Spade looked at the hazy ground below them, seek ing the natural landmark that would confirm their location. Denise's heart hammered against his chest, her scent of fear enveloping him and her breathing so accelerated, he wished she hadn't made him swear a blood oath against trancing her.
Once he found what he was looking for, Spade pulled Denise tighter to him and jumped out of the plane.
The air rushed past Denise too fast for her to suck enough of it in to scream. It felt like all her organs rose within her, making her earlier threat about puking a real possibility. The whooshing speed and endless emptiness beneath her was terrifying. If she could have crawled inside Spade's skin to cling tighter to him, she would have. Only the feel of Spade's arms around her, hard and steady, kept her from passing out.
Then some of that nauseating lift in her guts began to ease and the roar of wind became less deafening. Now she could breathe enough to scream, so she did, in longer and longer peals.
Over that, she heard Spade speaking. "We're fine, no need to scream. You could even open your eyes now, if you like."
She did, looking down - and then squeezed them shut with another shriek. Spade had them zipping through the air parallel to the ground, still so high that cars looked small in contrast. Was he crazy, telling her to look at that?
"How much longer?" she managed to grit out.
"Just a few more seconds."
Even freaked as she was, it didn't escape Denise's notice that Spade sounded amused. Sure, laugh at the human who can't fly, Mr. Master Vampire. Just wait until they got on the ground.
After what seemed like hours, Denise felt a small jerk, and then Spade said, "See? We're here and you're perfectly safe."
She tilted her head down and opened her eyes a slit. Their shoes, surrounded by grass, met her gaze. Beautiful, solid, wonderfully flat grass. Spade let her slide from his arms, but it took a few moments before the shaking left her limbs enough for her to stand on her own.
As soon as she did, she shoved him away hard enough to make him take a step backward. "How dare you laugh at me on the way down!"
Spade held out a conciliatory hand, but that amused expression didn't quite leave his face.
"Now, Denise - "
"Don't you 'Denise' me," she snapped. "I don't care how old, powerful, or strong you are. If you ever do something like that again, I'll stab you in the heart. Son of a bitch, I can't believe you threw me out of a plane!"
Spade still looked like he was fighting back his laughter. "I didn't throw you out. I jumped with you. Very different."
She wanted to smack him, but the small part of her that wasn't still crouched in an inner ball over their recent free fall recognized the logic behind his actions. No way could Raum track her in a normal way, with Spade winging them several thousand feet off the ground after leaping from a plane. Denise had known vampires could fly, but she hadn't realized the extent of that ability. She'd just thought they could do short little spurts off the ground. Not double as a helicopter with fangs.
"Now where?" she said, trying to calm her still-slamming heartbeat.
"To your parents' house, of course. I've had a car left for us over by the monument. Then we'll be off to my home."
"Your home in St. Louis?"
Spade smiled. "No, Denise. My home in England."
Almost twenty-four hours later, Spade saw the familiar high hedges that encircled the perimeter of his property in Durham. He nudged Denise beside him. Although she'd stayed awake for the entire flight from Virginia to England - flying a commercial jet, much to her preference - she'd finally fallen asleep on the car ride from the airport. Alten drove, so Spade would have settled her more comfortably in his lap, but she'd insisted she wasn't tired right up until she nodded off.
"We're here," he told Denise.
She blinked...and then her eyes widened as they pulled into the driveway.
"This is your house?" she asked.
Spade heard the shock in her voice and suppressed his grin. His estate properties used to be much larger, but as he traveled so much, he'd sold off several acres in the past century and just kept his manor home for sentimental reasons. The main house was considered average-sized in his youth, but it would look sprawling by modern standards. The first segment was built in the early sixteen hundreds, and then different generations of DeMortimers added to it for the next two hundred years. It changed hands in the early eighteen hundreds when Spade was a new vampire in Australia, but once he reclaimed it in the mid eighteen fifties, he'd added two new wings. Then he'd renovated it every few decades or so. The result was a mixture of gothic architecture and modern convenience.
Denise swung her gaze back to Spade. "You must be filthy rich."
He shrugged. "I inherited it, at first. Lost everything when I was sent to New South Wales, of course, but over time, I managed to get it back."
She still seemed unable to reconcile him with the manor they were pulling up to.
"I thought barons were a smaller class of aristocracy. Guess I remembered my history wrong."
"Barony was indeed the lowest level in the rank of nobility back in my time, but baron was also a courtesy title given to the oldest son. My father was the Earl of Ashcroft, the title I inherited after his death. But by then I was a vampire, so I never felt right about using earl as my title. That was intended for a living son, something I no longer was."
Spade couldn't stop the memories from thickening his voice. The last time he'd seen his father was in the jailer's cell, shortly before being sent off to the colonies. His father hadn't said anything to him. He'd stood there, his once proud frame hunched, and cried. Not in shame at the fate of his only son being transported due to debts that couldn't be repaid, but in guilt.
Denise was silent for another minute. Then she said, "I don't want to know what that house looked like that you gave to Ian because of me. No wonder you keep telling me you won't let me pay you back. I probably couldn't, even if I gave you every cent I had."
Spade jerked his memories back from the past. "Will you stop fretting about that? Ian will likely offer it to me in a wager over something in the next few years, then I'll win it back. Or he'll want a favor and he'll swap it in return for my assistance. Its loss isn't permanent."
She gave him a watery smile. "You'd tell me that even if it wasn't true, wouldn't you?"
Yes, he would, not that he'd admit that. "Nonsense. That's just how vampires are. If you want something, it has a price, but then it comes back 'round again."