Friday, December 13, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday! The Great Mage: Week 19

Welcome back to Flash Fiction Friday!  This week’s prompt was:

Man’s Best Friend – Give your main character(s) a pet: dog, cat, faerie, dinosaur, etc. Whatever fits your world and/or your character(s)’s personality. They can keep it, find it a home, or recount a childhood pet now lost.

Make sure to visit our other wonderful bloggers after you read this week’s installment of The Great Mage.
Flash Fiction Friday Bloggers:


Winter (m/m)

Tempest Wolf (m/m



The Great Mage: Week 19


Aneris awoke with a start.  Tangled in flannel sheets, he managed to find his phone on the nightstand and shut off the alarm.  His feet dug into the carpet after he swung his legs over the side of the bed.  His head throbbed.  His mouth was dry.  And when his eyes adjusted to his surroundings, he found himself looking out his bedroom window of the small house he rented on Briar Lane.  At first he wondered if he was dreaming, or quite possibly dead as Sylvius had laid him flat with that last blast of dark magic.

But the smell of his bedroom was too real, the scent of lilac bush drifted through his window.  Even the sun warmed his skin as he stood and put his hands to the glass.  Aneris dropped his hands and turned in horror to observe his bedroom.  His computer screen still held the email from the Gamemaster, detailing this week’s LARP prompt.  The same soda can he’d been drinking when Seth had talked to him over voice chat was sitting next to the keyboard.  And there in the chair was Aneris’s cape, next to it the plastic and cardboard box it had been shipped in.

He put a hand over his mouth.  His eyes filled with tears.  Seth… It wasn’t real at all.  It was all a dream, a very realistic dream.  Dressed in only his pajama bottoms, Aneris stormed down the hallway in mourning.  “No.  He was real!”  He slapped the wall angrily, proceeding down the short staircase to the main floor.  “Seth?!”  he called frantically.

Aneris stopped in his tracks at the sight of a strange man in his kitchen.  The man had a greying ponytail from the back and was dressed in cargo shorts and a shirt.  When he turned around, coffee pot in hand, he smiled at Aneris.   Aneris’s favorite Gandalf shirt he’d received as swag from a convention graced the man’s upper body.

“Hope you don’t mind.  I borrowed it.  I’ve been told by many Othersiders what a fine sorcerer this Gandalf is.  Seemed only fitting…”  The stranger winked and grinned while setting down the coffee pot.  He lifted a finger and the fridge opened from the other side of the kitchen.  A bottle of creamer came floating into his outstretched hand.  He eyed the bottle happily.  “Hazelnut.  Sounds delicious.”

“Who…”  Aneris’s question drifted off.  He watched the man swirl his finger over his coffee cup, and then pick it up for a taste.  Bliss overtook the man’s face as he hummed his delight.

“I like this hazelnut very much.”  The man smacked his lips and opened his green eyes.  “Judging by your face I’d say you are not a morning person.  That is quite alright, Aneris.  Neither am I…normally, although today I find I have a spring in my step.  This world is full of many wonders just waiting to be tasted.”  He sipped from his cup again then sighed.  “Would you mind if I took this bottle back with me?  It is too good not to recreate.”

Aneris stared blankly at the stranger.  “Sure,” he whispered.

“Oh, forgive me, boy!  I make a most terrible houseguest.  We have not been formally introduced, though I’m positive if you collected yourself a bit you’d gather my identity on your own.”  The man waited, had some more coffee, and then gave up on a silent Aneris.  “I am the Gamemaster, but you may call me Theodore.  All of my most treasured colleagues do.”

Aneris exhaled and closed his eyes.  “I’m not crazy.”

“Crazy?  My dear boy, you are anything but.” 

Theodore summoned things from Aneris’s kitchen.  A teaspoon slipped out of a drawer and dunked into the sugar bowl on the counter.  The creamer top popped open.  A fresh cup danced through the air, softly landing near Theodore’s hand.  If Aneris’s childhood cat Trixie had been around, she would have perched next to him in wonder, slowly following every object with her all seeing eyes.  Aneris smiled at the thought of the crazy old cat and how easily amused she had been.

Missing Trixie was nothing compared to the way Aneris missed Seth.  He had all sorts of questions, but he waited, knowing Theodore wouldn’t leave him hanging.  And he didn’t.  He pulled out a stool with a wave his hand, inviting Aneris to have coffee with him.  Aneris eagerly took the coffee and sipped, staring at the most prestigious magic wielder in the world.

“I don’t need to tell you how valiant you are for your willingness to sacrifice your life on behalf of the White Kingdom.  I believe you found yourself within our realm, and used your talents with the courage you already had to defeat Sylvius.  I knew you were the one all along, Aneris.  When I sent Setherum into your world, I had been watching you for many years.  The fact that he picked you above all others shows he saw you for who you were as well—a great man who didn’t belong here.”

“I wasn’t wasted.  I almost have my masters in civil engineering!”  Aneris huffed into his coffee.

Theo chuckled.  “That is a mortal placement.  Who you are cannot be denied.  Obviously you are far more qualified for magic than…engineering, was it?  You held the respect of every being you encountered, every race that followed you into the fire, and now you hold the respect and admiration of your King.  You saved them, Aneris.”

“Then why am I here and not there, huh?”

“I couldn’t very well leave you lying in the earth, now could I?”  Theodore rolled his eyes.  “What kind of Mage would I be to do that to my protégé?  A terrible one!  The Dragon Tribes had just arrived and events were dicey, fire everywhere and people screaming.  Not exactly conducive to healing, I would think.”

“What about Seth? Did he make it out?”  Aneris nearly knocked over his mug to stand.

“Of course he did.  Nonsense.”  Theodore licked his fingers of creamer, nearly purring.


“Oh alright, if you must hear the grizzly details, he slayed Sylvius’s men and swore on their blood he’d avenge your death.  Not that you were dead per say, just…sleeping and not moving.”

