Annika rose up, rested her arms on the skirt of the pool. “Is it margarita time?”

  “Come and get ’em.” Riley poured another glass.

  When Doyle came out, a second cold beer in his hand, he saw Annika and Riley in the pool. Dr. Gwin might not be a mermaid, he thought, but the woman swam like a fish. Sasha stood at the side of the house, with easel and canvas, brushes and paint, and faced the sea.

  Under the pergola, Sawyer and Bran had their heads together. He walked to them. Though he’d skipped the margaritas, he was a fan of Sawyer’s salsa.

  “What’s the plan?”

  “We were just kicking that around,” Sawyer told him.

  “We’re covered, as much as we can be, while we’re here.” Bran looked over at Sasha, the arch of her back, the vulnerable nape of her neck as she’d bundled her hair up under her hat. Then up into the hills. “But Annika tells us you’re still worried.”

  “Doesn’t take much of a gap, does it? A bullet doesn’t need much room.”

  “Happy thought,” Sawyer muttered.

  “We’ve laid traps, and I’ve added protection, but Doyle has the right of it. Some of it rests on Sasha. In Corfu, she knew when Nerezza would strike, so again, we were prepared. Added to that, we have the practicality of Riley’s network of contacts. We should know when this Malmon sets out for Capri. Once he has, the fight for us is against two fronts. Men, and minions.

  “We’re stronger than we were.” Again, he looked at Sasha. “And more united. It will matter. I believe it will weigh on our side. Then there’s a matter of the search.”

  “No more clues from that quarter?” Doyle wagged a thumb toward Sasha.

  “Not as yet. It’s a great deal of pressure on her, so I’m asking if I’m not with her, someone else is. Always. She handles the visions well now, but the more open she is, the more Nerezza pushes to get in.”

  “We’ve got her back.” Sawyer glanced toward the pool. “Once it starts, nobody should split off alone, but we’ll keep Sasha close.”

  “Then we move on, do the work, which puts us out on the water. And in it.”

  “Strategically, any serious attack should wait until we find the star. If having it were my goal,” Doyle continued, “I’d lie back, let the targets do the work, then go in, take them out, claim the prize.”

  “But,” Bran said, and waited.

  “It’s not altogether about logic, is it, but about greed with some madness thrown in. Sasha prophesied Malmon wasn’t what he was or would be. We have to assume, considering her visions, he’s made a contract with Nerezza. We can’t know what he is, what power she might have given him in exchange. Or how hell-bent he’ll be on getting to us, as he knows what each of us has or is.”

  “Hell-bent as fire and brimstone,” Sawyer said. “Trust me.”

  “That being the case, the odds favor he’ll come at us, at least a testing run, an attempt to deplete our numbers, or take one or more of us captive. Or he may go full out, believing we have information here he could use to find the star himself.”

  “He’s a confident son of a bitch. I lean toward the full out. Not to kill, or not to kill certain ones of us. He’d rather capture, but he’d enjoy bloodying the ground while he’s at it.”

  “Or the water,” Bran put in. “Which is where our search will focus.”

  “And where we’re most vulnerable.” Doyle slid his gaze toward Annika. “Even with our advantage there.”

  “I could arm the rest of you with the bombs, as we’re calling them. They won’t harm you as they will those who attack. But I’d have to do some work on underwater use there.

  “And meanwhile we can’t use guns under the water, and a harpoon is a single shot.”

  “We handled underwater attacks before,” Sawyer pointed out.

  “We have. But what I’ve been working on, with Sasha’s help, is Doyle’s idea about infusing blades and so on with something like the bombs. It’s close to ready, or close to ready to be tested. It will help, considerably. But it may come to retreat, to Sawyer getting us out and away. Which is where we were, Doyle, when you joined us.”

  “It takes proximity, that’s the thing. That’s why I brought us, boat and all, back to the villa in Corfu. I couldn’t risk missing anybody, disconnecting.”

  Well used to talk of war, Doyle helped himself to salsa. “What happens if you disconnect?”

  “Never happened, but I’m told if it does, it’s a long fall into wherever and whenever for the passenger. On the boat, I know I can do it. Underwater, I could miss someone, and if we’re into it, I’m likely to pull enemy back with us.”

