Welcome to the tenth and final in the set of excerpts from BOND OF FIRE.
The small plane burst out of the fog, catching sight of the landing pattern only at the last moment. Hélène automatically planted her feet firmly, bracing herself for the coming steep descent and screeching stop. Despite the decades the British Secret Service had used this isolated station, they’d never bothered to lengthen the runway. Supposedly, poor facilities deterred detection.
Right, just like an empty wallet improved creativity and everyone needed to be toughened up to do a good job. Her mouth tightened.
The plane bounced, and she flung her arm across her sleeping seat mate, making sure he wasn’t harmed. But his all-too-even, painkiller-assisted breathing never changed. She sighed, thankful for one small favor.
They’d lost two of her team’s eight people during this last mission. No matter what the official report would say, she and the rest knew the true cause – exhaustion. Too many missions, coming too close together, had left too little time to rest and learn the ways of the new enemy. Damn those hard-pushing, shortsighted bureaucrats to hell!
Three of the remaining five had privately told her they didn’t plan to reenlist, while the other two were already slated to become instructors. Her team was wiped out – and they’d been the best of the best.
The outcome might have been different if the damned Secret Service still permitted a mix of vampiros and compañeros, instead of demanding only vampiros and prosaicos. Compañeros’ greater stamina and lifespan permitted greater skills and longer missions, as had been proven during both world wars.
And by dearest, dearest Jean-Marie. . .
But, no, the penny-pinching accountants had ruled out compañeros, calling their pensions too expensive.
Damn fools. They could have at least looked at how those American patrones were using compañeros as warriors and future vampiros. Texas’s Don Rafael, in particular, was a vicious fighter ruling an enormous esfera. He’d only incorporate compañeros into his men’s ranks if they were effective.
She growled under her breath. The plane’s engines screamed while it fought to land, echoing her opinion of the bureaucrats.
Duncan glanced sideways at her. Probably wondering why she was visibly angry, instead of her more typical icy calm.
The plane brought itself to a stop, and the lights came up. Its passengers unfolded themselves from their team, silently gathering their duffels with the ease of long practice. Hélène went down the stairs first, expecting to find someone from London to give them passes home. Duncan brought up the rear, using his strength to ease the injured.
Fog wrapped itself around them, barely bothering to reveal an architectural abomination’s sullen lights squatting next to the tarmac. Diesel fumes touched the air, along with jet fuel. Somewhere in the distance, waves beat relentlessly upon the land, a reminder of tides’ inevitable success.
“About time you made it back.” A tallish man, on the shady side of thirty, shoved his thinning blond hair back from his forehead. “There’s a coach waiting to take you lot in for debrief. After that, the chief wants to start planning the next mission.”
Two of her men groaned, very softly.
Hélène’s hackles rose at the fool’s tone. Another of those stupid prosaico bureaucrats, who thought he was powerful because he was one of the very few who knew about vampiros.
It was past time for Whitehall to learn what a treasure her people were. If that meant doing without them for a while, the lesson could start immediately – before anyone else died.
The only sure way to give her team a break was to remove herself, since they were trained to work with her – the rare and dangerous firestarter.
“Any questions?” asked the young bureaucrat, stomping his feet in a futile attempt to warm them.
“What’s the magic word?” She smiled at him sweetly.
“What?” His brows snapped together.
“The magic word that will make me want to take my people on this mission.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Of course you have to do this!”
“I don’t have to – and neither do they. You see, my contract with the British Crown ends when I can walk in twilight – which now I can. So time’s up, and you have to convince me to accept a new mission.”
“That’s insane. . .”
“No, that’s a fact. You can look it up in your own archives. It gets better, too.” Tossing in an American colloquialism was delicious fun – it made his face turn even redder, his neck swell, and her people glow. “Since every team member is trained to work only with one vampiro, not as individuals – if I don’t go, they don’t either. At least not until they’re retrained, which takes time.” She goaded him a little more. “I’m still waiting to hear that magic word. . . .”
He came out of his stupefaction with a roar. “By God, I’ll have you arrested for treason!”
“Try it and every other vampiro in Britain will come after you, starting with the vampiros mayores.” That home truth was edged with steel. “Do you have a fine speech for me?”
“Of course not!”
“In that case, I bid you au revoir.” She bowed slightly, never taking her eyes off him. “Come along, friends, we’re taking that vacation they promised us a year ago.”
She entered the building’s dubious warmth, and the others followed, never looking back at the gobbling bureaucrat.
She’d have to make sure her people were taken care of next, before she rested.
But what could she do after that to heal? Make more money?
She harrumphed softly and barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Nothing had ever distracted her from missing Jean-Marie. She’d even tried the wildest debauchery.
What else was there?
Her beloved house in Oxford and the simple life she led there, filled with books, intellectual challenges, and dreams of sharing her discoveries with Jean-Marie.
For brief diversions, she could go shopping in London. She’d always enjoyed the hunt for the perfect dress, although not as much as little Celeste had. It would at least be better than sitting at home, wishing Jean-Marie was cuddling her again.
Excerpt from Bond of Fire by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2008 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved