Chapter 8, Part 3-2 (End Chapter 8)

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Dixon took in a deep breath, cautioning himself to relax his expression before turning around. As he did, a band of men barged into the front door. Noise and confusion accompanied them. Sanctuary guests spread out and backed toward the walls. Dixon looked to the woman who'd spoken as her eyes moved to the men. She exchanged a long glance with their leader.

In that moment, Dixon knew. He knew the source of danger. He knew it was these men who had pursued Rowena. He knew it was this woman who'd sent them. He knew.

He willed himself to remain calm. He couldn't let on about what he'd concluded. "Lilith," he finally said, "how good to see you." He stepped toward the woman. Then turning to the men who'd rushed into sanctuary behind her, he addressed them. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but this is sanctuary."

"Here, here, gentlemen," Ted said, "you are most welcome. Of course we must ask you to leave your weapons there, at the door. They'll be safe, I assure you." He turned and caught the attention of another Oathtaker. "Robert," he called, "please stand guard for these men over their . . . things."

"Yes, you should know better," Lilith scolded. Her eyes bore into the men. Then she turned her attention back to Dixon, a smile fixed upon her lips, her head tilted. "Dixon, so good to see you, too."

She glided toward him, her red silken skirts flirting about her. She was stunning, with hair like gilded gold, eyes of a deep green, and lips red and glossy. An almost sickeningly sweet scent, reminiscent of roses and lilies, surrounded her.

Dixon desperately wanted to see the reactions of the men to whom she'd spoken, but he dared not give her any inkling of his suspicions. Keeping his eyes fixed on her, he grasped just above her wrists to best keep her at a distance.

He turned to Ted and Faith. With Lilith unable to see his expression, he caught the eye of each of his friends for a moment, his brow raised by way of warning.

"Lilith," he said as he turned back to her, "let me introduce you to some friends of mine. Ted," he began, as he stepped aside.

Lilith approached Ted. Accustomed to having great power over men, her every movement was choreographed for maximum effect, for conquest: eyes narrowed, but not too much; lips pursed, but not too much; chest breathing hard—but not too much.

Ted shook her hand. Covering his with her own, she ever so slightly caressed it . . . but not too much.

Ted glanced at Dixon, who surmised his friend had read Lilith expertly, then looked back at her. "Pleased to meet you." He bowed slightly.

"No. No, it's my pleasure," she responded, holding out on the word 'pleasure.'

"Faith," Dixon said, "let me introduce you to Rowena's sister, Lilith, a sixth."

As Lilith greeted Faith, he looked at Ted, and with quiet gestures, filled him in on what he'd just discovered. His eyes moved quickly to Lilith, then to the men who'd barged into sanctuary behind her, then back again.

With a nod, Ted communicated his understanding. "Please excuse me," he said, "I must see to my duties." He exited sanctuary from the back door.

"Dixon," Lilith purred, "this is all very nice. I'm always happy to meet your friends. But where is Rowena?" She held his arm, pressing against him.

He wanted to take his time, to drag things out. He wanted to give Mara as much time as possible to get as far away as possible.

"Well," he finally drawled, "that's a long story and . . . not a happy one, I'm sorry to say."

"Oh, Dixon!" she said, leaning even more closely, brushing her breast against him. It was a mannerism she'd practiced to perfection. "You always talk in riddles!" Her laughter bubbled, but there was no sincerity to it.

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