  “So what we need, if it comes to that, if getting to the boat isn’t going to happen, is to do whatever we can to pull in around Sawyer, give him the chance for the full retreat.”

  Slinging a towel around her waist, Riley stepped up. “In the water,” she began and dumped more from pitcher to glass. “We’re two teams of three.”

  “Is that so?” Doyle countered.

  “It’s so if you’ve got a brain. Annika, key advantage us. It’s her element. She can hear and see farther than us or them. She can move faster than us or them. She gets her tail on? I wouldn’t want to take a hit from it. Bran, advantage us. Nobody likes to get struck by lightning. He’d take out more with a jolt than we will with diving knives. And he can get out on his own, take at least one of us with him? Right?”

  “True, but I wouldn’t leave any of you. That’s not negotiable.”

  “I don’t mean that—and thanks. I mean, moving on to our next advantage, Sawyer. He’s the escape route if and when. If Bran knows he’ll get the rest of us, he can worry about getting himself out, if necessary.”

  She sat down with her drink. “The rest of us, we make sure everybody stays alive, no one gets separated.” Now she looked at Sawyer. “Ever fired an underwater pistol?”

  “No.”

  “Underwater pistol?” Bran’s brows lifted.

  “Yeah, it’s specially designed to be used under water. Fires fléchettes, not bullets because the barrels aren’t rifled, and they maintain their trajectory through hydrodynamics. They do the job.”

  “I’ve heard of them—pistols, rifles. Frogmen, SEALs, right?”

  She nodded at Sawyer. “And so on. I might be able to score us a couple of them, and the ammo. It’ll probably take a few days, but I have a source.”

  “A couple of them doesn’t arm all of us,” Doyle pointed out.

  “It’s going to take some wrangling to get two, and two’s enough. You’re a decent shot, but you’re better with the bow or the sword. Bran? Pretty decent shot, but why waste the time when he’s the lightning man? Sasha’s getting better with a gun, but she’s not there. With the crossbow? She’s Robin Hood and all his Merry Men. And Annika’s not going to use a gun, in the water or out. So two. One for me, one for Sawyer. We’re the better shots. And, in fact, if I can only score one, it goes to Sawyer. Dead-Eye’s the best of us.”

  “All right then.”

  “One or two, I’m going to need to wire money.”

  “Let us know how much,” Bran said, “and we’ll put it together. It’s good to have, and if we can access this sort of weapon, we have to consider they’ll be armed this way as well. Distractions,” he murmured. “Something an enemy would be more inclined to shoot than us. I’ll work on it. And it’s good str
ategy, Riley. The two teams of three.”

  “They’ll have more.” Pale, Sasha stepped up to the table, set a canvas down.

  On it she’d painted an underwater battle. The six of them, armed with knife, spear, pistol, surrounded by armed men. Twenty by Sawyer’s count.

  Blood spread in the water. And sharks came to feed.

  Annika walked over, laid her hands on Sawyer’s shoulders. “The blood draws them, and they’ll take all. The word you use is frenzy. It’s truth.”

  Riley blew out a breath. “Does anybody else hear the theme from Jaws?”

  She poured another drink.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  Sawyer studied the painting. “This is on my top five list. Of ways not to die.”

  “Hey, me, too.” After a long, slow sip, Riley managed a smile. “What’s your number one?”

  “Snake pit. You?”

  “Drawn and quartered.”

  “That’s a good one.”

  “What is drawn and quartered?” Annika asked.

  Reaching up, Sawyer rubbed her hand. “You don’t ever want to find out.” He looked over at Sasha. “You saw this?”

  “Yes. Very clearly.”

  “Us, surrounded by the bad guys, the sharks circling.”

  “Yes!” Sasha snapped off the word as she shook her head at Riley’s offer of a drink.

  “Looks dire,” he commented. “It also looks like we’ve got a wall between us and Bruce and pals.”

  “Bruce?” Shaken, Sasha pressed her fingers to her eyes. “Who the hell is Bruce?”

  “Crew’s name for the mechanical shark in Jaws,” Riley explained. “Hmm.”

