Bay of sighs, p.22
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       Bay of Sighs, p.22

         Part #2 of The Guardians series by Nora Roberts
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  “Good sign.” Like Annika, Riley wrapped an arm around his waist, and together they helped him downstairs. “Outside,” Riley prescribed. “Fresh air, sunshine. I’ve got him, Annika. Why don’t you get him a big cold glass of the sun tea.”

  “Beer.”

  “Not yet, pal. And some food. There’s pasta from last night, and—”

  “Yes, yes, I can fix the food, and the drink.”

  “She’s filled us in,” Riley said in a low voice the moment they stepped outside. “But we’ll want your end of it. I’m going to tell you, she beat her tail bloody trying to get out to you, and she’s stuck with you since Bran put you under. She hasn’t been out of the room either. She needs the sun and the water.”

  “Okay.” More than a little rocky, he sat under the pergola. “The pool’s just a stopgap. She needs the sea. Bran can get her down to the water. I can’t make it yet.”

  “We’ll take care of it.”

  Riley stepped back, spotted Sasha painting on the terrace, signaled her. “Sawyer’s awake, he’s down here. You want to get Bran?”

  “We’ll be right down.”

  Then glancing toward the grove, Riley put two fingers in her mouth, let out a long, loud whistle.

  “Hey, a wolf whistle.”

  Riley glanced back, smirked. “Glad to see you’ve got your lame humor back. Okay, shit.” She walked to him, took his face in her hands, kissed him hard on the mouth. “I’m going to help Anni. And get a beer.”

  “I want a beer.”

  “No alcohol without Dr. Sorcerer signing off.”

  He’d have sulked over it, but as Riley strode away, Sasha dashed out. And as Riley had, kissed him.

  “Maybe I should get tortured more often. It gets all the girls.”

  “Your color’s good. How’s the pain?”

  “It’s there. Not bad, but there.”

  “We’ll take care of that. You’re hungry.”

  “I’m starved.”

  “Let’s see the knife wound.” Without ceremony, she lifted his shirt, gently probed as Doyle strode across the lawn. “It’s healing well. And the shoulder . . . better. Your wrists, better yet. Stay with him,” she told Doyle. “Bran’s coming down, and I’m going to help put food together.”

  With a nod, Doyle sat across from Sawyer, studied him.

  “Aren’t you going to kiss me? Everybody else has.”

  “I’ll pass on that. They beat the fuck out of you, brother, and sliced you good while they were at it. And a cattle prod, was it? From what Annika described.”

  “Something like that. Malmon?”

  “Not a sign or a sound. After some considerable bitching by certain parties, Bran and Riley went up. You couldn’t be left unconscious, so they won that battle. There’s nothing left in the cave, and no survivors they could find. Malmon, according to Riley’s sources, hasn’t been back to the villa. His things are there right enough, but he hasn’t been seen.”

  “If I had a fucking beer, I’d drink to that.”

  “Considering all, I’ll get us both a beer.”

  “Not for Sawyer, not as yet.” Bran, one of his kits in hand, walked out.

  “Have a heart. I’ve been mostly dead all day.”

  “Excellent Princess Bride usage.” Riley came out with a tray—the glass of sun tea, the pasta. “There’s more coming, but you can get started.”

  “First, the pain—one to ten.”

  Sawyer shrugged at Bran. “Maybe four and a half.”

  “That means a solid six,” Riley said. “He’s downplaying.”

  “I agree.” Bran took a vial from the kit. “For the pain,” he said. “Not for sleep. Just to take the pain down a bit. Sasha will insist on dealing with it, and I’d as soon she didn’t take on that much.”

  “Fine.” Sawyer waited until Bran added a few drops to the glass, then downed the tea. “I gotta eat.”

  He shoved in two healthy bites, sat back, said, “Whoa. For the pain?”

  “It’ll give you a bit of an energy boost as well.”

  “I’ll say. You need to get Annika to the water—seawater.”

  “I’ll see to it.”

  Both Sasha and Annika came out with trays.

  “We’ve got more pasta,” Sasha began. “Bread, cheese, fruit, olives, peppers, and anything else Anni could think of.”

  “Great. What are the rest of you going to eat?” Sawyer asked and grabbed a hunk of bread.

  “Let’s see about the pain.”

  “It’s barely there now,” he told Sasha.

  “Then let’s get it gone. I’m good at this now. Just relax and keep eating.”

  “How about that beer?”

