“Sexy,” repeated Norm, though he was looking directly at an unsuspecting Jared − it wasn’t an uncommon thing.
Unlike Jared, Fletcher hadn’t missed that and he shot his boyfriend a scowl that swore repercussions.
Norm snickered. “Oh you can look, but I can’t?”
“I’m pleased we’ve sorted that out,” replied Fletcher with a cheeky smile that made Norm gape in outrage. Turning back to me, Fletcher said, “Widow Twankey’s nowhere to be seen. Does that mean she’s gone?” When I shook my head, he gave me a castigating look. “You must have a screw loose to keep her around. Well, at least she’s not here at the party.”
Right at that moment, I couldn’t have cared less where she was. With Jared wrapped around me and the fabulous atmosphere, the woman didn’t seem important. We continued to dance and eat and dance and eat…right up until sunrise when the street party finally ended, culminating in an amazing firework display.
Even if the street party hadn’t been so incredible, we would still have enjoyed the night. We had a list of reasons to be happy. I had been totally accepted by all so there was no longer any worry that Jared may have to step down from his position. Magda and Brook were very wisely keeping a low profile. There had been no more bouts of excruciating pain or attacks of bloodlust. And my gifts were now under total control − not to mention stronger.
But our contentedness only lasted until dusk when we received a message from Antonio, summoning us to meet with him. Ryder had got the information we needed.
I was glad to be meeting with Antonio in this particular room of his mansion. In the centre of the huge space was a large glass aviary. Inside, with the many trees and plants, there were canaries, rabbits, guinea pigs, and lots of different types of birds. Making it even nicer, a tiny stream bordered the entire aviary.
This room was where Antonio came whenever he felt overwhelmed by things; he’d once said that the peaceful space relaxed him. So, as always, he and Luther were wearing beaming smiles as they watched the animals scurrying around. At my entrance, the dogs immediately came to sniff and nuzzle my hands. Jared received merely a fleeting, dismissive look from them, which made him snort.
“So what did Ryder find out?” Jared gruffly asked Antonio. He never bothered with pleasantries when he was in this kind of mood. And why was he in a bad mood? He’d been hoping that Ryder wouldn’t retrieve the relevant information until after our ceremony. Yeah, I could understand that. But I’d rather have the whole thing over with before then, as it would mean I could totally relax and have nothing on my mind other than the ceremony. Hopefully this peaceful place would work its wonders on Jared.
Antonio’s mouth twitched in amusement at Jared’s abruptness. “I believe there is plenty that you should be able to use to shut down this operation once and for all.”
“Good.” Somehow, that managed to sound like a growl.
I elbowed Jared hard. “Snap out of it. You said sex would cheer you up. Clearly that was a load of bleeding shite.”
He released a long-suffering sigh. “Fine. Tell us what Ryder found out,” he said more calmly.
Antonio nodded. “The Deliverer, Wendy, did not know much at all. She was merely given the position by the Medics, and was told not to ask questions. She didn’t. The Medics, on the other hand – Sandra and Mitch, I believe their names are – proved very useful.”
The powerful Keja settled himself on one of the benches before continuing. “None of them had known each other prior to becoming Medics. Erik had been struck off the medical register for misconduct. Mitch had been in an accident that left him with a tremor in his hand, which meant he could no longer be a surgeon and so he lost his job. Sandra was in medical school but struggling to pay for it herself.
“One thing that applied to all of them was that they were financially struggling. Erik and Mitch had lost big jobs, but still had big mortgages and families to support. Sandra worked part-time as a waitress, but some of her wages were going to her mother, who was an alcoholic and mostly drinking it away.”
A part of me could sympathise with that, but I didn’t feel that it could possibly excuse anything that they had done.
“Each was recruited separately. They were teased by a stranger with the idea of a job that would be the answer to all of their problems. They were then given a card and asked to call if they wished to talk about it more. Each of them did. Separately, they were collected and taken to a detached house. There, they were informed exactly what they would be required to do and asked if they had problems with this. These people are known as the Handlers.”
“I take it the Medics didn’t have any issues.”
“Sandra had had her doubts, but apparently because of her own childhood, her belief was that children would be better off with financially comfortable families. She was assuming that the babies were going to such people. Mitch had simply needed the money desperately as he was extremely close to losing everything. Erik had been scared and intimidated into saying yes after, without their knowledge, watching one of the vampires feeding on a human.”
No wonder he had been so petrified of us.
“After accepting the position, all of them had their memories altered so that they remembered only what they needed to remember. Erik had, at one point, seen fangs after meeting with one of the Handlers, and it had sparked the other memories to resurface. He therefore knew exactly where the babies were going, and exactly who they would be going to.”
“Yet he didn’t stop?” Jared’s expression morphed into one of disgust.
“It wasn’t sitting well with him. Many times he had considered going to the police, but he was in too deep and he had a wife and twin daughters. Apparently, though, the vampires had noticed the guilt, so they had frightened him by telling him that if he talked, they would drink his wife dry and sell his children before then killing him.”
My eyebrows rose. “I suppose that explains why he was prepared to slit his own throat rather than tell us anything.”
“Was Ryder able to get us any names?” Jared asked Antonio.
“Yes. The name of the person who did most of the talking was ‘Zeke’. The one with the gift of meddling with memories was ‘Blake’.” Antonio smiled slightly as he added, “Ryder did sketches of them, but he’s no artist, so don’t expect too much.”
“This house that Erik, Sandra, and Mitch were taken to,” I began. “Did Ryder manage to get an address?” I wasn’t optimistic about that.