  “Exactly so. Now sit.” Firmly, Bran nudged Sasha into a chair. “We couldn’t ask for a bigger distraction.”

  Now Sasha just closed her eyes. “A shark attack is a distraction? A distraction.”

  “Damn good one. Odds are they’d go for the prey in the outer circle first.” As he might a battle plan, Doyle stood, studied the painting. “It’s something I’ve missed in my extended life—a shark attack. And you, Gorgeous?”

  “We can hear—feel?—them, and we stay away. But we can also make a sound they don’t like, and warn others if they come to feed.”

  “What sound?” Riley wondered.

  Annika drew a breath, opened her mouth.

  Though he heard nothing, Sawyer felt as if an ice pick had been jammed in his ear, and straight to his brain. In the distance, dogs began to bark.

  “Wow. Okay.” Riley rubbed her ears.

  “If they still come, you fight. Hit them here.” Annika tapped her nose. “Hard.”

  “‘Sometimes the shark go away; sometimes he wouldn’t go away.’”

  “Quint,” Riley explained. “Sawyer’s still on Jaws.”

  “The seas are filled with easier prey. Here, in the painting, the bad guys are easier prey than we are.”

  “Annika’s right.” Riley nodded. “Plus, thanks to Sasha we’re forewarned. How do we use it?”

  “They’re looking to capture, not kill,” Doyle pointed out. “There’s blood, some of us, some of them are wounded. But we’re outnumbered more than three to one here, and we’re all alive. If they wanted us dead, at least one of us would be. Or more seriously wounded than this.”

  “And we’re in a group,” Bran added. “A fairly tight one. Tight enough?” he asked Sawyer.

  “Yeah, tight enough. The trick’s going to be getting to this point, letting them surround us, and holding it together.”

  “We let them . . .” Calmer now, Sasha took the drink she’d refused. “Yes, I see.”

  “Our instinct’s going to be to fight, not surrender. But, we let this happen?” Riley tapped the painting. “Their instinct’s going to be to take out the sharks, or try, or get the hell away.”

  “We stay close enough to each other, I shift us back to the boat, and—”

  “The sharks take the rest.” Riley lifted her glass toward him. “To Quint.”

  “Not the rest,” Doyle corrected. “Odds are on a dive boat, and if I planned an attack like this, I’d have men stationed on the boat, and a couple, at least, on ours.”

  “Buzzkill. Right,” Riley added. “But still. Those teams won’t be expecting us to pop out of nowhere. So, you or I get to the wheel, and fast. The others deal with the bad guys, if any, on our boat.”

  “We’ll deal with it. All of it,” Bran assured them. “It’s what we’re meant to do.”

  “What we’re meant to do,” Sasha agreed, “but we need to factor in one more thing. Abject panic. Those aren’t mechanical sharks in a movie. And it only takes one of them to decide, hmm, look at the delicious chewy center.”

  “Good one. We’ve got Anni’s secret shark whistle as backup,” Riley reminded her.

  “Even so, factor it in. Because I now have a list of my own—something I’ve lived my whole life without making. Being eaten by sharks is now number one.” Sasha gulped margarita. “With a bullet.”

  Prepared for an attack, resolved to do whatever needed to be done, they set out to search the next morning. And the day after, and the day after that. No attack came, nor did they find the star or any new path toward it.

  Restless, Doyle prowled the yard during combat practice.

  “Use your feet, Sasha!” He snapped the order out when she ended up on her ass, again. “Stop going easy on her, Gwin, and go in for the kill.”

  “She’s holding her own,” Riley shot back.

  “Bollocks. You’ve a knife in your hand, Sasha, use the damn thing.” When Sasha sliced out, missed the mark by a foot, he strode forward, grabbed her arm. “Combat grip, downward stroke.”

  He guided her arm, hard and fast enough to make the muscles still sore from the damn pull-ups twinge.

  “It won’t cut her, or don’t you trust your man?”

  “Yes, I trust him. I’m trying.”

  “Try harder. She’s not that good.”

  Riley cocked a hip. “Oh, really? Then bring it, big guy. Take me on.”