“He thinks I’m dead?”

“He did for a minute.”  Theodore forced a smile and stepped away.  “He might have orchestrated an attack on the Black King after Sylvius died, and led the Dragon Tribes into battle.”

“He what!”  Aneris clutched his chest, prowling around the kitchen island towards the retreating Gamemaster.

“Before you kill me, hear me out, Aneris.  This journey was not yours alone.  I sent Setherum into this world in part to choose you as my protégé and to allow you to see your true nature.  But I also set into motion a journey for him as well.  He needed strength.  He needed a reason to keep going, to show his Tribe who he was and like you, show them he was more than an insecure little boy with a sword. 

“Without you he would have never had the strength to take command as he did.  He would have never waged war with the Black King and took our enemy’s head.  If I had not brought you here to heal in peace, he would have mourned by your side and missed his chance to know his true nature.”

“What do you mean his true nature?”  Aneris eyed Theodore with suspicion.  He leaned in, narrowing his eyes.

“With every sacrifice there is a reward, is there not?”  Theodore crossed his arms and smiled.

“What did you do to him?”

“Since you are rested and well again, why don’t you dress and find out?”

Aneris shivered.  “He’s here?  Where?  Where is Seth?”

“Not here, Mage.  There.”  The Gamemaster’s gaze softened.  “As with every Othersider who has proven themselves worthy, I will give you two choices to choose from.  Denounce this life and this existence as a mere mortal, relinquishing everything of this world to come with me and live as yourself for eternity in the Silver Realm.  Or stay and finish your time here, age and wither under the pressure of human nature, and repress all the things you have seen and done in my world.  It is your choice, but if you choose to come with me you must do it fast.  The last of your journey is yet to be finished.”

Theodore opened his palm to reveal a glass orb.  Black flooded the stone and stars dotted the miniature sky.  In the middle, the moon appeared nearly full and glowing white.  Aneris sharply inhaled.  He grinned at Theodore before racing back to his room.

Theodore leaned against the kitchen counter after Aneris slammed his door shut.  He sighed over his cup.  “A fine Gamemaster you will make one day, boy.  When I am ready to hang up my cape and enjoy a life of rest and relaxation, I will not fear,” he whispered.


Instead of driving to the LARP property, Theodore walked Aneris to the woods behind the young man’s house.  He eyed Aneris up and down, satisfied with his protégé’s appearance.  The green cape around Aneris’s shoulders flowed down to the ground, whispering over the brush as they breached the tree line.

“Are you certain of your choice?”

“Yes.”  Aneris stared straight ahead.  He picked up his pace.

“And are you understand the cost should you not complete this last task?”

“A pissed off Elemental that will drown me if I don’t play matchmaker?  Yeah, I got it.”  Aneris grinned.

“You sound confident you can deliver.”

Aneris licked his lips, tilted his head, and decided to keep walking.  His smile widened.  “I think I realized the trick to all of this.”

“And that is?”       

“I’ve made this journey difficult on myself because I didn’t understand who I was and I was trying to fit into a role that was already mine.  I lost a lot of energy because I viewed my magic as something separate from myself, something I had to call on.  I was able to defeat Sylvius because somewhere inside I knew this wasn’t the end, that my magic wasn’t gone.  I am my magic.”  Aneris slid his hand over a tree as he passed, leaving a trail of small white flowers behind.  “I don’t have to use spells or words to make things happen.  I just do them.”  He stopped and disappeared, reappearing in front of Theodore.  “I’m a true Mage, natural born.”

“Now he gets it.”  Theodore laughed and patted Aneris on the shoulder.  “Although conjuring a dragon out of thin air was rather impressive.”

Aneris blushed. His thoughts drifted to Seth.  “I had a little inspiration.”

“Well, let us hope the inspiration continues.”  Theodore winked.  “On your way, boy.  Time is of the essence.”

“Aren’t you coming?”  Aneris frowned.

“I’ll be along shortly.  I have to see a Troll about some hazelnuts.”  Theodore smiled.  “It is an honor to teach you, Aneris.  I look forward to your bright future.”  The Gamemaster winked and pushed Aneris through the barrier.

Aneris landed on a soft patch of earth next to a stream.  He grunted and rubbed his shoulder as he sat up, only to look into Fia’s red eyes from across the water.  The horse shook out her mane, making noises that signified her joy.  Aneris shot to his feet, his hope renewed.  In a blink he was across the water, his magic surging to life again.  Fia attacked him, shoving her muzzle in his neck like a hug.

“I missed you so much.”  Aneris ran his hands through her hair.  He laughed.  “You were waiting for me, huh?  That’s good because we have a lot to do.”

Fia snorted, shaking h

er head again.  She took a few steps back and bowed her head, inviting him onto her back.  Aneris mounted without question.  He took her reins in his hand.  “Killian,” he murmured and they faded away from the stream.

To be continued…



Friday, December 6, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday! The Great Mage: Week 18

Hey everyone and welcome back to FFF after our nice long holiday break.  The big feast was good, even though I ended up having to cook most of it.  But all in all it was worth every minute of fussing and a great time was had by all.  Now our Christmas tree is up and the puppies are already in the process of destroying the tree skirt, pawing at ornaments, and breaking into presents which had to be relocated to the linen closet until Christmas day.  Snow is covering the ground, the temperature averages about 24, but tomorrow it’s supposed to drop to 13 degrees.  And I have to admit it’s rather picturesque when I'm not driving in it.  :)

But the one thing I love about this time of year is curling up in my warm house with a good story to read or writing my little heart out.  I've been doing both lately.  And I have finally decided what my next FFF story is going to be after The Great Mage ends soon.  I'm going to keep it a surprise for now, so I'll let you guess.  Hint: No paranormal and it will be something I've already teased you with.  Happy guessing!

Until then, let's get to the prompt and let you read this week's blog creations:

Our prompt was:  Picture Perfect – Utilize the picture in any way that’s appropriate to your chapter/story.


Be sure to visit our other wonderful bloggers and check out their take on the prompt!  Much love,


Flash Fiction Friday Bloggers:


Winter (m/m)

Tempest Wolf (m/m

The Great Mage: Week 18


From the spelled portal in the courtyard emerged Sylvius in all his mystic glory.  His eyes scorched red and shadows danced across his face like he was to attend a wicked masquerade ball.  His naked upper body was covered in thick bands of dark magic with leather straps adorning his upper arms.  In his hand was his weapon of choice, his staff made of twisted black wood.

Time and space could not hold the power filling Aneris’s body.  Everything around Aneris and Sylvius appeared to quiet and shift until the war on the edges of their magical walls was lost.  This was a fight to the death, a fight for this realm and the people who lived within it.  To their people they were the mightiest warriors, their king’s savior and the body that would deliver his command.

Black and white flames came together, encasing them in a circle that would serve as their dueling stage.  Aneris was eager, overflowing with runes and golden light.  Even so, he knew to wait, not to rush into battle like Sylvius would.  And the Black Mage did.  He came rushing at Aneris with his staff pointed forward.  Onyx flames shot from the wooden tip.  Aneris raised his rings and sliced through them, twisting his body out of the attack.

“I see you’ve learned a thing or two, Aneris,” Sylvius shouted over the roaring flames surrounding them. “But a thing or two will not save you this time.”  The Dark Mage brought his arms down, his staff pounding the ground where flames shot out in a wide circle, coming for Aneris.

With the power of all four elements inside of him, Aneris closed his eyes and welcomed the flames.  They burned, not physically, as a trick of the mind.  They slithered up his legs, engulfing his lower body.  And once he was nearly covered, he opened his eyes and smiled.  “There is no need to learn what I already am.  Everything I need to know I was born with.”  He gathered runes in his hands where the metal rings met his palms, and let the water out.

“All magic is born of the same fire.  What fire you create from there is entirely up to your heart.”  Aneris cleansed the flames attacking his body.  His runes infiltrated the evil at hand, and when that malevolent force dissipated under the strength of his purity, they were blessed a shimmering gold.  The gold mass grew in size until a mighty wave of golden water curled then released upon Sylvius.

The Great Mage lifted his hands to the domed ceiling of fire and brought them down.  Water followed his command, showering Sylvius and his magic.  The Dark Mage screamed, rendered helpless for more than a minute while the water worked to cleanse what it could of Sylvius’s magic.  He fought back, of course, breaking through the golden wave until nothing but a shimmering puddle remained.

“You’ll pay for that, you fool!  This kingdom shall be my King’s land and all who dwell here shall serve him.  There will only be room for one Mage then.  And it won’t be you.”  Sylvius narrowed his eyes and began to murmur in a dead language, one Aneris’s magic recognized.  He braced himself, throwing up every protective wall he could muster.  Fire came to his aid, licking at the metal rings, urging him to surround himself with the element’s power.  As Sylvius’s spell became louder, overpowering the fire’s hiss and crackle, Aneris spun in a circle.

Fire obeyed, spiraling around his body until a sphere of flames caged him within its protective fold.   From the darkness emerged the ghostly embodiment of a snake larger than life.  Red eyes shimmered like rubies.  And although Aneris could see through the creature’s black and red scales made of magic, he knew it was still deadly.

“That all you got, Sylvius?  A snake?  Ha!”

Sylvius’s cold smile didn’t falter.  He dipped his staff at Aneris and the snake struck Aneris’s protective sphere of fire.  A tongue of black flames darted through the holes in Aneris’s protection, seeking to touch his bare skin with death magic.  The creature’s fangs dripped red rivulets and snapped at the fire until it began to crack.  If Aneris’s protection failed, the snake would surely kill him or at the very least drain his magic.

It dawned on him that he’d seen this magic before, in fact performed it himself not too long ago.  “Fight fire with fire,” he whispered and smiled.  He crossed his rings over his chest and closed his eyes.  The one thing he loved more than anything, the man who he’d promised a future to, became his inspiration.  Magic from the heart was the strongest kind of magic available.  It was what had taken Aneris this far in his journey, when he could have died many times.  His courage, Seth’s courage and their bond was pure.  So he conjured the one creature that embodied everything they stood for.

Fire heard his call, taking shape in the form of wings where the snake sought to reach through, and wrapped Aneris in the safety of its large body.  Scales tickled his bare back.  A huff of smoke breezed over Aneris’s head.  And when Aneris opened his eyes, translucent gold wings opened and his dragon took action.  Sylvius commanded his snake with his staff, making the slithering mass strike for the dragon’s midsection before it could take flight.  But Aneris and his magic were one, a natural force that didn’t need to be controlled with hands and weapons.  They were one.

His eyes were the dragon’s eyes.  His hands were the dragon’s claws.  And together, with all the strength Aneris had to give and with almost the last of the power the elements had given him, Aneris roared.  The dragon huffed and fire escaped his mouth, scorching along the snake’s body.  The earth bound creature dimmed until barely an outline remained. 

Nevertheless, Sylvius wasn’t giving up the fight that easily.  He fell to his knees, clutching his staff in both hands.  He screamed and the snake coiled and jumped, fangs bared for the dragon’s neck.  It struck into Aneris’s magic and he too felt the brunt of another’s Mage’s magic.

A physical kind of pain, as he and his dragon were one, he went to one knee. Aneris gritted his teeth, sweat pouring down his face, and poured the stored magic in his rings into the fight.  The dragon shook off Sylvius’s snake, and took to the air once more.  He flew one circle before diving right at the snake.  The snake had no time to react because Sylvius had barely any magic left to give, having already reduced his power with the use of such high magic.

The dragon’s fire burned the snake into oblivion.  Sylvius screamed again, pointing his staff at Aneris.  The Great Mage wiped his eyes of sweat, barely able to breathe as he kneeled on the molten hot stone floor.  He was almost depleted under Sylvius’s attacks, coupled with the use of his own defenses.  What little magic he did possess was barely a blip.  His rings were drained.  His dragon still hovered above his head, victorious, but even the fire breathing creature was starting to wane.

“I bet you regret being a natural now.  Your body and your magic are connected like all of us.  But not all of us rely on our inner magic to fight.  Some of us are smarter than that.”  Sylvius pushed to his feet, an noticeably strenuous task as he shook and hunched over.  When he stood, Sylvius brought his knee up and snapped his staff in two.  “Never use your backup first.  That is why it is a backup.”

Black flames poured from the broken ends of Sylvius’s wooden staff, pure magic stored within the twisted stick that now filled Sylvius with power.  Dark runes scattered throughout the air, and Aneris knew this was quite possibly his end.  He sought solace in his dragon, a thin outline of a mighty creature that had done his best.  If Aneris’s powers were fading with use, then the Keep’s magic had to be gone.

He braced for the attack that came swiftly from Sylvius’s hands.  Black fire took Aneris to his back, smothering his body until he choked on smoke and magic.  He couldn’t breathe, could barely see, and what he could see was Sylvius’s dark form standing over him.

“What say you now, stupid Mage?  How do you like the fire I’ve created?”  Sylvius bent down and smiled.  “I think it’s the finest this kingdom will ever see.”

“No,” Aneris whispered, slowly drowning in flames.  He sputtered for air for which there was none.

“Oh yes.”

This couldn’t be the end.  Aneris had too much to live for.  He had to get back to Seth, to see his face and hear his voice and know this war was over.  He had to see his King wave the kingdom’s flag, to stand high atop the castle wall and shout their victory.  These lands couldn’t die, nor could the people who lived within them; too many splendid races that made this realm what it was to give up.  Aneris closed his eyes and stilled his struggling body.

Deep inside was the last flicker of his magic, the very last drop to work with.  Not enough to transport himself, but enough to breath.  He called upon air and was given the gift of space between him and the fire, just a fraction of an inch.  That was enough.  Aneris gripped the stone underneath him and begged for earth.  The stone gave way, opening up a giant rectangle in the ground in which he fell through in slow motion.  Sylvius stood on the edge of the pit as he fell, his eyes wide and his mouth screaming something Aneris didn’t hear.

“I love you, Seth,” Aneris whispered to the air around him. 

Like his soul was being ripped from his body, his magic separated into tiny golden flecks, dispersing into the air around him.  A bright golden wash filled the stone room, and then collected into a mighty mass with beating wings.  Aneris’s back hit the cold earth just in time to see the dragon wrap Sylvius in the strongest magic of all and take his life.  Sylvius’s form burst into golden particles, taking Aneris’s dragon with him.

The heart wants what the heart wants.  Aneris smiled, his vision fading as the black and white flames cleared away for the night sky miles above him.  He blinked once, focusing on the stars.  Then his body gave out and darkness took him away.

To be continued…

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Whispers In Silence: Part 2

Hello there!  It’s been a while since I posted, but don’t worry, I come with presents.  This week I’m back with the second installment of Whispers in Silence, a playlist, and on Friday I have more Mage coming at you.  I hope Thanksgiving was good for those of you who celebrated.  For those of you who didn’t partake, I hope your week was just as great.  Hugs from Siberia aka Michigan,

~Night Tempest

P.S. Enjoy…


Whispers in Silence Part 2 Playlist

 Everything In Its Right Place – Radiohead

Shadowplay – The Killers

Flick of the Finger – Beady Eye

Afraid – The Neighbourhood

Whispers In Silence: Part 2
Adrian observed the gala room once everyone began to settle into their seats for the main event.  Positioned at the front of the room, it was hard for Adrian not to draw attention as the graduation attendees were mainly facing forward.  They didn’t seem too put off by his steady scan of the crowd; in fact they wanted to be noticed.  Jewels glittered, pieces worth more than his life studded ears and were draped around slender necks.  Tailored suits and one of a kind dresses—silk and velvet, Chantilly lace and wool, mink fur and Taffeta—gift wrapped their owners, vampires luscious as truffles with the promise of a deliciously sweet center.

Their race’s dignitaries, the oldest Royals who continued to donate funds to the Guard program, and the Queen’s chosen ones all gathered in one place to honor the Guard graduates this evening.  That was what it said in the program anyway.  Of what Adrian could see, this was only one of many social gathering that allowed the purebreds to rub elbows, to hem and haw over who was richer, to secretly place ranks and turn noses up at each other.  The scary thing about being on the outside of their vanity: Adrian could have been like them had his parents quit Hunting once he was born.  Thank the universe they didn’t.

The Hunter didn’t know that spoiled existence, couldn’t quite dream about it either with his past the driving force behind his heartbeat.  He was who he was and no one would change that.  The thought of honoring his parents, his parents who were no longer with him, by walking across that stage tonight in silence was a huge step.  One he didn’t care to admit.  They were with him always.  And in this small badge of honor he would receive tonight, it felt like they’d never reneged on that promise.  Like Carson, everyone needed a happy thought for a rough patch.

Adrian smiled to himself. Outwardly his face never betrayed his cool exterior.  His small sentimental comfort eased his body, made him turn back to the stage with its pressed and pleated red ruffle, and the wooden podium carved with the Queen’s insignia and mounted microphone.  With four Guardians, the Original and his mate, plus King Valjana and the Latin one who didn’t have a name.  One he gave away, that was.

