ALL COMMENTS WILL BE REPLIED TO NEXT WEEK. ALONG WITH THE POSTING OF FANGSPACE. SEXY SUNDAY SNACK WILL POST MONDAY INSTEAD. SOMETHING CAME UP AND YOU'LL HAVE TO FORGIVE SISTER NIGHT. I WILL BE RUNNING THE SHOW THIS WEEK. FORGIVE MY ERRORS. MUCH APPRECIATED.
DAN ( NO, NOT THE CHARACTER ) xxx
A SMALL SIDE NOTE:. GIVE MY GIRL A LITTLE LOVE. SHE NEEDS IT THIS WEEK.
DAN AND ROWE CHAPTER 7
From side to side he checked for guards, before running down the service hall to the back door. A phone call was all he had to make and he was in the clear for the night. Gabriel couldn’t believe they hadn’t swiped his memory like Grant had said. He hadn’t needed the text message alarm on his phone, reminding him of what he was doing. He remembered everything. The Guardian’s practiced fingers through his hair, the smell of the Latin’s golden skin, that rumble of a voice with the most beautiful accent Gabriel had ever heard.
When Ghost’s fangs had pierced his neck, he thought his skin would burst with pleasure. He was still hard from the Guardian’s feeding, but he didn’t have time to deal with it now. Grant was waiting for him to call in. His orders were clear. He had to call in or Grant would come looking for him. Gabriel did not want to be the reason Grant and his little band of followers—if they were anymore—came around with guns blazing.
He was Grant’s dirty little secret, that not even Nigel knew about. Grant was Gabriel’s uncle, but they weren’t exactly on close, affectionate terms. His uncle gave him a room to live in, food, a little allowance, but he had to work for every penny of it by doing these dirty intelligence jobs. He was good at what he did—fitting in anywhere he had to. Doing what the others couldn’t because he was young, pretty, and more importantly he hadn’t become a vampire yet.
That’s why Gabriel had been walking the street tonight. More like he had walked the block slowly for an hour or so before one of the guards had pulled him inside to feed someone. That was the plan, what Grant had wanted all along.
Luckily, before the Cartel vamps could look him in the eye, he’d faked high like the rest of the street kids always were, and they’d let it slide. They would always wipe him later, right? Wrong, he sighed thankfully. He didn’t like the idea of losing parts of himself. He may be a street kid for the most part, but he never did drugs or drank.
It’s why he was smart, still alive all the years after Nigel had offed his mother. Not that Gabriel was really upset about it. From what he’d gathered, she was just as crazy as the rest of them. Gotten pregnant by some overseas vamp and then moved to the states with Nigel’s former boss, the Thomas ‘nightmare’, Grant had called him. Who the fuck knew what was happening with that assassin asylum they had going on anymore? He stayed out of it and Grant never pulled him into the spotlight. They had an understanding—which was why he pulled out his phone and slipped out the service door next to the kitchen.
Lighting up a cigarette so no one would question him if he was found, Gabriel listened to his cell ring back at him.
The phone answered, but no one said anything. Screams over the line made Gabriel freeze. His heart raced and not from the nicotine. Someone was walking on the other end—the quick militant strut could be heard for a few seconds.
“Gabe?” His uncle whispered into the phone.
“Yeah,” he breathed.
Somewhere in the background, the screams were non-stop. He wanted to vomit just from the sound, but he put the shaky cig to his lips and inhaled instead.
“Find a way out and run. Whatever you do, just run.” Grant’s voice cracked with emotion.
Gabe slid down the wall, his chest tight. “Uncle?”
“I promised your mother, as fucked as she was, that I would do right by you. I can’t get out of this, Gabe, but you can, and after what I’ve seen in the last twenty four hours, you will run. Do you understand me?”
“What is that noise?” He would not cry. He didn’t think he had it in him, but damn if his lashes weren’t already wet.
“A new boss is in town. You remember the name Thierry. You hear it, and you pack your shit up and move. I don’t have a lot of time, but if you go now. There’s some money in the vent of the bathroom. There’s a gun in the case under my bed. Don’t drink anything, don’t smoke or snort nothing. That’s all I got kid. I…”
“Grant! Boss wants you now!” Someone yelled in the background.
“Yeah, I’m coming!” Grant yelled back before putting the phone back to his mouth. “Forget about me. Forget about all of this and go.”
The line went dead and Gabriel realized the tears that fell down his face. What was he going to do now? He didn’t have any other family or friends. Where would he go? What would happen to him if he turned alone? Maybe he was still human, but in two or three years, he was going to turn. He would be a vampire, one of them.
Someone pushed open the door a few feet down and Gabriel scattered like an alley cat—reflexes faster than he could have imagined, his sneakers slapped over the dirty pavement. He had to get out of here. He had to run. No matter how street savvy he was, Gabriel was scared shitless, but he would survive. That was what he did best, getting by. So quickly, he took a sharp turn down a cross alley, and ran into the night.
Ghost stepped out into the alleyway, inhaling the sweet scent he had smelled on his skin since the last time he fed. Dark and sultry, orchid with a spicy mandarin, like a wild summer night—he couldn’t seem to get rid of it, no matter how hard he’d scrubbed in the shower. The smell made his cock hard and his hands itch, so like a fool he’d followed the trail.
With a breeze blowing through the alley, all he saw was…nothing? In the air though, the smell lingered. A gentle goodbye from someone he had never really known. The glow from his phone reminded him he was waiting on Rowe and the others. So with a confused shake of his head, he went back inside.
“Anything?” Rowe walked alongside J.J. down the hall to the basement.
What had once been a charter school that took up most of the block was now a corner palace for the Latin mob. Not enough funds for some, but for the Cartel, money rolled in waves. Albeit not illegal waves, but who really cared?
Not the two males toting guns and trading information to bring each other up to date. It was strange walking through gang turf to Rowe. Yet with J.J., it felt kind of normal. For the silk shirt and flashy time piece the guy was sporting, he was down to earth, real for the most part. And if Ghost—even though the Latin wasn’t Rowe’s favorite Guardian—was like a brother to J.J., that boosted the Cartel king a little in the brownie points department.
“A little bit. Ghost has been working on Nigel’s cell phone and we’ve collected a few contacts from that. He’s having King try and work his way into the service provider to grab the last texts that were sent. We can’t seem to pull them off the phone itself after he fucked it up, so we don’t know any more there as of yet.”
They stopped outside a set of double doors. J.J. looked to him with a smile.
“With your permission of course, I’d like to double team the contacts we do have. Some of yours, some of mine, maybe pay a little visit to a few naughty boys for a play date? Sound good with you?”
Rowe squinted in thought. “I like the sound of that. Alive though, I want as many words to fill in the blanks as possible. I don’t like what’s going on, this being a step behind shit doesn’t sit well with me.”
“Me either. That’s what why we’re here, Rowe. Nobody fucks with my family and gets away with it. Someone is dropping our guys too. Handfuls are going missing every week, loyal ones at that. You don’t just walk away from this life, bro. You die in it” J.J.’s nostrils flared, his hand turned the knob.
“Glad to see we’re on the same page then.” Rowe raised his brows behind the Latin’s back. J.J. did have a certain spirit when it came to the way his ‘family’ was run. Now that he was the head of the Cartel, it showed.
One minute Rowe was smiling and the next his eyes were narrowed, his growl filled the room. Nigel was nothing more than a stub of a vampire. His hands had been cut off. His legs below the knees were gone. Tongue cut out by Rowe’s own hands, but the fresh bruises and cuts to his body were all Cartel. The prince admired the vibrant colors that had bloomed on Nigel’s skin with satisfaction.
Nigel was being starved—his body going through trauma, only receiving the barest amount of blood to keep him alive—he couldn’t heal this way. His eyes rolled back in his head for a second, a gurgled attempt to form a cry at the sight of the formidable Royal before him.
“Bring me the boy before he calls it lights out. I want answers and he’s going to give them to us. He’ll have to feed before he can think,” J.J. snarled to his men by the door.
The beefy Latino pair looked at each other for a moment before one of them screwed up his brows at J.J. “We thought he was with you. After you and Markos…”
“No! Markos sent him outside to you when he was done. Where the fuck is he?”
“We’ll check it out. Couldn’t have gone far with this many of us here,” the other man offered.
“You better hope so. That human walks out of here without a final swipe and he’s got more information than he should have.” J.J. growled. “If the Italians are watching this place, and if I were them I would be, that kid is fresh meat!”
“Consider him found.” The first one bowed a little, following the second out the door. Ghost was pushing his way past them as they did.
“Who’s missing?” He joined them.
The Cartel head rolled his eyes. “Your dinner.”
“The kid?” Ghost looked back at the open door. That scent, that kid, holy shit. “He’s gone,” he whispered to no one in particular.
J.J. grabbed him by the shoulder. “He’s gone? What do you mean, Markos!”
“I mean he’s gone. I followed…”
Ghost was in a trance as he stared out into the hall, everything falling into place for him. The way he had felt so at home with the young man in his arms. The tender way he had to touch him when the boy had offered his neck. That smell!
“Markos?” J.J. asked him softly. He had never seen the enforcer this way, like his heart was in his eyes.
“Surveillance footage, I want it. Now.” That was the only response J.J. got.
“Markos, talk to me. What’s going on?”
“I said now!” Ghost turned with a growl. Everyone had talked about mate this and their mate that, but he had yet to fully understand what it meant to him. As if his brain had switched on to the bigger picture, he understood with all his being what the luscious scent was on his skin.
“Okay, bro.” J.J. put his hands up defensively. “Lotty, get me all the tapes.”
“Sure boss.” The last guard left the room, a strange look for Ghost in passing.
Rowe approached his Latin brother slowly. “Ghost, what’s going on?”
“I should have known to follow sooner. Nothing smells that good. No candle, no soap, no God damn body gel. Fucking couldn’t get it off me, should’ve known.” Ghost looked up, his hazel eyes unseeing as he met the prince’s gaze.
Rowe shared a look with J.J. “Soap? What are you talking about?”
“That kid.” Ghost sighed. “He is…he is my…”
It dawned on Rowe then. That look was something he knew all too well. It was the look he’d masked when he first laid eyes on Dan. It was a look of longing, of need.
“He is your mate.”
“Yes,” Ghost whispered in shock.
Something inside J.J. was squashed at Ghost’s admission. Yes they were friends, like brothers really, but the feel of Ghost against him last night had been different, amazing. To know that the Guardian would never share that with him again was slightly heartbreaking. He’d learned a long time ago though that nothing ever went the way you wanted it to.
He could pine over his friend. He could crave all he wanted, but it wouldn’t change the look in Ghost’s eye. The man would hunt that boy to the ends of the earth—this mating business very serious among their kind he had come to find. If Ghost would love this man as much the prince loved his Daniel, then there was nothing he could do to twist the strands of fate.
Rather than wallowing, J.J. turned Ghost to face him. Determination seeped in. This was his brother and he would do anything to see him happy—if such an emotion existed within Markos, He would set aside this new and unexplored pleasure between them for the good of their friendship.
“I promise you Markos, if this boy is who you say, then we will find him.”
“Anything you need, Ghost. We’re here,” Rowe followed up with a nod to J.J. sealing the pact to find this missing boy.
Swift to pull away from the spotlight, Ghost ran a hand through his hair. He cleared his throat of emotion. He was stronger than this feeling, damn it. Until he saw the boy face to face, knew for sure this was his mate, he’d have to cut this need out of his system. How did he know this wasn’t some set-up from the enemy? How did a human kid get past a bunch of Cartel vamps and run away? Who was this kid and where did they even get him from?
“Whatever. I’m going for a walk, call me when you get to the good stuff,” he grunted, his eyes hidden from their concerned looks.
“Ghost, it’s okay.” Rowe reached for him, but his hand was slapped away. The prince refused to take it personally though, couldn’t blame Ghost’s mood swing right now. He’d had plenty unbalanced moments himself where his pet was concerned.
“Lotty’s downstairs.” J.J. sighed. “The last…” Ghost shot him a look to kill. “Have a nice walk I guess.”
Ghost left them standing there—walking down the hall like he wasn’t going to run downstairs as soon as he was out of sight. He was a killing machine, an assassin that craved the solitude, based his life around his ability to blend in and get the job done. He was not some swooning teenager mourning the loss of his school crush. As soon as he turned the corner and the stair well appeared though, he took the steps down as quick as he could.
Damn this vampire shit. Damn that scent. Damn this mystery kid turning his world upside down in a matter of minutes. He was going to find this kid. He would slice through whatever or whoever he had to.
Back in J.J.s study, Rowe turned around to look at Nigel. His anger was on the rise again. All his problems could be taken out on the stump tied to a chair. Like the fucker even needed to be tied up. He couldn’t do anything, much less run away.
“We’ll have to do with how he is. I don’t want to risk grabbing another one off the street. It was a stupid move in the first place. He’s all yours, Rowe.” J.J. stepped aside to let the prince through.
Rowe paced a second before he could clear his head enough to address Nigel.
“Is this what you envisioned when you followed my father into madness, because from where I’m standing, you don’t seem so big to me. How could you be, no legs to stand on, no tongue to speak your blasphemy against us? You look rather small, Nigel. In fact, I love the way you look now. Your inside matches your outside—disgusting, deranged, a heap of nothing.” Rowe cracked his fingers together as he approached.
“My father might have been sick to point of madness, but you chose this. You chose to become hungry for power, to follow a man that was only using you for your body, to give him what he wanted. Your family loved you, missed you when you disappeared. You had two parents, sisters, brothers who wished you were with them.” A life he had craved since he was young, but had never known. Rowe’s eyes flared with power. “Do you know how many of us craved such a life? To be surrounded by such warmth, to live happily, to never know such a dark void inside. But no, you gave all that up! You took that away from everyone around you for what!”
His fist smacked into Nigel’s already bloody cheek. Something snapped under his hand, a pitiful moan vibrating against him.
“So you could be feared, a villain? Did you really hate us that much for caring about you?” Another blow took Nigel from the other side and blood filled his mouth.
“You helped my uncle and my father, bring such destruction upon us for so many years. Did you think that we wouldn’t stop you in the end? Did you think you would rule the humans as some demon king!”
Before his fist could hit Nigel again, arms grabbed him around the shoulders and hauled Rowe back a few feet. “Not yet, Rowe. Wait it out, old friend,” Knox hissed in his ear.
Where his best friend had come from was a mystery, but when the prince turned around the other Guardians were gathered around him. They shared his anger. Their eyes matched his with every swirl.
“Kill him now and we lose our edge with Gio. We need him alive, for now.”
Knox had no problem massaging Rowe’s shoulders openly. This was his best friend. He’d had years to learn ways to soothe the prince’s beast. Always having been more of a celebrity among the vampires rather than a fighter, when Rowe’s beast flared, he had a hard time controlling it—years of suppressing to feed his other desires made for one hellish surprise.
Knox spoke soft in his ear, “deep breaths and let it out. He’s not going anywhere.”
Making sure not to mention Dan or mates anywhere in his murmurs, Knox guided Rowe to a chair near Nigel. Fuck, if he said anything about what Nigel had done last night. Rowe might just rip his own skin off and go complete ape shit on the traitorous stump. Where would that leave them?
“Gonna kill him,” Rowe breathed through his teeth. His fangs nicked his lip. “Gonna rip him apart.”
“That’s the plan, but later.” Knox looked over to Cade who nodded and stepped aside.
J.J. walked over to Nigel with a smile. “Open your eyes sweetheart. I’m going to tell you how this is going to work.”
Swollen lids cracked open. Nigel looked up at J.J, his fate already sealed in the eyes of the Cartel head. “Before we bring in your little rat, I’m going to ask you a few questions. If you give us what we want, your death will be quick.”
Rowe growled, rage running through him. Nigel should die slowly, with as much pain as possible—worse than burning at the stake or being cut apart. Knox stilled him quickly, his mouth to Rowe’s ear.
“At this point, that’s what Nigel wants to hear. We need him to tell us.” His voice was so quiet that no one else could have heard. Nigel needed to believe this, he had to.
“You will blink once for yes and twice for no. Do you understand?” J.J. pulled his hair hard and Nigel nodded as much as he could.
The pain was beyond anything that Nigel had ever known. He craved death. No one was coming for him. Thierry was a bastard who he never thought he’d have to call upon. He shouldn’t have even made the call, but at the time it was what he was supposed to do. For what though? Nigel had thought he would be the one to bring all the Royal’s down. He thought he was better, but now, as he was tied to this chair missing half his body, he realized he wasn’t.
Death was the only form of release left for him. A quick one would earn them anything they wanted to know. Please, he begged silently, end this.
“The weapons your men used against us last night. Are they poisoned?” J.J. watched as Nigel blinked twice.
“Really, because I could have sworn they were.” He put his face inches from Nigel’s who shook his head in frustration. “There is something on them though, isn’t there?”
Nigel blinked once. “For vampires?” Again he signaled yes.
“To kill them?” Nigel blinked twice.
“That doesn’t make any sense. I saw what it did. He almost died.” J.J. growled. “If I hadn’t seen Ghost feed, Micah would be dead!”
Shaking his head, Nigel sighed. His mouth burned with the need to speak, to end this all.
“This substance stops the healing process?” Nigel blinked once.
“Does it do something else?” He blinked again, yes.
“Seems like a lot of trouble to create this magical substance that only stops the healing process and puts a vampire to sleep. That just makes them vulnerable and the instant we figured that out, we would only be more careful. So what the hell were you planning Nigel?”
Cade frowned. Why would he want them asleep, to kidnap them or bring a Guardian down? Nigel knew they would never be alone and that they would call for back up. It didn’t make sense until…
“What happens when a vampire is at their most vulnerable, a time that puts them into a deep sleep, almost like they’re dead?” He stepped forward.
Rowe stood up, with narrowed eyes. “The turn.”
All eyes looked at Nigel as Rowe growled. “Why would you want to turn a vampire that was already a vampire?”
The former leader of the assassins shook in his chair. When they found out, they would kill him surely. As much as he wanted death, the actual killing part was going to be unpleasant.
“The blood turned black, Rowe.” Cade looked at Rowe. “What would do that?”
“You were going to make them feral!” Rowe went for the blade at his back with a roar. King and Knox took him to the ground, sitting on him while he struggled.
“That’s how he took out the guards at the club. One shot of that and they were out quickly. Wait…” Knox looked up. “Call Yuri! The guard bodies, what did they do with them?”
“They took them back to the compound for burial.” Micah’s eyes went wide, his phone in hand before he knew it. “He fucking planned this. He knew we would collect our dead. Those things are going to rise?”
“Burn them!” Rowe roared from underneath his brothers. Knox and King held on for dear life. Rowe this pissed was going to be bad, really, really bad.
“Yuri.” Micah had a hard time keeping his voice in check. “The dead guards, where are they?” Silence except for Rowe’s heavy breathing. “Burn them immediately. Don’t fucking question me, damn it. You don’t burn them and the whole compound is going to be a blood bath.”
Cade grabbed the phone from his mate. “If you don’t burn those bodies, you’re going to have upwards of twenty ferals on your hands. Yes, I’m serious. Now, that’s an order from Rowe.”
He hung up the phone without further explanation. They’re son was there. He wanted to get home. Cade was having trouble keeping his fangs from growing in his mouth, the thought of his son at the hands of a vampire zombie kept flitting through his mind.
“Fuck this, bring in Gio. I want the rest of the story and then they both die.”
Sitting with Nova in the Cartel’s cozy kitchen was not helping his need to run to Rowe. Dan had refused to stay with Oliver and Tate. He didn’t like being this far away from Rowe as it was and they were in same building. An older woman kept trying to feed him, but he couldn’t stomach anything past the rage flowing through him.
Rowe was pissed. The connection between them was growing stronger the closer they grew in their relationship. While that grew stronger, so did his current migraine.
“I just want to run up there and make him calm the hell down.” Dan groaned. “My head is pounding.”
“He can’t help, but be angry Daniel. The man who harmed his mate and his people is sharing the same space as him.” Nova shuddered. He could not say Nigel’s name with the sound of whips and screams taking over his mind. “Try to stay calm. It will all be over soon. Eat some of this rice, Paloma is a wonderful cook.”
He stuffed another bite of rice in his mouth. The old woman patted his arm with a smile. She didn’t speak English, but she seemed to understand Nova just fine. Either that or Nova shoving food in his mouth with a moan was good enough for her.
Paloma brushed her fingers through Nova’s hair like a mother would. A hum on her lips, she began to braid it down his back much to Nova’s delight. He liked the woman very much. She reminded him of his mother when he was little. She would do the same thing, always had loved his hair. He wondered what had become of her. Long past the stage of mourning his family, Nova had become content with his memories. That way they were always with him. It is what kept him sane during Nigel’s treatments. He looked to Dan and thanked the lord that he would never know that kind of life. Nova liked Dan very much also.
Dan put his head on the kitchen table with a sigh. Paloma’s soft song made him sleepy, warm. It reminded him of the way Rowe hummed when he thought Dan was sleeping.
So much was happening still, the rollercoaster ride nowhere near finished. Though in this moment, the smell of home cooked rice, and the old woman’s song dulled the anger welling through him.
Minutes later as his breathing evened out, Dan felt small fingers combing through his hair. The gesture of this stranger so wonderful that his eyes drifted shut –sleep all he ever seemed to need these days. Because whenever he woke up, Rowe seemed to never be far behind. If he just slept, Rowe would come back to him. He could will the headache away with thought of his mate waking him later.
With another bite of food, Nova smiled at Paloma humming to Dan. The woman felt like home. Soon enough, they would be home. His home with his family, nothing could be better than that.
In the basement, Ghost tried his best to look indifferent as he walked past the men he’d called family for the past decade or so. Lotty sat at a computer in the basement office. All their records kept safely tucked down here near a safe exit in case the cops showed up. When you were on the other side, it was all about a good escape route, no loose ends left behind.
“I’ve only started looking through the front entrance cams, but the others are right here. One of the guys grabbed the kid around midnight. Weird thing is I went back to around ten thirty to check for any sign of the Italians. Didn’t see them, but there’s the kid again. Eleven o’clock rolls around and there he is again.”
Ghost sat down next to Lotty, scrolling the other screens on a separate monitor. “Three times on the same block? What the fuck were you doing kid?”
“Could be a whore,” Lotty offered, but apologized as Ghost’s low growl filled his ears.
The East facing camera picked him up again a few times. Walking slowly down the street, the mystery boy glanced behind him once or twice. He would stop as if he was deciding what to do next, check his phone before he kept walking. It wasn’t until he stopped under a street lamp that Ghost paused the feed.
Dark hair that he could still feel under his fingers reflected from the glow of the street lamp above. A skinny frame that showed his lack of stable nutrition, dark pants, and a dark jacket with the hood pulled down. Ghost wished he could remember the young man’s eyes. The picture was too far away to get a good look at his face.
“It’s like he was waiting for us. He doesn’t seem too surprised when they guys pull him inside. Then look at this…” Ghost watched Lotty replay a few seconds of video. “Kid fucking slumps like a druggie all the sudden. They didn’t even have time to swipe him. We gotta show this to the boss.”
“He wanted inside,” Ghost summed it up. “Did you get any footage of him being dropped off, a plate or someone else with him?”
“Right now, you know about as much as I do. You said you knew he was gone? How did you know that?”
“I smelled him. I didn’t know it was him at first, thought it was something else. Then it seemed to get stronger, so I followed it on instinct out the service exit. There wasn’t anything there.”
“That you saw anyway. Damn, he’s fast for a human.” Lotty pointed to the monitor. “Check this out.”
There on the screen was the same kid, a cigarette in one hand, a phone in the other. He slid down the wall obviously upset—his body language said it all. Not in an angry way, in a way that made Ghost grip the table. The kid wiped his sleeve over his eyes and let the phone fall to his side with his hand. Just as he was about to curl in on himself, the door opened and the kid took off like a flash.
Seconds later, he watched himself walk into the alley and turn a few times. The kid had been there. His…fuck, Ghost closed his eyes for a second.
“You’re call, Markos. What do you want me to do next?” Lotty pushed back from the desk.
His heart was torn in two different directions. On one hand he wanted to run out into the city and scent the kid down until he found him. But the more realistic side of his heart knew this kid was up to no good, even with the teary ending of that video. No one tried to get into the Cartel house unless they wanted information and after last night, the only person that would try to do that was Nigel. This kid was connected to this mess they were playing in.
“Enlarge his face, clean it up, and spread it around quick. I want a copy before I go back upstairs. Maybe Gio will know who he is.” Ghost sat back with mixed emotions. “Have Carlos show it around the streets a bit. By a bit, I mean a bit, Lotty.”
A bit meant only to informants that knew enough to keep their mouths shut. On the off chance that this kid was being forced to do dirty work, Ghost didn’t want anyone getting any ideas and going after what was his. He had no idea what he’d do when he found his mystery mate, but he had to actually locate him first.
Hopefully between now and then, he could get a clear head on the matter. Fuck that, he would find this kid easy. Someone had to know the guy. If he felt comfortable enough waltzing around East Harlem like he was safe enough, he knew other people around here too. They would talk.
“I got you. I’ll tell Carlos to keep it to the regulars for now. Kid can’t be more than what, eighteen maybe?”
Ghost answered by getting up and going to the door with a wave of his hand. He didn’t want to think about how young the kid was. He only wanted to know that he was safe. The interrogation would come after he’d seen him in one piece with his own eyes. Then it would be up to him to tear the kid in two if he turned up to be really, really dirty.
Lotty worked his magic on the screen. Soon enough, beautiful dark eyes looked up at him, so much to tell behind that gaze. Kid like this would be remembered by someone. Out there, someone was looking for him. He hit print and sent a copy to Ghost’s phone minutes later. With ten copies in hand from the printer, Lotty got up and sent a team out on the streets.
Gio screamed over and over. His back hit the wall, his eyes closed to the sight of his boss in all his bloody glory. Cade and Knox wrangled him into a chair, an extension cord all they could grab to keep him there for the time being. He couldn’t look at Nigel. Oh God, would they do that to him?
“Please! I’ll tell you anything. Fuck! Someone help me!” He clacked his teeth at Knox’s hand when it neared his open mouth out of reflex. Gio’s eyes strayed to Nigel again.
At that point Nigel wished he had at least one hand—to slap that little rat to death. He loathed the day he had ever thought it was a good idea to do business with the Italians. One power play now led to the son of the great DeVrahti family squealing like an infant in the corner. Their empire was now in the hands of Thierry and his little mate. This city was fucked beyond the definition. An orgy of blood and mayhem awaited them.
Not that he cared because he was going to die anyway, but he was a twinge bit jealous that Thierry was more capable than he. Nigel closed his eyes and waited until they would finally kill him.
“Stop screaming and answer the damn question!” Rowe grabbed both arms of Gio’s chair. “Who is next in line after Nigel?”
“I…I don’t…” Gio winced as he looked at Nigel, the vomit on its way.
“You better figure it out or…” Rowe flicked open his knife, sliding it flat down Gio’s bare chest towards his lap. “You can figure it out.”
“Fuck man, I don’t know. I only have a few contacts. They wouldn’t tell me much.” He shook, then stilled as the knife neared his most prized possessions—his manhood.
“Who are they?” Rowe showed some fang.
Gio’s fangs were itching to do some damage, but he knew he was out numbered. Besides a gun, he didn’t really know how to fight hand to hand. He was deep if he didn’t come up with something.
“Keith and Grant knew everything! Not me. They didn’t tell me much.” Gio cringed with a squeak as the knife played back up his chest.
“Ah yes, Keith aka Munny?” Rowe licked his fangs. “He’s dead. Very, very dead.”
“Oh shit,” Gio groaned. “Ah man look, I didn’t do anything!”
“You didn’t?” Knox grumbled in his ear. “Then why are you here if you’ve been such a good little boy?”
“I…I…please don’t” Gio whispered, trying to swallow past the lump in his throat.
“Tell me everything you do know and maybe we’ll let you live.” Rowe flicked his eyes to Knox. “Do you want to end up like Nigel over there?”
“No! I was supposed to take over for my pops. Fucking asshole didn’t know how to run anything. He was too lenient with the guys, too tight on the money. I was meant to run things and Nigel offered me the way.”
Gio was shaking, but he had no other choice than to tell them everything. They would find out anyway and if he could save his own skin, he would do it.
“We made the move on my father and before the first night, he was dead. Just like that, everyone fell in place behind me. Felt good to finally be in the right place.”
“But you weren’t really running the show were you?” Knox urged him on.
“No,’ Gio admitted. “I didn’t mind Nigel helping me out. When I found out about…the vampires, I was a little freaked.”
“Naturally.” Rowe rolled his eyes.
Gio flicked his eyes around, before continuing. “When Nigel offered me more, I couldn’t resist.” Gio shuddered with the memory of his turn. It wasn’t a good night’s sleep like Nigel had said. It fucking hurt. Every time he thought about it, he could still feel the pain.
“So you thought if you were a vampire you could really take over the city? God, you are an idiot. Do you have any idea what you did, Gio?” Knox growled. “You gave Nigel access to all your men. You gave him a set structure within the city to take over everything that you had ‘worked so hard for’.”
“I didn’t know it was going to be that way! I thought I was in charge, but when I figured out I wasn’t, it was too late. He was stronger than me. I had no choice.”
Rowe placed the blade flat against Gio’s neck. “You are such a rat. You really think we’re going to feel sorry for you? Any normal person could’ve have concluded they were in deep shit from the get go. You though? You’re so into yourself that all you saw was money and power. Look where that got you, Gio.”
“I’m sorry. Please, I’m so sorry.” Gio started to cry and the other vampires groaned.
“What was the plan that night, Gio?”
“We we’re supposed to take the human and his sister. Hold the guy hostage and the girl as collateral so the guy would cooperate. Nigel wanted him because he seemed valuable to you guys. He got obsessed with him though, wanted to make him his slave like some kind of prize.”
Rowe inhaled Gio’s fear to dampen the beast rising inside him. That fear could sate his need to kill for a few more minutes. After that, he wasn’t so sure.
Knox got the hint that Rowe was losing it. “And then?”
“Nigel tranced the dancers and waiters at the club before you guys got there. When they came in for the night, he gave them the serum in needles. Between him and Keith they had the staff doing what they wanted all night. When your guards started to walk the floor, the staff took them out one by one. They went down so easy that no one started to freak. Looked like a bunch of drunks, which is normal in a club.” Gio was talking so fast, he forgot to breath. A loud inhale filled the room.
Rowe felt Cade and Micah at his back. King crouched down next to Gio’s chair to listen close.
“He wanted us to take the bodies back to the compound?” King asked.
“Yeah, he knew you would be too busy trying to track us down to deal with the bodies personally and that your queen would want the bodies honored or whatever.”
Cade stepped forward. “Why did you drive away if Nigel wanted us to come to him?”
“He wanted to split you guys up. Said you would be easier to take out if you weren’t all together. Had no idea that the Cartel was on your side…” Gio groaned as the blade bit into his skin. The prince’s eyes were going a little red—a little crazy.
“Stupid mistake,” J.J. smiled. “Always know all the players before you play the game, should have done your research a little, Gio. If you had, you’d know that one of theirs is also one of ours. We don’t take kindly to anyone messing with our family.”
His smile grew wider. “You would have also found out that your father was securing an alliance with us months ago. So not only did you attempt to kill one of my men, you messed with my business. Double whammy.”
“I didn’t know!” Gio started to breathe harder as the knife slowly cut across his chest.
“It’s too late for apologies,” Cade said. “Keep talking.”
“Anything, I’ll tell you whatever you want.”
“What do you know about the scientists?” Cade leaned over.
“Huh? What scientists?” Gio looked around with confusion. Was this a trick question?
“The people who made the serum, you asshole, what do you know about them?” Rowe shook Gio’s shoulders.
“I don’t know about any scientists! Please, help me.”
“I’ll help you into a hole in the ground.” Rowe cracked his fingers to keep from cracking Gio’s skull. “Who is this Grant?”
“He’s this total kiss ass that runs everything behind the scenes. Gets the information Nigel needs, makes the phone calls and all that. He doesn’t fight, just runs the business end of things.”
“When’s the last time you saw him?” King coaxed.
Gio wracked his brain. It was the day before the attack at the club. He had been... “Grant had just confirmed what I was supposed to do the next day. For the club, I mean. I was getting off the phone, going to the parking garage, and I saw him there with this kid.”
“What kid?” J.J. whipped around.
“Some street kid dressed in all black. Good looking, maybe eighteen, I dunno. But Grant knew him pretty well, or he acted like he did.”
“You’d never seen the kid before that?”
“No, never! I swear I don’t know anything else.”
The guardians looked around each other, Rowe still looking Gio in the eye. This fool didn’t know anything else. Nigel had been smart not to tell him much. The prince was done.
“I’m done with this rat. Let him loose.” Rowe stood, turning away from Gio—who sagged in his seat with relief. The others in the room caught the look from Rowe before they stepped back.
Knox smiled darkly, letting go of the extension cord around Gio’s chair. The Guardians looked at each other, understanding what was about to happen. They backed up as Gio hopped up from his chair.
“I can go?” He glanced at Nigel who had shut his eyes. The old Royal already knew what was going on, but he didn’t care as long as he died quickly when they were finished.
“You were honest with us. Go ahead,” Cade stepped out of the way, gesturing to the door.
The greasy Guido adjusted his pants. The cut on his chest already healed. “Seriously?”
“Yep, just down that hall is the front door. No one will stop you.” Knox leaned into the doorway.
“O…okay.” Gio took a few steps, almost to the door.
With eyes red as blood, Rowe turned around. He watched Gio take another step. The prince felt a moment of relief waft from the rat before he leapt onto Gio’s back.
Screams filled the hallway before J.J. shut the doors to the room with a smile—sealing the cries of terror off from the rest of the house. It was time to take out the garbage.
When Dan awoke he was being carried in Rowe’s arms. Down a long hall they traveled until Rowe bent a little to open the door. Closing his eyes, Dan snuggled his face into his mate’s chest with a sigh.
“I know you’re awake.” Rowe laid Dan out on an unfamiliar bed. Icy sheets rubbed against his cheek like silk. Rowe’s smell saturated every inch and he reached out to grab a handful to bring to his nose.
Lazily, Dan stretched out on the bed, his fingers and toes nowhere near the edge of the large mattress. Before he knew it, Rowe was gently removing his pants, pulling his shirt up over his head—leaving Dan almost naked in the sea of silk.
“Sleep well, my pet.” A large hand rubbed his back slowly until Dan’s eyes refused to open anymore. “I’ll be here when you wake.”
The soft whisper put Dan into a state of sleep so deep he couldn’t wake up if he tried. With Rowe’s scent blanketing his body, Dan felt safe, warm, and loved.
Rowe looked down at his mate’s peaceful form with satisfaction. As much as he wanted to curl up next to Daniel and hold him, he needed to see his mother. He needed to see what was happening with these doctors and his mate’s sister before Dan had another meltdown.
In all the frenzy going on around them, Rowe had made sure to keep Jess off Dan’s mind. If she was indeed feral, his mate was going to lose it completely. The mere sight of Jess might throw him off the deep end for good.
There was also the matter of Oliver’s development plan ‘the second city’. The blueprints were incredible. Everything already in the works and the sooner they could get the buildings renovated to service them and the other Royals placed for duty, the better off they would all be.
Leaving his quarters, Rowen walked down the hallway. A small yip sounded, causing him stop and look at one of the antique side tables along the wall. Raising a brow, he crouched down. Two sets of bright green eyes stared back at him, Curly black hair, cherubic faces, and a tiny golden Pomeranian hiding under the piece of furniture.
“Hello there.” He smiled warmly.
One twin hid her face in the other’s shoulder, but the more determined of the two stared him down.
“Where did you take Uncle Dan just now?” She narrowed her eyes.
Rowe had to keep from laughing. It was strange to see the little girl make the same face he had seen Dan make so many times he had lost count.
“He was tired, so I tucked him into bed. He’s taking a nap.”
“He’s sleeping.” The unafraid one turned to her sister. The scared one nodded before her sister turned back to Rowe. “Are you one of them? Let me see your teeth.” She scooted forward, clutching the little dog under arm. The Little Prince aka fuzz ball seemed content to snuggle into the little girl.
“My teeth?” Rowe raised his brows.
“Yes.” She blinked.
“Why are my teeth important?” He didn’t have any experience with kids. He’d never really taken with Nan or the other one that was floating around the compound somewhere. Did they know what was going on yet? Should he tell them about vampires? God, these poor girls, what had they seen?
“If you have pointy ones, I want to see them. Nina has pointy ones. They’re pretty cool.”
“I like Nina,” the other one whispered, her eyes peeking out from her sister’s shoulder.
“Nina is my mother.” Rowe smiled. “I like her too.” That earned him a shy smile.
The blunt one huffed. “You have teeth or not?”
“Yes, but they only come out when they have to.”
“Oh, okay, but you have them?”
“Uh huh, that doesn’t scare you?” Rowe sat Indian style on the carpet, finding himself intrigued by the little ones.
“No, the zombies were scary, but Nina and Yuri saved us with their teeth, and daddy shot them until they exploded! I wanna kill zombies like them.” She declared while the smaller one hid again, a tiny shudder running through her. “Sorry, Em. It’s okay.”
Watching with a tug to his heart, the sister wrapped her arms around the one called Emma—the puppy trying to snuggle his way between them.
“You’re name is Emma?” Rowe slowly touched her knee.
She nodded, her little curls bouncing up and down. “And what’s your name?”
“I’m Hannah.” They were like night and day. Rowe was fascinated in their differences especially when they looked almost identical.
“Yeah, we heard about you.” Hannah shrugged.
“You’re a prince, like him.” She pointed to the dog. Rowe grinned with a nod. “And your mommy is the queen. That’s so cool.”
“Are you gonna marry Uncle Dan?” Emma brushed her hair out of her face. He always forgot how children didn’t flow with a conversation. It was here or there or nothing at all. With a grin, he shrugged.
“Well we kind of are married.”
“Huh uh, you didn’t have a wedding.” She frowned. “Uncle Dan said that when he gets married. He would have a wedding and we would get to dress up.”
“He wants a wedding does he?” Rowe looked back at the closed door. He hadn’t even thought about human traditions. Mating had been all he knew.
“Duh, you can’t get married without a wedding!” Hannah threw her hands up. “You’re not a very good husband.”
Rowe couldn’t suppress his laugh this time. She was so dramatic, one couldn’t help but smile.
“I beg to differ.” He tapped her nose.
“Huh? What’s that mean?” She looked to her twin for help. Emma shrugged.
“Never mind about that, you two are very smart for your age. One day you’ll figure it out. Until then…” Rowe had an idea, something that the entire compound might enjoy, but more importantly, Daniel. “I think I could use your help with something.”
“Us?” Emma actually scooted forward from the wall.
“I would only trust the two of you with this. It is very important you see, and only the smartest little girls would know what to do.”
“That’s us, Em.” Hannah grabbed her twin’s shoulder seriously. Emma nodded back.
Rowe could have just died of laughter, but he had to keep a straight face.
“Okay, here’s what I need you to do.”
Walking into his mother’s room with Hannah and Emma hot on his heels, Rowe felt a sense of relief. The queen was propped up in bed, Hill passed out in a chair at her side. The Guardian looked dead on his feet. His mouth was opened slightly—a soft snore making Rowe smile.
A man in scrubs looked up as he adjusted a hanging bag of fluid connected to Nina’s arm.
“Oh no, here comes trouble.” Nick winked at the girls, who hid behind Rowe’s legs.
Nina grinned. “Trouble indeed and where is your furry protector?”
“He’s outside. They said he couldn’t come in here.” Emma pouted.
With a labored breath, Nina sat up further. “They probably didn’t want to wake Hill. It’s alright darlings. Come over here and give me hugs.”
Hannah and Emma tiptoed past hill and crawled onto the bed. “You too, Rowen.” Nina smiled at her son.
“I’ll be outside, Nina.” Nick walked to Rowe and stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Rowe.”
Looking down at the hand offered, Rowe thought about ignoring it. Thinking better about it, he took the hand to not upset his mother. “You too, uh?”
“Nick. I’m your mother’s nurse, so you’ll probably see me around a lot.”
“Wonderful,” Rowe replied dryly. His hand slipped from Nick’s. The nurse didn’t seem to take it personally, shrugging before waving to the queen and making his exit.
“I still don’t like this,” Rowe said as he sat on the bed. “I don’t like you laying here and I don’t like that I don’t know how to fix it, that I have to let Nick take care of you.”
“I’m not broken, darling. I’m pregnant.” She yawned. “Very, very pregnant.”
Her eyes drifted to the man in the chair, completely oblivious to anything, but sleep.
“It’s so weird.” He sat against the headboard. “I can’t believe this is all happening.”
His mother’s hand found his as he stared at the television the twins had turned on.
“Talk to me, darling. You can tell me anything.”
“We keep secrets real well too. Don’t we Em?” Hannah lay out on her stomach. Her feet kicked back and forth as her sister cuddled next to her.
“Yeah we do.” She laughed into her sister’s side.
Rowe smirked. For some reason he couldn’t help, but feel Dan with him when these two were around. He’d never liked children. They were bringing him around to the idea though, slowly.
“Thank you for your secrecy. I appreciate it.” He bowed his head. Though, they were already engrossed in the television again. Wrestlers threw each other around much to their delight and he shook his head.
“They’re good for this place, don’t you think?” Nina whispered in his ear.
He turned to her. “I think they might be a handful.”
“All children are. You weren’t such an angel if I remember correctly.”
“How are you going to handle two at the same time? Not to mention Nanette and Isaac? This house is going to be busting at the seams with crazed hellions in no time.”
“Is that what worries you? I can assure you that we have enough help to go around as far as the little ones are concerned.” She yawned again. “I have a feeling that isn’t what bothers you though.”
“What if something happens to you during this pregnancy? As selfish as this is going to sound, I can’t handle anymore right now. I may be in charge at the moment mother, but if you were to…I wouldn’t be any use to anyone. What then? What about our people, my mate?”
“That’s why you need to trust these doctors. They’ve seen things we haven’t. Modern medicine is miraculous, Rowen. I may have lived a long time, but the things that these men and women have accomplished for our benefit, in such a short time? It astounds me.”
“I’ll remind you that they also created a serum…” He looked at the twins before leaning to the side with a whisper. “A serum, that happens to turn our kind feral.”
“What?” She looked at him in shock.
“Seems as though the doctors have been holding out. These men and women that you’ve entrusted with the lives of your unborn children also sought to destroy them at one time.”
She sat in thought for a minute. “I am going to say this once and then this discussion is over. If I am overwhelmed, Hill will feel it and he needs to rest. Understood?”
“Of course.” He waited for the orders to have them killed. He almost yearned to get these strange people out of his home, away from his loved ones.
“Everyone makes mistakes, Rowen Gerard. It is what we do after we realize our wrongs that make us who we are. You included. Can you say you are the same person you were two months ago?”
“Well no, but that is…”
“Not any different. You will respect those doctors for saving your mother’s life and the lives of your siblings. You will question them on this matter with civility and an unbiased attitude. You will get them anything they require to ease their transition to life at the compound. You will not harm them in any way or order any of our people to do so. Do you understand me, Rowen?”
Rowen closed his eyes, capping off his anger. “Yes.”
She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Good. Now go and check on Jessica and Frank. I hear those two are quite a scene.”
“What do you mean?” He shot her a look. Why was she openly talking about Jess in front of the girls like nothing was wrong? Had she lost her mind?
“Go and see for yourself.” She winked. “Leave the girls here. They relax me.”
Rowen’s mouth opened and closed in surprise. His mother was either hormonal or had definitely had too much blood in her system. Go and see his mate’s feral sister and what? Bring her a bottle of Chardonnay as a house warming gift? Maybe a potted fern or two?
“Sure,” he said. Still wide-eyed, he moved off the bed.
“Love you, darling.”
“Love you too, mother.” He was stunned as he walked into the hall. A yapping pooch shoved into his arms, the Little Prince and the big prince off to their next appointment.
King and Chloe were in their quarters, the Guardian refusing to leave his mate and child for the evening. Blaze was in the weapon’s room going over the assassin’s collected ammunition from Nigel’s hideout—meticulously categorizing the bullets, blades, and darts for reference. Having found his new home amongst the tools of death, he was in his own world.
Nova was in the library, still gasping over all the volumes containing the history of years he had missed, George helping him with an eager attitude. His love of books something they had in common. As much as Knox wanted to stay in the library, Nova seemed to be on overload. Adding his brother to the mix would probably flip his switch.
Noting that he would see him later, Knox continued downstairs. Something called to him, a need so great. Maybe just a peek for his own sanity would sate the unwelcome emotion brewing in his chest. Arousal filled the hall. He stopped in his tracks with a look of disgust at the wall separating him from mind blowing sex.
“Oh hell no,” he uttered to himself.
Maggie swept around the corner holding baby Isaac who was kicking up a storm.
“It’s okay,” she cooed, patting his little back. “Oh Knox, thank goodness.”
He turned right around and started walking the other direction. No way, no freaking way. Was she serious waving that baby around like that? Didn’t she know how powerful it was? He, it, whatever, oh no Knox groaned.
“Knoxtian!” She called with the tone that all mothers used. Like he was magically ten years old again, he stopped with a shake of his head. “Good, you’re not deaf. Come here and help me with him.”
“He has parents, make them help.” He commented, but didn’t turn around. If you looked that little thing in the eyes, you lost all your manhood. It was evil that way, Knox reminded himself.
“They’re busy at the moment. I said I would watch him.” Isaac wailed louder and Knox groaned. He couldn’t stand that God forsaken sound. Not because it was annoying—which it was—but because it hurt him inside.
“Fuck,” he cursed, whipping around. The entire walk to Maggie he looked at the ground, averting his gaze from the infant force of nature that flailed before him.
Maggie clucked her tongue. “Language, Knox.”
“He doesn’t think past eat, sleep, or shit. I don’t think he’s going to start going around saying fuck anytime soon.”
“I read that children these days are speaking and walking at earlier rates than ten years ago. So take that.” Isaac screamed, his little cheeks turned red. She put the baby in his arms as she went into the kitchen.
“That is the vaguest load of crap I’ve ever heard. You expect me to believe that an infant is going to start walking around, possibly doing the Macarena, and saying fuck in the next five minutes? I’d love to see that. Make some bank online with that kind of gold.” He rolled his eyes.
“Actually cat videos are higher rated than videos of infants. Have you seen the one where the cat slides into all sorts of boxes that he can’t fit in?” She laughed, mixing some formula for Isaac. “He is so adorable. Maybe you should get a cat and teach it to say fuck. Oh darn, you rat Knoxtian. You got me to say it anyways.”
“Oh yeah, you’re such a badass Maggie. Say it again.” He watched her stop what she was doing and smile at him. “What is that look for?”
“Listen.” She grinned.
Maggie smirked. “Exactly.”
She pointed to his arms and it was then that Knox realized he was holding Isaac. The witch had slipped the kid in while he wasn’t looking. His hips swaying like a damn woman while…Isaac slept soundly against his chest. He was so little, so beautiful, and God! He smelled fantastic. Like baby and lavender and…fuck no.
She tried to keep her laugh in. “Well I’ll be damned. You’re the baby whisperer.”
“I am not,” he murmured, still looking at Isaac. He couldn’t do this. “You done yet, I don’t do kids very well.”
She frowned. “He’s just a baby, Knox. He won’t bite.”
“Just take him. I don’t like this.” He walked across the kitchen and gently handed her the baby.
“Knox, what is with you and this child? You act like he’s poisonous.”
His fingertips slid over Isaac’s soft hair before dropping his hand to his side. A little frown formed on the baby’s lips before he opened his eyes and started screaming again.
“What in the?” Maggie looked down at the baby in shock. When she looked up, Knox was gone.
Sitting across from Jess was hard for Rowe to comprehend. When last he’d seen her, she’d looked like a horror villain, covered in blood. Now she looked as if she’d just returned from a weekend at the spa. All that was missing was a fluffy white robe and a scented candle.
“How are you feeling?” He scooted forward in awe.
She regarded him with a sigh. “My body feels just fine, great in fact. Everything else is a different story.” Jess glanced away with a groan. “I should have known something was off.”
Rowe frowned. “How could you have possibly have known that?”
“Are you kidding me?” She whipped her hair around. “Let me lay it out for you, Rowe. My brother goes MIA for a bit, claiming a vacation with Cade and Micah. As if, he never goes anywhere that isn’t for work. He’s a hermit for the most part. Yeah, he’s spunky and a teensy bit fabulous, but when it comes to letting it all hang out to go on a tropical vacation?” She snorted.
“Huh uh, doesn’t happen. But when he called me, he was so excited that he’d met someone. Even gave me a few details and I was like way to go, Danny boy. Finally, you put yourself out there and snagged something different, something good for you. Then I battled that with myself too. Why would he just all the sudden change his tune and not call me with the rest? Why was he being so secretive about you? Why did he not need me on his birthday like normal?
And then! I show up at the club and he’s suddenly got this pack of gorgeous people surrounding him. They know him, fawn over him. Not his normal crowd. Not by a long shot. It made me nervous, you know. Even with Cade there, it felt strange. I should have known there was more. I always know these things. I’ve had to be a step ahead of my little brother for his whole life because he just doesn’t get by on his own. The one time I cut myself a break and take off with the bad boy…”
“Jess,” Rowe interrupted her with a hand to her knee. “Hey, you’re getting yourself worked up over something that no one can change. It’s in the past. Focus on what’s happening now, not then.”
“Are you kidding me!” She stood up, suddenly hysterical. “Vampires? I wake up with these fuzzy fucking memories of dying, of seeing Danny chained up like some slave. I killed people! I have my fucking throat slit only to wake up and I’m a vampire!” Jess sobbed. She plopped onto the bed. “I’m a…vampire. I should have known it wasn’t right. I should’ve known.”
“You are not responsible for what happened. None of this is your fault. Don’t you ever think that, Jess. You did what you had to, to survive. You were trying to save your brother. Anyone would have reacted the same way.” He wanted to cry for her, to kill Nigel all over again. Stabbing his stump of a form over and over hadn’t seemed good enough. Should’ve given him that damn serum and had him rise—kill him a second time.
“Do you know that you saved your brother and another of our kind, Jessica? If you hadn’t been turned, if you hadn’t been that strong, they would have died. Did you know that?” He took her hands in hers.
She shook her head. “I didn’t save anyone, I killed them all. I could never save Danny. I tried, but I was never strong enough,” she whispered. Rowe knew her memories were starting to overlap, Nigel wearing her father’s face. Not only was Dan a part of that nightmare, Jess was too. Neither one of them would ever be able to think about one without the other.
“I can’t erase what your father or Nigel did to you, either of you, but I can tell you what you have now.”
Sniffling, Jess looked up into his eyes.
“You have the strength to fight them now. All the nightmares of the world will fear you. You have a brother who is amazing, loving, and breathing because you are a strong woman, because you fought for what you loved. You have the gift of a true mate, someone who you knew all along, but didn’t know how much you loved until now. Someone who will stand beside you until the end of time, a man who will be there for you to fall back on when you don’t feel that you can go on.
You have two beautiful girls, smart little things, girls that you brought into this world. Who love you and rely on you to guide them—to teach them to be as strong as you are. You have a family now, people that understand what you have been through because they have all experienced pain and suffering in their existence.
You have the protection and safety of that family, of your new friends and loved ones. You have a home, Jessica—somewhere that you can feel safe to breathe, a place that will never turn you away or abandon you to the outside. You have me, a prince who will guide you, who will be a leader for you in the darkest of times.
Lastly…you have the choice, the ability to accept what has happened and say yes, I have all this. The choice to take a deep breath, look around you and realize what I’m telling you is the absolute truth and that nothing beyond that, matters. What happened to you in the past made you stronger, a fighter—a leader. What happened to you is a story to share with others, to ease their hearts as they might have gone through the same thing.
What happened to you is dark, painful, but in the end will you let it eat through the beautiful years you have ahead? Will you say yes and free yourself of it all?”
Jessica let out a painful sob and Rowe pulled her close. He felt like a prince. His words had come so natural, they scared him, but they felt good. He felt useful to this woman in his arms, his sister now too.
“Yes.” She nodded against him. “I want that.”
“You have that already. I know this won’t fix everything you feel or remember, but your home now, Jess. We will help you through this.”
When he released her, she wiped her eyes. “I want to see them.”
“My babies and Danny.”
“You haven’t seen the girls yet?” He frowned.
“They wouldn’t let me. Theo said he wanted me monitored for another forty-eight hours before he would consider it. He still doesn’t believe that I don’t want to rip their throats out.”
“That’s bullshit.” Rowe growled. “Stay here.”
“Rowe, it’s okay. If he says I should wait, I will.”
“No, it’s not. You’re chained to a bed like an animal. Hell, Frank has been in here for all of this and he’s not…he’s just fine.” Rowe pounded on the door. The thick entryway opened, Theo standing there with a sigh.
“She isn’t ready yet, Rowe.” Theo tapped the intercom, indicating that he had heard. “I commend you for trying to help, but until we get the blood work back…”
“You will listen to me,” Rowe growled. “I want her shackles released and Jess out in this hallway in the next five minutes or I will put you in chains and see how ‘good for you’ it is.”
Theo gulped. The prince was taller than him by almost eight inches, more muscled, more supernatural. Saying no would not end well.
“Release her,” Rowe said to the guards who were quick to obey.
Frank stood up from the hallway. He hadn’t met the guy who was demanding Jessica’s release. Not sure how to take another man throwing out commands over his woman, he walked over to the big blonde.
“Hey,” he nudged the man.
Rowe turned around, narrowing his eyes until he caught the human scent. Frank, he surmised from the look of things. Black curly hair, full sleeves of tattoos spanning from flames to geishas, a hint of possession in his eyes. Oh yeah, this was Jess’s Frank, Big Frank according to Knox. Yeah, Rowe tried not to stare to hard, he was a big mother fucker.
“Rowe,” he returned with his hand.
“The prince, or whatever? Shit, I dunno what to call you.”
“Rowe,” he repeated.
“Good enough, I’m Frank.”
“Or whatever?” Rowe grinned.
Frank shook his hand. Guy didn’t seem like a prince. Sure he was pretty for a dude, built like a weapon of muscle, but he didn’t exactly seem like he should be wearing a crown. What did he know though? After the last few days, Frank would have to say nothing. His world had just got a whole hell of lot more open-minded, leaving him in the dark to about ninety percent of it.A few minutes later, Jessica walked through the door. Looking around the hall, she took in her surroundings with a clear head for the first time. This was going to be
her home now? She felt small among all the men with guns, Frank, Rowe, even the doctors who were eyeballing her closely.
Could she handle this? Were they right, would she turn into a beast when she least expected it? A little unsure, she relaxed as Frank’s hand found hers. Jess still couldn’t believe Frank was standing here. After six years of avoiding him because she couldn’t find it in herself to rely on another person, let Frank into her dark mind, here he was.
He didn’t care that she had bit the crap out of his neck. He didn’t care that she had killed people. He didn’t care that she was a freaking mess. He was here with is hand in hers, a smile on his face, never happier.
Fighting back tears, she exhaled and smiled back—weakly, but it was a start.
“Call Maggie or George and make sure they have a place to call their own. Once they’re settled, I want you to call upstairs and have the girls sent down to meet them. You are to only take orders from me or the Guardians. If something happens, call me directly. Is that understood?” Rowe asked the guard next to the door.
“Yes, your highness.”
“Good. Jessica?” He took her free hand and raised it to his lips. “I will make sure that you and Dan have some alone time later. Right now, I need some time with him.”
“Thank you. I just need to see my babies first. Tell Danny I’m fine, not to worry. That I miss him?” She wiped her eyes again as the guard put his phone away.
Rowe nodded. Dan was lucky to have had that woman in his life.
“Follow me. George already has your rooms ready.” The guards began down the hallway.
“Bye, Rowe.” She brushed her hand down his arm.
He waved a hand watching them go. Jessica and Frank stole a few glances at each other. Their hands were intertwined. Knowing that they would finally be reunited with their children gave Rowe some peace before he turned to Theo with a glare.
“The only reason you’re still here is because my mother has some faith in you. People change and blah, fucking blah. I on the other hand am not so quick to trust you and your lot. From now on, you will report to me. I want to know every little thing that goes on in that head of yours. If you make a phone call, I want to know about it. If you take a piss, I want to know about it.
Anyone who was on a close and personal basis with my enemy is to be watched like a hawk. Furthermore, anyone who created a drug to take away my people’s free will, bring them into a state of madness, will be suspect until proven innocent.”
Theo gaped. “We didn’t have a…”
“Silence.” Rowe growled. “I don’t want to hear your excuses or the bullshit you fed my mother. I want data, results—a solution. You will prepare your research in a manner that is understood by everyone. No mumbo jumbo, no vague holes in the plot, I want it all in black and white. What you did to create this drug, what the intended uses were, where your product came from, names. I want all tests and results from your years with Nigel, I want everything. Black and fucking white and I want it within the week.
You have seven days to make me understand what we’re up against, after that? You’re going to find a way to make it stop. So you better get started doctor, because if you don’t follow through, shit is going to royally hit the fan.”
“Seven days! We don’t even have all our research available to us or any proper equipment.” Theo’s mouth hung open. The prince was deadly serious, but how were they going to manage that. Seven days for years of research?
Turning to the remaining guards, Rowe addressed them. “See that Dr. Jones gets whatever he needs. I want all equipment, substances, and number two pencils checked in and assessed before being brought into the compound. If it seems suspicious, most likely is.”
“And where are they going to get the kind of equipment that we had in the lab? That was millions in technology, that’s impossible.” Theo shook his head. Frustration had long since taken a break and anger was welling in his fists.
“You don’t live this long and not know people, Dr. Jones. So, as I said. You better get started.”
“Seven days,” Theo murmured in anger. “Impossible.”
“Tick tock, doctor.” Rowe walked past him with a snarl.
Suarta walked to Theo when the coast was clear. She wasn’t sure getting in between the two would have been a good idea. Now that she saw how shook up Theo was, she knew she had been right.
“We’ll make it happen, Theo. You and I both knew the minute we came here, that none of this would be easy.”
Theo shook off her hand. “I knew this would be hard, but I didn’t know I would be enslaved again. That’s what we are here, Suarta. We’re prisoners. No matter what we do, who we fix, what we find, they’re always going to hate us.”
“Not if we find a way to save them.” She stared at him for a minute. “We can do this, Theo. We made the serum in the first place, let’s undo it.”
Seeing the determination on her face, Rowe’s lingering words on Theo’s mind were eradicated. They were doctors. They were given their knowledge and hands to do wonderful things. Disease, illness, and defects, they were all just road blocks to them, like Rowe. This is what they did, they were the ones that paved the way—making the road free and clear again.
Nodding to a guard, Theo pulled off his white jacket. “Get me some paper. I have a list to make.”
Looking into the mirror of the bathroom, Grant hit confirm on his phone—all the data on the phone erased. If something happened to him—and he had the gut feeling it would—no one could track Gabriel. Never having stepped into the full role as parent for the youth, Grant now felt the full weight of Gabe’s loss on his shoulders.
Out there in the world alone, no one to run to, Grant gripped the sink with emotion. When that helicopter had landed, and he’d welcomed Thierry and his mate on the roof yesterday, Grant never imagined anything worse than Nigel. He was very wrong. Where Nigel had needed his help with loose ends, didn’t have it all together as he let his wants overrule his needs, Thierry had a plan—a real plan that could work if he understood everything correctly.
The new boss was cutthroat, polished—organized. Grant had never seen such a swift transition in his entire existence. His having to erase his phone proved that. For Grant to be worried over the safety of a boy he had never connected with, meant he was terrified. He wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Especially Gabe, who never knew any better or had a choice.
The boy had been born into the underworld. He’d been hidden from the darker parts, but his life hadn’t been sheltered. From a young child, Gabe had been trained to blend in, take pictures, record phone calls. He was a spy first, a person second in Grant’s eyes. Now he wished with all his heart that he could take it all back.
That he would have taken the boy and ran away from his sister. Tracked the boy’s father down, who from Grant’s understanding had wanted to wed his sibling, care for the child before she’d moved to the states. But no, he’d been too scared to stray from the pack. In truth, he was just like Gabe. He’d never had a choice either.
Wiping his face, he walked out of the bathroom with a blank expression. The door to Thierry’s suite stood open, men to either side. His world was filled with guards, these men that erupted from nowhere, blending into the wallpaper when not in use.
“He’s waiting for you,” one said.
Grant nodded casually, he couldn’t show fear. Fear got you killed as one of the boys had found out the previous night. Thierry’s mate seemed to like his supper terrified.
In the open living room sat his new boss, alone, a crisp white suit against a crisp white sofa. Evil had never looked so good, Grant groaned inside as he sat across from him.
With a snap of his fingers, Thierry summoned a guard carrying a large protective case. He set it on the table between them and opened it to reveal layers of injector molding. Hundreds of small glass vials filled the foam. Grant knew before Thierry even opened his mouth what he was looking at.
“One hundred doses per case.” Thierry crossed his leg with a smile. “Dey look so small, yes?”
“Yes, they do,” Grant agreed in submission. He was going to kiss ass to save himself. That’s what he was good at.
“But dey do so much damage. It tis all very exciting.” Thierry’s smile turned sinister. His eyes hazed over a bit as if imagining all the chaos he was about to create.
“The Guardians are in possession of this product as well. They took the humans and the research, they’ll have found the vials by now.” Grant reminded him casually.
Thierry clucked his tongue. “It does not matter. What will dey do with what dey have? Keep it hidden, destroy it? Let dem have what dey think will save di city.” He laughed.
Grant cocked his head. “But the humans that made this, won’t they find an antidote?”
Thierry sat forward with a grin. “Is no antidote for a demon, my boy. Once you in hell, di devil won’t let you go. For a while anyway.” The dark skinned vamp’s yellow eyes flared with humor, his dark hand flicked in the air like he was amused.