  Obliging, in the mood for it, Doyle took the knife from Sasha, who muttered, “I hope she kicks your ass.”

  He glanced over. “Put some of that pissed-off into your own practice next time.”

  As he spoke, Riley hit him, dead center, with a flying kick, propelled him back a good three feet. She landed, set, smiled.

  “Always be ready, always be alert. Isn’t that what you hammer at us? Looks like you forgot, Sir Dick.”

  “As you forgot to go in for the kill.”

  They circled each other. She dodged the swipe with the knife, but not the fist in the belly. She went down with it, jabbed the charmed knife at his thigh, rolled back and up.

  “Missed the artery,” she said as they circled again. “Won’t next time.”

  Jabs, feints, kicks, a punch.

  Sawyer and Bran stopped their own practice battle to watch, and Annika lowered her arms as her practice balls hovered in the air.

  Doyle swept Riley’s legs out from under her, but she rolled again, backflipped up, kicked out as she did, aiming—a bit harder than practice called for—at the groin.

  Doyle set his teeth, went over the pain—she’d hit her mark solidly—scored a point on her left arm.

  “You’d be bleeding.”

  “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

  They charged. Knives met, crossed. They held there, like pirates, eyes hot before Doyle shoved her back. She recovered, swung into a roundhouse kick, hit him chest high. He grabbed her foot, used momentum to thrust her into the air. She managed to flip, landed, but off-balance enough to have to reset.

  He charged again, took her down, his knife to her throat.

  “And you’re done.”

  “You, too, old man. My knife’s in your gut.”

  He lay on her a moment more, admitting only to himself he was winded and his balls ached like a bitch. Then he lifted enough to look down, and sure enough, her knife was hilt deep in his gut.

&nbs
p; “Wouldn’t kill me for long, but you’d still be dead.”

  “Good thing I won’t be fighting Lazarus. Get off me.”

  “In a minute.” He looked around at the audience. “I’ve got her down, and we’ll say she’s unarmed for these purposes. My knife’s at her throat. What do you do? Annika?”

  Without hesitation, she jerked up her arm. He felt a tingle in his knife hand. “Perfect. Aim and reflexes. Bran.”

  Bran flicked his hand, and the knife turned into a banana.

  “A bit of humor,” Bran said. “But effective.”

  “Good enough. Sasha?”

  She took Bran’s knife, threw it. It hit Doyle in the back of the head.

  “Impressive.”

  “I was aiming for your back, center mass. But I’ll take good luck where I find it.”

  “Sawyer?”

  With a hand in his pocket, he measured distance. In an instant he crouched beside Doyle and Riley, sliced his knife cleanly on Doyle’s throat. And gripping Riley’s shoulder, popped them both back to where he’d stood.

  “Good enough.” Doyle got to his feet. “Of course, this is saying any one of you has that split second to act.”

  “We’ll make the second,” Annika insisted. “We’re meant to protect each other. If we don’t do all we must for each of us, we fail. If we find the stars but one of us falls, we fail. We thought you’d fallen that night in Corfu, and we grieved. Because we’re family now. Family protects, always.”

  “You used your second to shield Riley that night,” Sasha reminded him. “Anni’s right. It’s the six of us who are meant to find the stars. If any of us fall, we fail. We can’t fail. I’ll work harder.”

  “You’re better than you were. You’ve had the farthest to come.”

  “I think that’s supposed to be encouragement. You’re angry,” Sasha added, studying Doyle. “I can feel it. Angry and starting to doubt if we’re on the right track, in the right place. If the vision I had that brought us here was just wrong.”

  “You’re still new at reading them.”

  “She’s yet to be wrong,” Bran reminded him. “Impatience, while human enough, isn’t productive.”

  “The compass backs her up.” Sawyer took it out. “It says here. I check it every night, and we’re where we’re supposed to be.”

  “When you’ve lost something, it’s always in the last place you look. Because when you find it,” Riley added, “you stop looking. We haven’t hit the last place yet.”

  “Have you asked yourself why she’s yet to come at us? We’ve been here nearly two weeks.”

  “She has.” Bran slid an arm around Sasha.

 
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