Seventy-odd miles behind him was the seaside town of Anzio, where Lazaro had joined Turati on his yacht a couple of hours ago. Up ahead of them, an even farther distance, the island of Sardinia glittered with light against the darkness.
A smattering of other large yachts and watercraft bobbed in the vast space between Turati’s vessel and the island, but it was the low drone of a motorboat that captured Lazaro’s full attention. The size of a small cabin cruiser, the yacht tender had departed from an idling vessel in the distance and was heading Lazaro’s way. He watched the chase boat approach from out of the inky darkness, its navigation lights dimmed as instructed, flashing three times as it crossed the water toward them.
His Breed colleague from the States did not disappoint. Byron Walsh was arriving as promised, and right on time.
Lazaro nodded, grim with relief.
He turned away from the rail and headed down to the yacht’s main deck salon where Turati waited. On Lazaro’s directions and assurances, the gray-haired billionaire had brought just two men from his usual security entourage. The yacht’s crew of fifty had been reduced to a bare dozen, just enough personnel to operate the vessel.
At Lazaro’s entrance to the lavish salon, Turati glanced up, wiry brows lifting in question. “He comes?” the old man asked in his native tongue.
Lazaro answered in Italian as well. “The boat is on the way now.” As tonight’s host did not speak English, Lazaro would personally translate for the duration of the meeting, if only to ensure that the conversation didn’t inadvertently stray into unfriendly waters.
Paolo Turati was one of a small number of humans Lazaro considered a friend. He was also one of the few humans who didn’t look upon the Breed as a race of monsters in need of collaring at best, or, at worst, wholesale extermination.
Granted, the fear wasn’t without cause. For millennia, the Breed existed in the shadows alongside their Homo sapiens neighbors. In the twenty years since Lazaro’s kind was outed to man, trust between the two races on the planet had been anything but easy.
That trust became even more complicated a couple of weeks ago, when a violent cabal calling themselves Opus Nostrum smuggled a bomb into a very important summit gathering of Breed and human dignitaries.
If tonight’s introductions went well, the Breed would gain a supportive voice and a much-needed ally in their efforts to keep the peace between man and vampire all around the world. If it went poorly, the Order’s efforts to broker peace could ignite the smoldering war that Opus Nostrum seemed to want so badly.
“I hope your friend from Maryland comes to this meeting with the same intentions as I do,” Turati said, apprehension in the flat line of his mouth, even though the old human’s eyes held Lazaro in a trusting look. “If I like what I hear tonight, I will do what I can to persuade my brother to at least entertain the idea of talks with the GNC and Lucan Thorne. After all, everyone’s goal is peace, not only for ourselves, but for our generations to follow.”
“Indeed,” Lazaro replied. His acute Breed hearing picked up the faint, approaching growl of the boat carrying Byron Walsh. “He’s arriving now. Wait here, Paolo. I’ll go down to meet him and bring him up.”
Turati frowned then shook his head. “I will join you, Lazaro. It seems only proper that I greet Councilman Walsh personally and welcome him aboard along with you. I would do no less for any invited guest.”
Lazaro inclined his head in agreement. “A fine idea.”
He waited patiently as the old man stood and smoothed his custom-tailored navy suit and creamy silk shirt. By contrast, Lazaro was dressed in what he’d come to regard as Order casual—black slacks, light-duty combat boots, and a fitted black patrol shirt.
And although he was first generation Breed and more than deadly with his bare hands alone, he carried a blade concealed in each boot and had a semiautomatic 9mm pistol strapped to his right ankle. He didn’t expect trouble from either of the two men or their few staff present at tonight’s meeting, but he’d be damned if he didn’t come prepared for it.
Together, he and Turati left the grand salon on the yacht’s second level, making their way down a polished brass stairwell that spiraled elegantly onto the lower deck. The boat carrying Walsh was coming around the stern as Lazaro and Turati arrived on the aft deck to meet it.
A suited bodyguard stood at attention on the motorboat, just outside the cabin’s hatch. He was Breed, as big and menacing as any one of Lazaro’s kind. Turati’s steps hesitated at the sight of the unsmiling guard. The two men comprising the Italian’s own security detail now stood behind their employer, pulses spiking with a tension Lazaro felt as a palpable vibration in the air.
He gave a solemn nod of greeting to Walsh’s guard, the signal as good as his word that Walsh would be safe among friends tonight. The guard turned, opened the hatch to murmur an “all clear” to the boat’s occupants.
Byron Walsh appeared in that next instant. Dressed less formally than Turati, the Breed diplomat emerged from the cabin in a crisp white shirt with rolled-back sleeves and fawn-colored slacks. Although Walsh was formidable-looking, over six feet tall and heavily muscled, like all of their kind, his relaxed attire softened his edges.
As did the smile he gave as he disembarked from his tender and stepped onto the deck of Turati’s yacht. Walsh’s friendliness seemed genuine, even if his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. There was an undercurrent of anxiety about him, as if he hadn’t yet decided if he was stepping onto safe ground or a nest of vipers.