  “Half a glass of wine to start,” Bran said. “Then we’ll see how we go. Are you up for a report?”

  “I’m definitely up. Thanks, Anni, this is great.”

  “I didn’t set the table.”

  “Next time. Here’s my POV. When I went back in the water, they had her in a goddamn net. She was out, unconscious. Between us and the sharks, their numbers were down, but not enough. They hit me with something, some sort of tranq, I’d say. Same thing they used on Annika most likely. And the next thing I know, I’m hanging by my arms in that cave. Lots of equipment—thugs with guns, and this tank. They had Annika in a tank of water.

  “Sit down, Sash. Really, I’m good.”

  “You had some torn muscles in your shoulders, in addition to where you were shot. And burns on your chest.” But Sasha sat.

  “Feels okay now. Then he walks in. Mr. Torture.”

  “Yadin,” Riley said.

  “Introduced himself, real polite. Then he got started.”

  He skimmed over the worst of it—what was the point?—but gave them the overview.

  “Yadin had it rigged so he could send electrical current into the water. The son of a bitch kept zapping her.”

  “And you,” Annika said.

  “Depending on your scale, you could say he kept it light, until Malmon got there,” Sawyer continued. “Something off about him, Malmon. I want to say he walked different—like his shoes were too tight. And he wore shades inside the cave, and a long-sleeved shirt. And, I know it sounds weird, but his fingers were too long.”

  “His fingers,” Riley repeated.

  “Yeah, I know, weird, and I was feeling a little rough by the time he came to join the party.”

  “Sawyer is right. He wasn’t like the other men. I felt he was not . . .” Annika struggled for the words. “Complete? Not one thing, not the other.”

  “Seventh daughter of a seventh daughter’s instincts,” Riley pointed out, “which march right alongside our resident seer’s. We saw him sign a contract with Nerezza, in blood. I restate my vote for demon.”

  “He seemed human enough,” Sawyer continued. “But edgy, jittery somehow. You know that’s not his style, Riley.”

  “Nope, cool, calm superiority. The kind that slits your throat—or more likely pays to have it slit—without the slightest rise in blood pressure.”

  “He’s pissed, too, because he can’t get the compass to work.”

  “He struck Sawyer very hard, and the bindings you took off, Bran, cut into him. The other man talked to him, so he stopped.”

  “Yeah, yeah, I guess I blanked there a minute. Malmon lost it. Yadin talked him down.”

  “He had the man put the knife in Sawyer, but he told the man to hurt me more.”

  “Increase the voltage. He said he’d fry her, and he meant it. He was past thinking of the profit he’d get from her.”

  “That’s not like him either. Probably bluffing.”

  “I don’t think so,” Sawyer told Riley. “I could see Yadin hesitate. He didn’t want the game over so fast, but he’d have done it. I gave him coordinates, since he was focused on getting the Fire Star.”

  “What coordinates?” Doyle demanded.

  “To this uninhabited island—South Pacific.”

  “How did you happen to have those
on you?” Riley wondered.

  “It’s where my grandfather took me when he was teaching me. It’s where his dad took him. We camped there for a few nights. I dreamed about it,” he remembered. “When I was out. Anyway, I told them Bran had hidden it there.”

  “You kept your wits about you,” Bran commented.

  “Wits were about all I had. So I told them part of the truth. How it wouldn’t work until I passed it on, but I embellished that. How I had to take him on the first shift. It couldn’t pass to him without that sort of ritual. I figured my only chance was to get him out of there, get him to travel with me so I could deal with him, get back for Annika. But he wanted a test run, so he picked a Red Shirt.”

  “The man with the gun didn’t have a red shirt. It was brown.”

  Now Sawyer smiled. “Star Trek. We have to catch you up.”

  “It means expendable,” Riley explained. “The crewman in the red shirt going on the mission isn’t going to make it back.”

  “Why doesn’t he change his shirt?”

  Now Sawyer laughed until the pain bloomed in his side, bringing on a hiss.

  “You have pain.”

  “It only hurts when I laugh.”

  “Don’t laugh.”

  He reached for Annika’s hand, squeezed. “Felt good anyway. So he has Yadin unhook the chain I’m hanging by, and has Red Shirt put the gun in my ear, get me in a headlock. He gives me ninety seconds—I said I needed two minutes. I didn’t, but I figured he’d cut that back. If I’m not back in ninety, he takes Anni out—hits her with enough voltage to give her brain damage. He has Yadin give her a couple good jolts, just to prove his point. Then he gave me the compass, and I fed in coordinates.”

