Low Midnight Page 66

Not a crush. Professional admiration.

Right, whatever you say. Cormac read the e-mail.

“I notice you removed Amy Scanlon’s book from your Web site. I assume that means you successfully decoded it?”

He had a dilemma. He didn’t want to say yes—that would show way too much of his hand, and this guy was way too interested. He typed out a carefully ambiguous response: “Still working on it, but I decided having it online wasn’t solving anything.”

Hard, not to sit there staring at the screen, waiting for a response. He was inclined to take a walk around the block, even this late at night, but Amelia suggested reading a book instead—a history of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius. He kept glancing up at the screen.

It’s the illusion of being instantaneous, Amelia complained. It raises expectations intolerably.

When the e-mail arrived, an hour or so later, the computer dinged its arrival.

The response read: “I would like to meet you. You have skills and knowledge, and I can use someone with both.”

Well, that was interesting.

We are looking for employment, aren’t we?

“That depends. I get the feeling this guy isn’t offering employment, but something else.”

You’re nervous.

“You bet I am.” He typed in a response: “I don’t know anything about you. Who are you?”

They waited. The next message arrived.

“I am called Roman.”

The words swam, then grew large. Coincidence. Maybe it was a coincidence.

Not fucking likely.

Cormac grit his teeth and raced to come up with a reply, because this was happening real time now and any pause would raise suspicions. He couldn’t let on that he’d heard the name before, that he knew who his correspondent was. He ought to shut down communications entirely—but that would also raise suspicions. And this—it was too good a lead. If only he could figure out exactly what to say, the words that wouldn’t make Roman suspect he was talking to an enemy. This had to sound ordinary, to make Roman complacent. Draw him in without bringing doom on himself. He’d never hunted anything like this.

I have good reason to believe that the eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii was instigated by magic, the man had written before. Oh, Cormac just bet he did.

Tell him this, Amelia said.

Cormac typed out, “My name is Amelia Parker. Let’s do meet.” And hit SEND.

She was crazy. He never should have let her do that, but the words were already gone. On the other hand … They wanted to stop Roman—this was the best chance anyone had had to do it. Meet the guy, put a nice solid stake in his chest before he even knew what was happening. Done and done.

But I have so many questions.…

No. We stake this guy on sight, no hesitation.

Amelia didn’t argue.

“Very good tomeet you, Amelia Parker. I’ll be in touch,” the man called Roman replied. And that was that. Cormac didn’t have anything to say after that.

He didn’t know if Kitty was going to be happy about this, or kill him.

*   *   *

“YOU ENJOY it. The hunt, the anticipation,” Amelia said.

“Not sure enjoy is the right word.” It was a rush, a thrill. An addiction. Possibly the only thing he was good at.

She wore a thin smile, immensely satisfied at the work they’d done. Even the curveball at the end couldn’t dull her enthusiasm. It was another mystery to chase, more knowledge to be won.

The meadow was sunny today. High summer, a haze hanging in the air, insects flitting above the creek. Nice contrast to the winter chill in the waking world. He could tip his face up, feel the sun, and never get a sunburn. They sat on their pair of rocks, close enough to touch if he wanted to.

“This could get us killed,” he said. It was what he’d been thinking about. “Roman’s seen me, he knows what I look like and who I am. If we really set up a meeting and go through with it, he’ll know something’s wrong. He won’t give us a chance to say anything. It’ll be another one of your gunfights at high noon.”

“Or midnight, rather, considering what he is. You don’t think we can win against him in a face-to-face meeting.”

“He’s two thousand years old and he’s spent all that time getting more dangerous. I think we have a chance. Just not a very good one. I just want to make sure you’re okay with that.”

“You think because I so assiduously avoided death once, I’m loathe to face it again?” She pulled her knees up, tucked under her long skirt, and her gaze was downcast. “Of course I’d rather not face it again. I’m well aware that when you die, I likely will as well. I don’t believe the fabric of my soul can survive that trial a second time. And it’s your life, Cormac. It’s your decision to make.”

But it wasn’t. Not entirely, not anymore. What a weird thought.

Amelia was watching him, studying him. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“For what?”

“For being here. Your life would be very different, if not for me. I would hate to think that I’ve damaged you in some way. Altered what you would have been without me.”

Good odds that what he would have been was dead. Or back in prison, or back to hunting and damn the consequences. He gave a wry smile. “You didn’t much care about damaging me at the start.”

“A lot’s happened since then.”

Yes, it had. What hadn’t changed: even without the guns, he kept getting in trouble and someday, somehow he was likely to get himself killed. It didn’t scare him.

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