“So you plan on turning all the queen’s men into ferals?”
“Not yet.” Thierry tapped the case. “Dis is different.”
“And what is that exactly?” Grant eyed the case.
“When Thomas sent us a sample of di product in development, he meant it no more den a trinket, a little taste of what was to come. Me? I don’t much care for frivolous gifts. What use was it, if I could not play with it?” Thierry pulled a vial from the molding, holding it to the light. A swallow of deep red liquid sloshed around the small tube. “With a prototype, I decided to take it down a notch. Slow the feral component.”
“How can you do that? Once it’s done it’s done.”
“Dat is where you are mistaken, Grant. Dis vial contains a compound in which a vampire will experience raised levels of adrenaline, testosterone—a temporary chemical imbalance of sorts.”
“Bring them to the brink of feral, without turning?” Grant hid his shudder. Why was Thierry doing this?
“Precisely, what does a vampire do when dey are angry, Grant?”
“Lose control, gives over to the beast until it’s satisfied.”
“Right again. Wouldn’t it be fun to see what happens when di good guys go bad?”
“Chaos amongst the Royals?” This puzzle was fitting together in a very sinister way. Grant was becoming worried. The Queens men hopped up across the city? He was going to have to find somewhere to hide.
“Bingo.” Thierry chuckled. “Wouldn’t it be even better if we took di roots of dis city by storm? Draw dem in until dey can’t say no.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying dat we reel in di other families. Cut the drug loose on all di turfs. Hook di humans who feed di vampires. Nigel was too big for himself. Turning all di Royals into ferals? How could you control dat?”
Grant sighed with relief a little. Then something else occurred to him. “What happens if we feed from a human that’s dosed?”
“You will mimic di signs of feral for almost eight hours, give or take.” He shrugged, the little beads in his braids clicked together. “Better be careful of who you play with from now on.” Thierry let out a rich laugh. The possibility of Grant sucking on some dosed up human hilarious somehow.
“Right.” Grant thought of Gabe. Shit, fuck, shit. “What is the end game in all of this? To make them look bad to their own kind?”
“Dat is only a perk of our game. Di real fun is when di queen and her little prince start killing di Royals dey believe are feral. By den, so many dealers will be pushing on di streets. One by one, group by group, dey will kill each other. All we have to do is sit back and watch for now.”
Thierry flicked his fingers, a guard from the doorway brought him a few fingers of something strong. He took a sip, with a satisfied hiss. “And make a lot of money doing it. Money dat will fund di development of many, many fronts for our side. We will makes lots of friends soon enough and will need lots of places to put dem. It is all so wonderful. Isn’t it, Grant?”
“Yes, wonderful.” He felt his phone vibrate against his chest.
“I’ve sent you dis week’s schedule for what I need done. Make it happen, alright?” Thierry smiled sweetly, but Grant knew better. Hell, anyone within a few feet of Thierry knew better. Those yellow eyes narrowed.
“Of course, anything you need.”
“I like what I hear from you, Grant. Do not make me upset.” The last words were clipped, but gentle. Kind of like when your mother said disappointed in you instead of mad at you—so much worse.
“Good night, Thierry.”
“Sweet dreams, Grant.” Thierry gestured for the door and Grant couldn’t get out of the suite fast enough. Keeping his pace in check though, he left the suite and walked down the hall.
Still seated on his couch, Thierry took another sip of rum. “Watch him,” he growled to the man silent in the darkened corner. “He is up to something.”
Stepping out from his shadowy hiding place, the man in dark glasses nodded. He pulled a fedora out from behind his back with a slow grin.
“My pleasure,” he replied softly. Slipping out the opposite exit, the man put the hat over his head to hide the giant cobra tattoo that covered his head and back. All too eager to play in the game, he silently crossed the hall into the elevator.
Already down two flights of stairs, Grant looked around to make sure no one was watching. His phone in hand, he unlocked the screen and cursed.
Took my stuff. Thanks for everything.
Fucking Gabriel, Grant put a hand to the concrete wall. He couldn’t do this. That kid needed to be somewhere safe. It wasn’t right to let him loose in the middle of all this. With his heart thudding away, Grant decided to do the last good thing in him that he had left.
Attaching an email that was waiting in his inbox, Grant replied to Gabe’s text message.
Go back to the Cartel house. Show them this and tell them who you are. You had no choice, they will protect you. When you’ve done that, destroy the phone, and never call this number again. You’re a good kid. Stay that way. Love Uncle G.
He hit send and wanted to fall to the ground. If Thierry knew what he’d just done. He would die and not immediately. It would be slow, painful, torture. To avoid that completely, Grant deleted the evidence on his phone. His feet quick to finish the stairs, he entered the ground floor and walked out to his car. Not even realizing that in the car behind him was Thierry’s other set of eyes. Only these eyes were colorless, clear…soulless.
It was getting colder as the night got darker. Gabriel still hadn’t figured out where he would go, but he hadn’t gone far. His uncle’s apartment was four blocks from the Cartel abode and after making the trip home, he’d headed back up to catch the subway.
Maybe Chinatown was a good start, Gabe thought. He hadn’t heard anything about the Jing yet, so they wouldn’t be involved. It was safer to know your shit when you ran with the bad guys. He kept a recorder in his back pocket, whispering notes, jotting them down later for Grant most of the time. He was always in the know about the streets. Probably knew more about the families then they did.
Which was why he felt safe walking on the other side of the Cartel line. These kids huddled in the alleyways, the dealers, the old lady that stood outside holding a broom as a weapon—they all knew him. They shared information, it was all legit. At least that’s what he thought until a black car pulled up half a block ahead.
It wasn’t hard to spot in El Barrio. East Harlem wasn’t somewhere that spank new Audis parked on the curb, unless it was two blocks over and the girls were working at the taquería instead of the alley behind the old theater. A guy that Gabriel recognized as Angel looked both ways, spit on the ground, and lifted away from the wall of the corner store.
Pants sagging around his hips, white T and gold chain, he leaned into the open car window for a chat. Fucking drug dealers, Gabriel pulled his hood up before the bright lights of the grocery lit up his face. He didn’t want to be seen by anyone on this corner. You might look like someone, give a guy the wrong eye, walk in their space—you just didn’t want to be here.
Deciding whether to walk over to Lexington and mill about Manhattan or ride the underground this time of night, Gabe waited at the crosswalk with anxiety.
“Come on, walk, walk,” he whispered to himself. He could feel eyes on the back of his head.
A group of men in a car across the street watched him, the bass in their car so loud it gave him an instant migraine. In the distance he heard sirens. Ahead two boys threw down their spray cans and ran away from their half-finished tag job on the side of a free clinic. Gabe took a deep breath to tune out the city. Sometimes you didn’t notice it and sometimes it grabbed you.
A hand clapped him on the shoulder. His blood ran cold—a feeling that at any second, he was going to feel a gun at the back of his head. Gabe kept his face down as he turned. Angel stood there with a lift of his chin.
“You around a lot, you know this kid? There’s money in it if you do.” Angel slapped a piece of paper to Gabe’s chest.
Looking down, he hid his fear. It was a little fuzzy, but it didn’t take much to recognize your own self in a picture. Thank God, Angel was stupid and too busy swearing at the guys in the car across the street to pay much attention to his open mouth.
“Nah, it’s too dark. Can’t see anything, bro.” He handed the paper back, hiding his face from the still open car window.
“Shit, man. Ol’ dude over there is givin out a G for any info. You know who that is yeah?” Angel leaned in, hooking a thumb at the car. “Cartel, mother fucker. This little dude must have done somethin deep.”
Gabe wanted to haul ass down the street, but he willed his legs to be still.“Sucks to be him.”
“Fuckin right. My cousin Chavo owed one of their guys a hundred dollars. He didn’t pay it back the next day and wham!” He smacked his hands together and Gabe jumped. “Fucking took his finger and his girlfriend. You don’t mess with that bro. You don’t mess with this either!” He pumped his fists into his chests, screaming the last part at the car across the street. The guys yelled back, one trying to get out of the backseat to beat Angel to death.
Angel was the world’s worst drug dealer, but damn if he didn’t scare the shit out of Gabe. Lose a finger? Hell no, Gabe tapped his foot for the crosswalk to flash white.
The car door behind him opened up. He stopped breathing. A few footsteps and he heard Angel gasp.
“Maybe I forgot to mention not to share our business with the world. I said discrete and that was not fucking discrete.”
“I’m sorry bro, I won’t say nothin else. Promise,” Angel squeaked.
“You see the kid or know anything about him, you let us know. He’s…” Gabe couldn’t hear the rest as a city bus blazed by.
By the time he glanced over his shoulder, the man was getting into his car. Whipping back around, the crosswalk was good to go. Angel had retreated back to his wall with a frown. Gabe ran for all he was worth across the street, feeling the car drive slowly next to him. The subway was just ahead, if he could reach it before the car possibly cut him off at the small alley drive ahead, he was golden. Did they even recognize him?
Was that possible? He’d changed his clothes at the apartment, sprayed himself with enough cologne to cover his scent in case it was recognized by the vamps. Relief set in when the black car kept going and made a right up ahead, but Gabe didn’t stop running. He ran until his hands slid over the railing for the underground entrance. His sneakers slapped against the concrete on his way down—echoing his terror to the people going the opposite direction. A few looks and a shrug or two from the people around him and he was home free.
The disgusting yellow tile of the subway entrance was like Dorothy’s yellow brick road to him. A turn style, a swipe of his card and…his phone buzzed in his pocket.
Gabe stopped. A hopeful need had his phone in hand within seconds. Looking down, he saw it from his uncle Grant and he wanted to sob.
With a swipe of the screen, his stomach lurched at the contents of the message.
Go back to the Cartel house. Show them this and tell them who you are. You had no choice, they will protect you. When you’ve done that, destroy the phone, and never call this number again. You’re a good kid. Stay that way. Love G.
Holding his breath, Gabriel opened the attachment. Eyes wide, he kept scrolling, not believing what he was seeing. Fear cranked up to a whole new level, Gabe looked around at the other riders waiting on the platform. Did they know what he had in this message? Was he being followed by the bad guys now? Had Grant given himself up to the Royals, negotiating protection for him in the process?
Choices sucked—so many decisions that would change your life forever in the blink of an eye. This was probably the hardest one he would ever have to make. Did he take the train and get lost in the city forever, always running, dodging the bad guys? Or did he turn around, go back to the Cartel, and show them what could be the scariest piece of information he had ever laid eyes on? Did he warn them and protect himself or did he run?