  “Is Red Shirt wondering what the hell he’s doing on some island in the South Pacific?” Riley wondered.

  Sawyer shook his head, picked up the measly half glass of wine. Drank it down in one gulp. “No. I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t have taken him out on a one-to-one, and the time . . . So I let him go.”

  “Let him go?” Doyle repeated.

  “I disconnected. I just let him go. He’s gone.” The color the food had brought back to his face drained again. “You swear never to use the compass to hurt anyone, but I did. It’s one thing to kill in battle, but I just let him go.”

  “He had a gun to your head,” Riley reminded him. “And Annika’s life was on the line.”

  “I know it. I know that. But—”

  “You’re thinking with great power comes great responsibility.”

  He nodded at Riley. “Uncle Ben was right.”

  “The rice guy?”

  Sawyer laughed again until it became a wheeze. “Jesus, Sash, you’re as bad as Anni. Peter Parker’s uncle Ben. Spider-Man. And it’s true, the responsibility. I’ve never killed anyone before they came at us underwater the other day, and that was battle. This was . . .”

  “The same. It’s the same,” Doyle insisted. “He had a weapon, as did you. You used what you had to save Annika, and yourself. That, brother, was your responsibility.”

  “An’ it harm none.” Bran spoke the words gravely. “This is my sacred oath. I’ve never used my gift to harm another human being. Until this. And though this weighs on me as well, I know what was done was done to protect, to fight evil.”

  “They are right. I don’t like fighting, and killing is against all I believe, but I would be dead, and you as well. You were only gone seconds, it seemed,” Annika continued. “I was so weak—and I prayed you wouldn’t come back. I knew you would, in my heart, because you’re Sawyer. And I knew they would kill us both. I could feel it. As soon as this Malmon had what he wanted, he would give us to Yadin to kill in a terrible way. And then you were there, inside the glass with me, under the water with me. I knew we would live because you had the courage and the will to do what had to be done. If you think this was wrong, then you’re wrong. If anyone believes you failed to honor your oath, they are wrong and stupid.”

  “Damn skippy.” Because Annika’s eyes were full of tears, Riley reached across the table for her hands. “Damn skippy, Anni.”

  “It weighs on us.” Sasha rose, poured another half glass of wine for Sawyer. “On all of us. We killed men. Humans. And it weighs.”

  “Dying weighs more,” Riley said.

  “And more than that, than even that,” Sasha continued, “would be to fail. We’re the guardians—the stars are our power and our responsibility. No one’s broken an oath, or broken faith. They watch us, the goddesses, the guardians. They watch the six who came from them, and they see we take our power, shoulder our responsibility, keep our vows and our faith. To take a life is grief, to lose our lives is failure. The dark follows that failure across all the worlds.”

  “Was that you?” Riley asked after a beat of silence, “Or you? You had that seer look in your eyes.”

  “Some of both.” Sasha let out an audible breath. “Wherever it’s from, it’s truth. And here’s another. Sawyer, if I’m following what you’ve reported, what Annika told us, you traveled with a gun to your head—and this after being shot, stabbed, electrocuted, and tortured—you disconnected, which was hard for you, but absolutely necessary, then you went back for Annika. In the tank. Does that mean you had to use her as your . . . beacon?”

  “Yeah, that’s as good a term as any. I had the cave coordinates, but not the exact place where she was. I had to zero in on her, get inside to get her out.”

  “And fast,” Sasha continued. “Then you traveled again, here, with her. That’s three shifts inside what, ninety seconds?”

  “About that.”

  “And that sort of traveling drains you, even if you’re feeling like a party. You’d lost God knows how much blood, you were hung up like a side of beef and beaten, and worse, while you had to watch them hurt Annika, which is more torture. But you did what you had to do, and got back, barely alive. Am I right about that part?” she asked Bran.

  “It was close, closer than I’d like.”

  “Exactly. So I don’t want to hear any more bullshit out of you about any of it.”

  “Damn skippy,” Annika said. Then laid her head on the table and wept.

  “Oh, come on. Don’t, don’t, don’t do that.” Desperate, Sawyer stroked her hair, rubbed her back. When he tried to just haul her up and onto his lap, he found he didn’t have the strength. “You’re killing me, Anni.”

