By the time Cronin had made arrangements to meet Kennard inside the British Museum, Eiji had armed himself and Jodis with quivers of arrows and stakes, and Kole had declared he wasn’t going anywhere if it involved leaping. Jacques would stay with him, as would Eleanor. Alec knew his father would more than likely go back to bed, considering it was after midnight, New York time.
In truth, Alec realized, his dad looked like he could use the rest. He looked tired, worn, and worried. “Be safe, huh?” was all Kole said before Alec, Cronin, Eiji, and Jodis disappeared.
In what was his third country in less than an hour, Alec found himself standing inside the British Museum. It was lit only by security lighting, the room was huge with high glass ceilings. Everything else was marble and tile, including the stairs that wrapped around both sides of the round room. They’d landed in the Great Court, and Kennard along with two vampires Alec had not met before, greeted them with warm smiles.
Cronin greeted them with a blunt, “Security?”
Kennard waved his hand toward the far wall, where Alec assumed there were offices. “Taken care of,” he said smugly. “Davis here ensured the video surveillance will play on a loop of empty rooms, and Julia helped the guards to sleep. They’ll wake up just fine after we’ve gone, of course.”
Alec hated to admit that as a cop he’d detest what they were doing, but now he was on the other side of the ethical fence, he thought their ability to remain undetected was pretty damn cool.
The tall male vampire, who Alec assumed to be Davis, bowed his head to Alec. “It is an honor,” he said, his British accent thick.
The woman, Julia, followed suit. “And a privilege,” she said, sounding more Cockney.
Alec swallowed hard. He would never get used to people treating him as though he were royalty or something. “Um, thanks?”
Eiji laughed and shook hands with Kennard. “It’s been too long, my friend.”
Kennard grinned widely. “You’re feeling better?”
Then Kennard took Jodis’ hand, and Alec half expected him to kiss it. He didn’t, though, he slightly bowed instead. “My memory does your beauty injustice.”
Jodis rolled her eyes. “Yet I remember your charms just fine.”
Kennard laughed and Jodis smiled at him. It was clear they were old friends, and Alec envied their history. He was such a newcomer, so young compared to them all, and it was mind-blowing to think Alec’s entire lifespan of twenty-nine years must have felt like a week to them.
“Alec,” Kennard cooed. He smoothly took Alec’s hand and looked up at him.
Cronin growled, making Kennard laugh. “I see someone has his jealous pants on today.”
Cronin’s growl got louder and a lot more serious, and Kennard stopped smiling. He turned to Cronin and raised an eyebrow in question.
Eiji quickly stood between them and pulled Kennard’s hand from Alec’s. “He means nothing of it. It seems there are undue consequences from drinking Alec’s blood.”
Alec quickly stepped around Eiji so he could touch Cronin. He put one arm around him, standing half side-on to Kennard.
Jodis added. “Or from being fated to a human, we don’t know. There are many questions and very few answers.”
Kennard blinked, his expression grew concerned. “Why did you not say anything?”
“Changes in Cronin’s behavior are not something we want made public,” Alec said.
“Hmm,” Kennard hummed with a serious nod. “A point I can understand.”
“I apologize,” Cronin said quietly. “I cannot help it, or so it seems.”
“My friend,” Kennard said warmly. “Apologies not required. I was unaware. But rest assured, I won’t touch him.” Then he smiled. “Unless he wants me to.”
Cronin growled again.
Kennard’s lips twisted. “Or make jokes about it either, apparently.”
Alec tightened his arm around Cronin, wanting—no, not wanting, needing—to reassure him. To protect him, to ground him and soothe him. And in that moment, Alec knew if Kennard or anyone else tried to touch Cronin, he’d do more than growl at them himself.
“It seems it’s a mutual symbiosis,” Kennard mused, looking at how Alec was almost curling around Cronin.
Jodis nodded. “We need to fight whatever war is coming and finish it before this symbiosis”—she nodded toward Alec and Cronin—“as you call it, becomes irreparable.”
This time Alec growled and Cronin’s hold on him tightened. “We’re not broken,” he murmured.
Kennard eyed them both cautiously with a look on his face that clearly said, Well, you’re not too freakin’ normal either, but he very wisely changed subject. “Tell me what you’ve uncovered since we visited Jorge.”
As they told him what they’d learned and of the attack in New York, Alec looked around the museum. Alec could see it was grand, even in the dark. To the left, guarding an entrance to what was obviously the Egyptian exhibit, were two statues. Memories of Egyptian mummies—the screams they made and the unholy stench of death—assaulted Alec’s mind, and he shivered from head to foot.
Cronin noticed, of course, and looked to see what had caught Alec’s eye. But then Alec had noticed something else. To the right of the cylindrical room were two large banners, both easily twelve feet tall, each picture was of a Terracotta Soldier standing guard at the door.
Not paying any attention to what the others were saying, Alec was drawn to the right. Whether it was fate or curiosity, Alec found himself walking toward the Ancient Chinese exhibition.
When he got to the door, he stopped. “Alec,” Cronin said. He was right behind him, and Alec was of the impression it was not the first time Cronin had called his name—he’d just not heard it. He was so engrossed, so hypnotized by the lure of the Terracotta Army. All seven vampires were now behind him, watching him cautiously. Eiji and Jodis both now had wooden stakes in their hands.
“This way,” Alec said quietly. It was almost dreamlike, like he was almost floating, but he led them into the room.
There were square pillars lining the long and narrow room, holding up the grand and ornate ceiling. Alongside the pillars were glass cabinets of antiques that normally Alec would love to inspect and question, but in that moment he cared for none of it. Because in the center of the room, behind glass walls, were six Terracotta Soldiers. They faced him, stoic and still, like they were waiting just for him.
Four foot soldiers stood and two archers knelt in combat formation, and Alec stood before them. The silence was deafening, everything was eerily still, though it was far from peaceful. Alec’s heart was hammering, his gut instinct was telling him to turn and run, yet he stood as motionless as the terracotta men before him.
Then a strangled, horrific bray broke the silence like thunder. Alec spun to the sound to see a lone terracotta cavalryman tethered to a terracotta horse in a glass room. The horse, with its mouth open and its eyes wide, pulled its head back, braying again. Slowly it lifted one foot, and when it stomped to the ground, the terracotta foot broke off and the animal screamed.
Then in an unfolding horror, the six terracotta men in front of him moved. The foot soldiers moved their arms, as if lifting weapons they weren’t holding, and the kneeling archers slowly stood up and aimed their arrows at Alec.
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