But staring down at Adrian was the one person who took his comfort away, the male who made his pain corporeal by owning the same eyes and lips, and the same funny tilt of his head as Davide once had.  It wasn’t on purpose, Sutton’s mimicking presence.  Adrian knew it, although, he wished it true.  Then he could blame Sutton for the anger, the stark fear that punched him every time he saw his Uncle.  Shaking Sutton’s hand would be hard.  Not picturing Davide in his brother’s place, wearing a prideful smile at his son’s accomplishments would be even harder.

Adrian shut it down, his personal mourning hour.  He straightened, hid his pale blue eyes and deadly expression under the visor of his hat, and put his hands on his knees like the other good little soldiers.  Two seats down Adrian felt rather than saw Carson watching him.  Carson had tried to come after him upon reading the card from his dead brother.  Had Adrian received such a message, he’d want to know what the hell was up too.  But he hadn’t. The real Toby had been enough. And Adrian didn’t much care to divulge such information to Carson.  He already had enough on his plate.  He wasn’t trying to make a buffet of it.

A string quartet played in the corner.  Adrian didn’t hear it.  Though, with a subtle slide of his eyes towards the musicians, he longed to know what they were playing, what sounds were made when the woman’s bow swept across the violin’s tightly wound strings.  What music they had chosen to accompany this moment.  His longing grew.  A lurch in his chest and a knee knocking against his reined him back in from the edge.  The guy beside him, Forest something or other, was staring up at the speaker. Adrian followed suit, only to find Sutton gripping the podium, gazing right back at him.

Sutton drew in a deep breath, his eyes locked with Adrian’s.  Something akin to sorrow swam through his Uncle’s eyes.  And with an evidently heavy heart, Sutton nodded at a woman over his shoulder.  Adrian frowned as she stood.  He knew everyone on the stage, not personally, but the woman was misplaced up there with the VIPs.  He’d never seen her, didn’t recognize her as a distinguished guest and hadn’t taken note of her presence until this very moment; although, suddenly, her attendance was of the utmost importance.  She captured every eye in the room.

With revulsion, Adrian watched Sutton begin to speak again.  It wasn’t what Sutton said that left Adrian breathless.  With every word Sutton mouthed, the woman next to him began to move her hands.  She was signing, signing for him.  Rage curled Adrian’s fingers around the sides of his chair, keeping him tethered to the only tangible thing he had left while his world dropped out from underneath him.  If that female was up there signing, it meant only one thing.

His Queen had betrayed him.  She had taken away all he had worked for.  She banned him as a Hunter.  Left him to wither in this world he’d never been a part of, the world she had created but would deny him any kind of life in. Nina Gerard, Ruler of the Vampires, her crowned majesty The Blood Queen had forsaken his name and all he’d done to out him and his inability to hear to his kind in public.  There was no going back now.

He couldn’t cry if he wanted to.  His eyes were glued to the insignia engraved into the wooden podium.  A symbol he’d revered as her mark of righteousness.  Now the blades crossed over one another, a representation of loyalty and commitment stabbed him in the heart.  He didn’t know the difference between life and death any longer.  He already felt dead.  He couldn’t get any deader because life wasn’t worth living past this point.  Breathing wasn’t worth the effort.

Shock.  He was in total and complete shock.  She was going to leave him to this commonplace existence, a beat cop, a detective doing routine lab tracking and whacking of lower level criminals.  She didn’t even have the nerve to tell him to his face.  Instead she showed her shallow race his weaknesses, made him the main attraction of her three ring circus.  She had cornered him without being present, left him nowhere else to go except to face the aftermath of her trickery alone.

Adrian was going to throw his heart up.  He tried to swallow but it wasn’t happening.  He felt the air striving to push up his throat, stopping short in refusal with tiny huffs of nothing.  His body numb and his mouth hanging open, Adrian rose to his feet in the middle of the gala room.  He stared at his Uncle, seeking understanding for which there was none.  Sutton moved quickly to the side of the podium.  The concern in his dark eyes flashed like he gave a care.

Who wouldn’t be concerned, even from an outside point of view?  A graduate had interrupted an important rite of passage, interrupted the Captain of the Bureau, and won the focus of every warrior on stage.  Adrian twisted around, viewing the crowd.  He stood there like a fool, the first time in his life he didn’t have a plan or an escape, in front of a hundred or so Royals who gawked at him.

He was a caged animal, a freak who should’ve charged admission. He’d been duped by the only two people he had left to trust.  His Uncle had known of this little scheme.  That much was apparent.  The Queen had planned this.  And the rest were left to kick back and be entertained by the madness.  A person of any rank up there on stage, signing to a crowd of vampires was as rare as a pig with wings.  It didn’t happen.  Ever.  Until now.

Pivoting away from their wide eyes, Adrian turned to find his Uncle right there, a foot away.  Sutton reached for him.  Adrian slapped his hand.  To anyone else it would have meant a life sentence.  To Adrian his boundaries had been overstepped and he had to get it out.  Short of killing his Uncle right then and there, the slap was nothing compared to what he wanted to do.

Sutton closed his eyes for a second.  His hand slipped away to stop at his side.  When he opened his eyes there was nothing but regret, nothing there Adrian could use to make his anger subside.  The Guardians were perched at the edge of the stage now.  The Original slid down to the floor slowly.  His movements hushed to Adrian’s ears and languid like a thoroughly trained killer.  Silvery eyes measured Adrian up and down as if to see if Adrian was such a threat that he needed to intervene.

If you only knew.  But you never will.  They’ve killed me.

Adrian shook his head, wanting nothing more than to chuck his hat into the Guardian’s face and stalk off and die quietly in a corner.  But the Original of the Guardian bloodline relaxed his stance.  He looked from the woman on stage and back to Adrian with a shake of his head.  As if he too didn’t get it.  As if he could possibly relate to Adrian’s frustration, his pain.  He said something into Sutton’s ear and Sutton nodded with his eyes still trained on Adrian.

The Original’s silver eyes swirled at Adrian then.  Not probing or stern; more impressed than anything.  He extended a hand to Adrian, expecting him to take it.  Adrian stared at the hand for a long while, wondering if it was a trap.  He’d heard of the Guardian’s capabilities, their talent for viewing things of old with a touch or by seeing something that tapped into the memory of their ancestors.  They had vast knowledge of the world, of their people, and the skills of thousands of men and women before them.  It was why they led in the fight against the enemy.  It was who they were made to be.

In the face of such an imposing figure, Adrian still had strength.  Where it came from, he didn’t know.  But he met the Original’s hand with his own, palms sliding together until he was able to feel the Guardian’s power wrap around his fingers with a squeeze.  It was a moment few would know, to be acknowledged not for status, but because a male of worth sensed another male of worth.  Adrian was confused over how he knew that was what the Original’s gesture meant, although he did.

Cadence Hightower, the Original warrior who had extended his bloodline by invitation only to the men on stage, was shaking his hand and smiling warmly.  Their connection didn’t mend the gaping hole in Adrian’s heart.  It was a start, though.  A start Adrian chose to keep neutral while he edged toward a breakdown.  He refused to look at Sutton.  No longer his Uncle if Adrian had any opinion in the matter.  Sutton was dead to him, as dead as his father and mother.  No family, even as distant as he kept them, would betray him this way.

Adrian let go of the Original’s hand.  His eyes strayed to Carson Maloy, the only one in the room at the moment who bore a kindred pain during this ceremony.  They both had fallen.  While Carson kept his pain hidden behind a stoic mask, Adrian’s was ripped wide open for all to see.  It was karma.  Karma for all the things Adrian had done in his life.  But he didn’t regret what he’d done in the name of good for Carson Maloy.  In fact, he still wished him well and would take Carson’s secret abuse to his grave.  Unlike his Uncle, Adrian would never expose such a thing for the sake of his queen.

Carson swallowed, hard.  He put his hands on his knees and pushed up to stand.  Without fear of repercussion in the presence of the Guardians, or the crowd that no doubt already whispered the Maloy name with scandal, Carson put his fist to his chest and stood tall before his race.  Within the span of seconds, with the addition of Carson’s bold look of pride and singling himself out for ridicule among his peers and fellow vampires, Adrian knew Carson knew.  Knew where the note had come from.  Knew where his pain had fled to and who had taken it away.  Carson knew what Adrian had done for him—even if the note confused him, even if he didn’t know all the details.  In Carson’s eyes it could have been no one else.

And he was grateful—so grateful he would stand up for Adrian when Adrian felt like he had no legs left to stand on.  Adrian was shocked to the core as the others in his class rose to their feet and saluted him with their fists over their chests.  A line of debonair soldiers in their formal attire, recognizing his worth in the face of adversity nearly brought Adrian to his knees.  But he neither cried nor sank like a child to the floor.

Overcome and unashamed, Adrian saluted them back.  His peers continued to stand for him when the Original beckoned his presence towards the stairs going up to the stage.  Adrian coldly passed Sutton, incapable of looking at the traitor who had once been his family.  He briskly walked up the stairs, picturing the crowd invisible in order to retain his confidence; all of them invisible except for the strength in the form of his classmates who still stood for him.

The power on stage was stifling.  Four Guardians put their fists over their hearts for the span of a heartbeat and dropped their hands to their sides.  Adrian was issued forth to stand next to Cadence Hightower.  He looked at the table where their futures awaited, their service weapons, their badges, their orders sealed in black envelopes.  Adrian was made to look up at the Original, who was a picture of all he had aspired to be once upon a time, a caped crusader in the name of all that was right.

Next to the Original was the woman from before, the sign language aid who appeared scared out of her mind.  She sheepishly lifted her head and bit her lip as Cadence began to speak.  Her hands moved, fingers whispering through the air with a delicate grace to relay the Guardian’s message of gratitude and pride.

“In the name of her majesty, the Blood Queen, in the name of our race and in the name of the blood that fuels your body from this night forward you shall fight to protect mortal innocence, and the eternal life that birthed you.  With this oath you become my brother, a warrior with my eyes and ears and hold a place in my heart for your sacrifice.  By serving your race and upholding the law to stand in the face of the enemy, by spilling your blood in my name and the name of my queen, you will be the beat of our hearts and the air we breathe.  So say you my brother, will you take this oath with me?  Will you stand at my side until you can stand no more and even after?”

Adrian’s heart battered against his ribs, pumping precious blood through his body a mile a minute.  His ears grew hot and his eyes glittered.  He couldn’t explain the way he felt, so deeply moved by the power of the Original sheltering him as if they were the only two in the room.  He was not brought up to understand this.  He had no words to describe this feeling, and his mind could not comprehend what to do.  He wanted to run, to scream his pain.  He wanted to attack the Guardian and die quickly by his hands.  But he couldn’t.  He couldn’t move or speak.

Cadence’s eyes swirled with understanding, intensity, and an expression Adrian could only call affection.  In that moment Adrian felt like someone’s brother.  He felt wanted and needed after being a solo act for so very long.  Maybe it was a rehearsed gig for the Guardian, but he didn’t think so.  It was all too real in Adrian’s heart, an organ he’d previously thought only for the purpose of existing.  This oath, this connection, this rightness that urged him to accept—it seemed his heart had another purpose after all.

Adrian had been so angry minutes ago.  He still was.  But this wasn’t about the queen and Sutton or their betrayal.  This was something different, something the Guardian had pulled out of him with a single look.  Fate.  A link that told Adrian this was meant to be, that something waited for him if he said yes, an opportunity he couldn’t refuse even if he’d had other plans for after this ceremony.  With the entire room watching him, with his support in the form of his classmates at full attention below, Adrian said, “Yes.”