Gabe stared at his phone for a second before letting go of the breath he had been holding.
“You can do this,” he whispered with encouragement. “You can do this, Gabe.”
His ride rolled up with enough noise to drown out his own thoughts. The doors opened with a whoosh. People rushed at him from all directions. Looking back at the way he had come, Gabriel swallowed back his emotion, and stepped onto the train. He’d seen enough examples of the Cartel’s handiwork to know that house was nowhere near safe.
Something rough yet soft licked at his ear. Tiny puffs of breath huffed against his cheek. Dan made a noise of protest, his fingers scratching the tickle away. A tiny jingle and a squeaky bark made him open his eyes to the world.
He shied away at first. A little dog sat looking at him for a second before running to his face again.
“What in the hell?”
Dan fended off the little beast. It was being friendly, not biting or scratching, but waking up to an unfamiliar critter in your bed was slightly alarming. The dog refused to take no for an answer. It jumped into his lap with a shake of its fluffy tail.
“Where did you come from?”
Dan finally scratched the dog under the chin, holding onto it with his other hand. His fingers grazed over something smooth, cool to the touch. Upon closer inspection, a little heart shaped charm was attached to a thin blue collar.
Prince Pomeranian, Royal Diva.
“Oh my God,” Dan whispered. His heart leapt in his chest. Tears pricked at his eyes when he realized where this dog had come from—a little prince from his prince.
“It’s a little late, but…” Rowe stood from his chair in the corner. “Happy Birthday pet.”
“Rowe,” Dan whimpered. The little prince made a few circles in his lap before lying down.
Sitting down next to Dan, Rowe brushed his mate’s bed tresses back. A tender kiss against Dan’s forehead, he smiled.
“The collar from before was only a gag gift. After seeing it on you though, I couldn’t resist. It was supposed to be a hint.” Rowe ran his fingers over the ball of fur in Dan’s lap. “I’m sorry things didn’t go as planned, love. I’m sorry that everything has been so screwed up that you and I haven’t had a chance to breathe. But I hope that your Little Prince here will make you smile.”
“I love him.” Dan hugged Rowe tight. Little Prince yipped—his nest of Dan’s legs being shaken much to his dislike. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Do you really like him? If not, I know two little girls that will gladly take him off your hands.” Rowe pulled Dan to him, the little dog crawling onto him once again. “Though it seems he really likes you, would be a shame to upset him.”
“Sounds like someone I know.” Dan smiled up at Rowe. “I really do like him. I’ve never had a dog though. What if I forget to feed it?”
“I don’t think he’ll ever go hungry around here. He’s already made friends with half the house from my understanding.”
Dan chuckled before something Rowe had said made him stop. “Did you say little girls?”
“Yes.” Rowe rubbed his back. “Hannah and Emma, quite the pair they are.”
“They’re here?” Dan turned around, Little Price whining for all to hear. “Oh God, what happened? Are they alright? Shit, Jess. What happened to Jess?”
His mind started to play out what-ifs. He’d all, but forgotten his sister, that mess. Visions of her bloody form came back to him in a rush. Was she dead? The girls, did they know?
“Daniel, stop.” Rowe shook him a little. “Everything is just fine. Do you hear me? Just fine.”
“How could I forget about her? I’m a terrible person. I just…”
“Non-sense, you are far from terrible. You have been through a traumatic event and truthfully? I’ve done everything I can to take your mind off your sister. What good would it do to have you trying to cope with everything all at once? One thing at a time with you, that’s my motto and I’m damn well sticking to it.
Your sister is important, but you are more important to me. I don’t mean to downplay your hurt and your worry. Don’t think that for a second, pet. But you were going through your own events. How could you have begun your own recovery? Focusing on Jess when we didn’t know how she would fair?”
“And how did she fair, Rowe? Was the dog a gift to keep me happy when you told me she was dead?” Dan grabbed Little Prince and scooted off the bed.
“Maybe you missed the part where I said everything was just fine.”
Whipping around, Dan laughed darkly. “I’ve heard that before, Rowe. ‘Fine’ is a nice word for it’s not really okay, but you’ll get over it. Maybe you missed the part where my sister raised me. She was everything before you came along. Those girls, her, they’re my family. They were the only thing that kept me from offing myself a long time ago.”
Something inside Rowe snapped. He had been going for so long on nothing, a fire that was now a dying ember inside him. Dan was pushing him away again. After all he had done for his mate. He wasn’t ever going to be good enough. Rowe believed he deserved this on some level—for taking so long to realize his birthright, frivolously living off his own wants while people around him suffered.
No one thought he needed to be taken care of too. His happiness that Jess and his mate were okay, turned into something dark. He was aching inside too. Just because he was strong, a prince of the bloody vampires—didn’t mean he didn’t feel, hurt, or have needs.“I realize that, Dan!” Rowe got off the bed. “I realize that you had a rough life. I realize that you are so broken that I’m not sure that I can ever heal you. I realize that you’ve been promised a lot of things and been denied each and every time. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. I know what it’s like to hurt so badly inside that you feel like nothing will ever be right again.
I know what it’s like to feel that everything is crashing down around you. My father killed my siblings and left me as some joke of a gift for my mother. He went crazy and started a war that will never end. My people die every day because he existed. My own flesh and blood! Not one day goes by that I don’t wish I could kill him again. Over and over, I want to stab him in the face for hurting my mother—for taking from me my family, my happiness.
I was the only thing that my mother had to keep her from killing herself. I have been Jess, damn it! I have been where you are! I have done everything I can to keep you safe, to make you trust me, love me. But maybe I’m just fooling myself. Is this what you wanted Dan? To prove that you could push me so far away—over nothing—that I would crack, to test me?
All I wanted was to bring you good news and you act like this. I can’t do it all. I can’t rule these people, I can’t fix everyone. I can’t be their savior. I can’t live with this worry that at any moment those sick fucks are out there doing what they did to Jess and you. I can’t cope with the fact that there are weapons out there designed to turn us into the demons we first were from the fires of hell.
I can’t think about what the future for these children will be like! It is so much to take! Over a damn dog, you treat me like some villain. I just can’t do it.”
He fell to his knees with a heart wrenching sob.
“You win, Dan. You don’t have to be one of us. You don’t have to be like me, the man that came along and ruined your life. Hannah was right, I am a terrible husband. I can’t do anything right. I can’t keep you safe from yourself.”
Putting Little Prince on the bed, Dan ran to Rowe. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think beyond the painful grief of Rowe’s emotions. Why had he been so hateful? None of this was Rowe’s fault. Dan couldn’t ever seem to be normal, to say the right things, to be the mate Rowe needed.
Now this powerful man was on his knees sobbing. He had indeed finally cracked. So many things going on that he couldn’t prevent or stop. Not once had Dan stopped to think of how Rowe felt in all this. It had always been about him, always his problems and his nightmares, his pain.
A relationship worked two ways, give and take. Dan had done nothing, but take from Rowe. Pushing aside his need to see Jess, he wrapped his arms around his mate and hung on for dear life.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t think, I didn’t know. Forgive me,” he pleaded. “God, don’t shut down, Rowe. I need you!”
“No you don’t. You need someone normal. You need someone that can give you a little house on a quiet street, with a little dog with a normal name. You need to go to work, and have normal friends who have barbeques and swimming pools. You deserve to live that way. I am nothing like that.
I will never be able to give you that. I am only poison to you.” Rowe began to pull away, the loss of Dan’s arms around his neck killing the beast inside of him. Every word he said was true though. If he could do one thing for his mate, one thing to make him happy, he loved him enough to let him go. If Dan only wanted Jess and the girls, he would give his mate back.
“No, damn you. I don’t want that! I want you, only you,” Dan cried, reaching for Rowe.
“Go see Jess, Dan. She’s downstairs, with Frank, and the girls—you’re family.”
“You are my family! You’re all I need, I’m sorry I said that. I didn’t mean it that way. I was scared, worried. Please, Rowe.” Dan grabbed Rowe by the shirt.
“You should never have to be scared or worried. I can’t stand to see you that way. It makes me want to die every time I feel the fear inside you. I worry every second that I’m not with you. That you aren’t strong enough to defend yourself when I’m not near, that you can’t feel me like I feel you. Why should you have to worry about that? You shouldn’t!” Rowe looked up, his eyes were a mess of swirl—so vibrant a violet, Dan lost his breath.
“You can’t do this to me, to us. I love you. I want to be with you. I want to take care of you too.” Sharing Rowe’s tears, Dan pressed his lips to his mate’s cheek. “I want to be strong. I want to be everything you need. I’m sorry that every time we finally think it’s going alright, that I get in the way, me and my stupid mouth, my ups and downs. I want to share everything with you, not push you away. I didn’t mean it, Rowe. I swear to God, I just wasn’t thinking.”
With only one option to show Rowe he was serious, Dan stood up. Every step he took to the bed was heavy. Every breath he took calculated, counted in his head. He slid over the sheets until he was facing Rowe on his knees.
“Sex doesn’t fix everything, Dan.” Not pet, not love, not mate, Dan. It felt disconnected to hear his mate call him that, but Dan drew on his courage for what he was about to do.
“No.” He shoved Little Prince off the bed. “It doesn’t.”
“Then what do you want, Dan?” Rowe stood, running his hands through his hair.
“Come here.” It wasn’t a suggestion from Dan. It was a command.
The prince’s eyes flicked to his mate’s. Dan was very serious, very still—waiting for him.
Like a honey to bee, Rowe went to the bed, but he couldn’t stop his mind from wondering. “Why?”
“I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for. Nothing is going to change the way I feel about you. No fight between us, no title. No amount of family drama will change it either. You and me, we’re forever. I would give my life for you as you would for me. That’s all that matters. You and me together, everything else will work out around us.
I’m sorry for what I said. It was childish. I wasn’t thinking clearly, I have a million other excuses, but I don’t have an excuse for not taking care of what is mine. You Rowe, you are mine, and from now on, I promise to start acting like it. You aren’t alone anymore. Just like I have you now, we can’t hide our problems from each other.
I want the whole thing. I want to feel what you feel. I want to know when you’re hurting, when you need me. I want to be there for you like you are for me. I don’t know what else to say, but…” Dan felt his heart racing.
“Pet?” Rowe felt Dan on the verge of something big. The other man’s heart rate quickened. His eyes were deep in thought. Then the thought passed, green eyes bore into Rowe.
“I’m ready now.”
Rowe crept forward. He couldn’t resist. “For what?”
“To be a vampire.”
TO BE CONTINUED…