  “No, no, they are almost all happy tears.” She wrapped herself around him. “Almost all. We’re here, we’re all here, talking. And I heard you laugh, even though it hurt you, I heard you laugh.”

  She brushed kisses over his face, met his lips, and simply drowned herself in him.

  “Want some privacy?” Riley wondered.

  “If only,” Sawyer murmured. “I don’t think I could manage it.”

  “There will be sex again.” Through tears, Annika smiled at him. “When you’re healed. I will be very gentle until you’re strong again.”

  He ignored Doyle’s snort of laughter. “Good to know. So okay, no bullshit.” He picked up his wine, studied it. “Power honored, responsibility met. I’ll get there. There was more to the need to rush, to do what I had to do. Malmon called Berger in. He told him to kill Sasha. He wanted Bran wounded, but Sasha dead. He wanted the rest taken alive, so he ordered Trake to bring a team down here to take care of that while Berger took Sasha out.”

  “You worry Nerezza, fáidh.” Under the table, Bran took her hand. “She can’t force her will on you, can’t pull your power away and into herself as she believed. You worried for all of us,” he said to Sawyer. “But we’d prepared for exactly that.”

  “Yeah, I figured Berger for toast, but still. The tank shook. Did the tank shake?” he asked Annika. “The light—it exploded?”

  “Yes. Just as you came for me. Malmon ran, but he couldn’t have run fast enough to escape the light.”

  “We were dealing with Trake and company when you were heading in,” Riley continued. “We were
ready for them. Bran set off the chain reaction up in the hills, and we had plenty more for them here. There . . . was nothing left of them. Wounding with the newly magickalized—I’m going with that word—weaponry, it puts a world of hurt on them. But a kill shot, it just obliterates. Nothing left.”

  “No bodies to dispose of. That’s the cold truth here,” Doyle added when Sasha winced.

  “You’re right,” she said. “I know you’re right. Bran and Riley went up to the cave yesterday. We had to check, and after some heated debate, Riley went, Doyle stayed. We couldn’t take the chance of Bran going alone, or of leaving us underprotected here. So . . .”

  “Nothing left,” Bran told him. “The cave is just a cave. There was . . . a smear of something on the air, something dark. But faint and fading.”

  “We salted the ground, and Bran did a cleansing.” Riley shrugged. “And that was that.”

  “So we won that round. We have to go back to the search,” Sawyer said. “We have to get moving on it before she figures out how she’ll come at us next.”

  Sasha picked up her wine again. “No.”

  “What do you mean, no?”

  “We go as six or not at all. Until you’re strong enough to dive, it’s not at all.”

  “Jesus, I can handle a little swimming. Another little boost from Bran’s magick potion, I could do a triathlon.”

  Saying nothing, Doyle leaned over, gave Sawyer a light punch on the shoulder. And Sawyer saw stars.

  “Fuck!”

  “You’re on the DL, brother, until you can take a love tap without whining.”

  “Love tap, my ass.”

  “The stars have waited centuries,” Bran pointed out. “They can wait a few more days. When she does come again, we need you.”

  “I can tell you when having sex causes him no pain.”

  “That’s a good benchmark.” Kicking back, Riley gestured with her beer. “And maybe you should be specific. Like what kind of sex.”

  “And how long he lasts,” Doyle added, and made Riley grin.

  “They’re messing with us, Annika. Kidding.”

  “I’m absolutely serious.” Riley cocked her head at Doyle. “You?”

  “Deadly. Keep us updated, Gorgeous.”

  “I will. And when he’s healed, we’ll find the Bay of Sighs. We know we must be close because I heard them again.”

  “What? When?”

  “When you were bringing me back. Didn’t you hear them sigh, hear them sing?”

  “I . . .” He cast his mind back. “I thought it was you. I did hear something. Jesus, I did.”

  “And I’ve got something,” Riley put in. “Since you’ve been in your magickally induced coma, I’ve been able to spend more time on it. I’ve got some nibbles.”

  “And now you tell us?” Doyle demanded.

  “I got the nibbles right before Sleeping Beauty here woke up. I was coming out to report. There is a legend. I know a guy who knows a guy who knows. But the guy who knows is currently on a retreat, so I can’t tap him for more data for a couple days. Meanwhile, I’m digging on my own. Like most legends, it has a lot of variations, but the one that strikes me connects the Bay of Sighs to the Island of Glass.”

  “Interesting.” Bran leaned forward. “What do you know?”

 
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