When he became aware of surroundings again, Adrian fought not to choke.  Not only was the Original putting his red sash around Adrian’s shoulders, but other figures now stood on the stage.  Men and women no one else could see.  Unlike his other encounters with the dead, Adrian didn’t feel cold or scared.  He felt gifted with their presence.  As the sash settled into place and Cadence was looking at him oddly, Adrian continued to stare at the hundreds of silent figures around the stage.

Their appearance spanned the length of time, dressed and decorated in many different periods of the world’s history, some old and some fairly recent.  But without a doubt Adrian knew who had come to see him walk across this stage, those had come to be his support.  The Guardians.  All of them.  And standing behind Cadence was a man dressed in his service blacks just like Adrian.  Toby held his fist to his heart and beamed.  No blood.  No carnage.  He looked just as he was meant to all along.  Happy.  His business here was done, but his heart would always linger.  Adrian had never seen or felt a spirit this way.

And in a blink, Toby was down amongst the other graduates, where he stepped through Carson’s body and disappeared.  The Guardian spirits slowly faded out, leaving behind warmth that had nothing to do with heat and everything to do with their approval in Adrian.  He would never be a Guardian; that was physically impossible.  But he could follow in their footsteps, a different path from that of a Hunter, a path more settled and treaded upon.  Adrian could still fight the good fight in other ways while he resisted the idea of giving up who he thought he was meant to be.  Maybe this was a test, a test to see if he could acclimate to this life before he was given back his old identity.

Dazed, Adrian looked back to Cadence for reassurance that he wasn’t losing his mind.  Once the Guardian saw that Adrian was still with him, he squeezed Adrian’s hand and smiled.  He led him to a table where Sutton was supposed to bequeath his Guards with the tools of their trade.  Adrian was lucky enough not to go through that, instead allowing a real Guardian to give him what he needed.  He was handed his stack, his badge a glossy gold, his service weapon in its case, and a black envelope.

Cadence steered him towards the crowd that stood and applauded for him.  A deaf killer with hardly enough mind to grasp what had just happened.  Amidst the silent yet ferocious show of appreciation from hands that wouldn’t quit clapping, Adrian looked up toward to balcony jutting out over the gala room.  He caught a peek of blond curls and a slice of creamy skin against a backless, black satin gown, before his queen walked into the dark hallway above and vanished.  She had come to see him, and only him.

He didn’t know how to feel about that.


 Chapter 5


Constance should have been named She Who Tests Thy Patience.  Wesley shut Constance’s office door with a soft snick, when he really wanted to slam it so hard the glass pane shattered.  At least he would never have to go into that office again.  And if Sutton demanded it, Wes would slap him with his resignation.  Nothing was worth another five minutes in that glittery death pen with Constance and her sordid outlets for sexual harassment.  Wes took his sign language book and shoved it into his leather messenger bag just as Junior Guard Feist was coming down the hall.

Not now.  He’ll never let me live this down.

“Did you just come out of...,” Feist sputtered a laugh.  He wiped away a stray dribble of coffee from his chin.  “They must have started putting Molly in the coffee because I’m seeing things, Durren.”

Wes’s jaw ticked.  “Just following orders.”

“Not really your style.”  Feist leaned against the wall a few feet away.  He scratched his newly shorn dark hair and grinned. Hazel eyes lighting up like a little kid at Christmas.  “Word is you got reprimanded last week for that bust.  I told them to choke on a dick and shut it.  No way was that shit your fault.  That kid you had with you can barely wipe his ass let alone take down a dealer.”

Wes snorted.  “I’m touched.”  Walk away, Fiest.  Don’t test me right now.  Not a good time.

Feist rubbed his face, a smile masked as a sniff against his palm before he pushed off the wall.  “Whatever.  I was tryin’ to be nice, but if you want the chatterbox brigade to keep it up I’ve got the gossip now to keep them fed.”

“Say one word and I’ll throw you to the ferals.”

With a tsk, Feist waved Wes off.  “Been boxing with em all night, Durren.  Ain’t nothing new to me.  But just because I’m a nice guy, I’ll hold off on telling ‘em you were boffing the glitter doctor with your glue stick.”

“I was not sticking it to… No way, asshole.”

“So, not in the ass, huh?”  Feist almost spit his sip of coffee everywhere.  “Didn’t wanna dip your dick in another dimension?”

Wesley yanked his bag from his around his shoulders and let it fall to the ground.  “I’m not fucking around, Feist.”

“Jesus.  I had no idea you and Constantly Crazy Constance were so serious.  Chill out, bro, your secret is safe with me.”  Fiest sniggered.

Wesley shook from head to toe.  Pounding Feist sounded like a great idea.  Wes’s fists were up to it, they were already to attention at his sides.  He was tired of navigating headquarters like a ghost in the night so none of the others saw what he was here for on his week off, or rather who he was here to see.  He was literally drained and hungry.  That bagel this morning hadn’t done a thing for his growling stomach.  Add in a little shit like Feist and Wes was ready to let it all out.

The Junior Detective put his hands up, one wrapped around his crappy break room coffee.  His brows lifted and his crazy greenish brown eyes went wide.  “Look, I was just messin’ around, Durren.  The last thing I’d ever want is for my body parts to end up in a wooden box on their way to Siberia for running my mouth.  Whatever you got doin’ in that office, I don’t give a fuck.  Seriously, I don’t want to know.  I never saw you, was just moseying on by with my coffee.  Cool?”

The fight zapped out of Wesley quick.  He sighed through his nostrils and shook his head.   “Sign language, she knows it. Okay? Donohue wanted me to learn.  Don’t have any clue why, but if it gets me out of this unrequested vacation, I’ll do it.” Wes bent to retrieve the book that had fallen out of his bag.  He stood up, showing it Feist.

Feist did a double take of the book.  He swallowed like he had something to say but didn’t want to.  He flicked his interest up to Wes.  “Oh.  Yeah.  No worries then.”

The hell was that? Feist doesn’t back down.  He’s more curious than a cat, and a pain in my ass.


“N-nothing.  I gotta jet.  Picking up the paperwork slack today, you know?”

Wes growled.  “The fuck, Feist?  You come down here running your mouth like the class clown and now you shut the fuck up over a damn book?  It’s not some witch’s grimoire. It’s—”

“I know what it is.”  Feist licked his lips and then bit the inside of his cheek.  “You heard from the Cap recently?”

“Sent me a text yesterday, said he would be home tonight.  Why?”  Wes raised a brow.

“That’s all he said?”

“You know something I don’t?”

Feist checked the hallway at both ends before he leaned in.  “You seriously ain’t heard shit about the graduation service?  What went down?”

“No.  Should I have?”  Wes scowled and then he dropped it.  His eyes softened.  “Everyone okay?”

“Physically, they’re fine.  Maybe mentally blown out of the water, though.”  Feist shook his head and took a sip of his coffee.  “Some best friend Cap is.  He’s got you in the dark, Durren.  That ain’t a coincidence.”  Feist pointed to the sign language book.  “Davis and Fortine volunteered for the exam, you know the senior final?  Flew out a week before Cap did.”

Wes nodded.  He remembered volunteering at the academy overseas once about six years ago.  Let a kid flip him over the circle because he felt bad and knew the guy wouldn’t pass otherwise. He’d heard the kid had matured a bit, even landed a spot in rotation at the Queen’s compound. “What of it?”

“Davis called me the night of the final, said there was this kid that tore it up on the mat, damn near Guardian style.  He couldn’t believe it.  Said he was almost relived he didn’t have to face off with the kid, and get this, that senior… he’s a pre-turn.”

Yeah, right.  David’s been hittin the booze.  A pre-turn ranking up there with a Guardian?  Bullshit.

“Cut it out, Feist.  Now you’re just pissing me off.  What’s that got to do with the book or Sutt?”

Feist grinned.  “This is where it gets crazy.  Baby Bruce Lee is deaf.”

Wes lost it then.  He pushed Feist back with both hands.  “Fuck you, Feist.  I’m out of here.  Keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you. A deaf pre-turn?  Thanks for the laugh.”

“It wasn’t a joke.”  The Junior Detective twisted around to block Wesley’s path.  “Hey!”

“Knock it off.  Get out of my way.  You’ve had your fun, Feist.  Now if you’ll excuse me…”  Wesley growled, his fangs twitching to drop in his mouth.

Feist wrapped his hand around Wes’s forearm and tugged.  His coffee sloshed in his other hand.  “I’m serious, Durren.”  And by the look on Feist’s face, he was.  “I’m telling you this because it ain’t some weird fluke Sutt’s got you down here learning to sign with the Triple C.  Shit went down after the final, Durren.  That kid… David got mind to run his ID number through the database because no pre-turn knows how to move like that.  Turns out he’s Sutt’s nephew.  After that… he doesn’t exist.  A deaf pre-turn who happens to be the Cap’s long lost nephew, and he doesn’t exist. No birth records.  No lineage other than Sutton.  The Queen signed off on his academy credentials personally.  Ringin’ the old alarm, Durren?”

Wes’s scowl fell away.  Donohue had a nephew?  In all the long years they’d been best friends Sutton had never spoken of the kid.  He’d never even hinted.  Some part of Wes was betrayed and pissed off.  Another part of him was intrigued.  A deaf pre-turn who could knock a Guard on his ass without catching a sweat?  No.  He shook his head.  No fucking way was Wes buying any of this.  Feist and his coffee talk buddies were full of crap, pulling one over on him.  Sutt would never hide something like this from him. Their race could never hide something like—a deaf pre-turn!  No. Just no.

Then what’s with the sign language?  Why the sudden secrecy surrounding Sutt’s trip?  Why didn’t he ask you to go with him like he always does?  Because you would say no, just like every other time.

“I’ve got shit to do.  Don’t go spreading this around or Sutt will have your head.”

Feist let Wes go.  He carefully balanced his coffee while he gave Wesley a deadpan stare. “His name is Adrian.  He stood up in the middle of graduation, interrupted Sutt like he was gonna tear his head off, and then Cadence Hightower inducted him into the Bureau like he would the fucking Queen of England. Made Sutt stand there looking a fool in front of a hundred plus dignitaries, Durren.”

“Liar,” Wes spat.

Feist huffed.  “Hightower gave him his Guardian sash before Adrian even had his service weapon in hand, like he was better than the rest, like he was one of them.  He’s obviously cozy with the Guardians.  Got no punishment for interrupting a formal service under the queen, or for humiliating Cap.  Gets a standing salute from his entire class for it.  And no one knows who the fuck he is beyond the deaf judo wonder boy who knocked a Royal on his ass, without pity help from one of us.  Fought a Royal turn student to get the green light, a newly turned, strong as hell vampire.  You got shit to do?  I hope it involves finding out who your new partner is gonna be.  Because no one else but you is learning sign language here.”  Feist flicked the sign language book and walked off.  “See ya round, Durren,” he called.

“Go to hell, asshole!”  Wesley panted, just staring at Feist’s retreating back.  Wes pulled his phone out of his back pocket like pulling his service weapon.  He hit speed dial and put the phone to his ear.  His eyes chock full of malice at the empty hallway.  His call was answered on the second ring.  “You—”

“I’m glad you called.  I was about to call you.”

“Sutton, you—”

“No time, old friend.  I’ve sent our flight information to your email.”


“Were on schedule for a five pm arrival and I need you to check on some things before the car comes to get you.  You’re still at headquarters, correct?”

“Yes, but—car?”

“A courier will be arriving shortly with an envelope for me.  You have the clearance to sign for it—I’ve made certain he knows this.  Put it in the locked file cabinet, you know where it is.  And I need you to push Feist’s and Jones’s reports through regarding last week’s bust.  Yuri is waiting for it, so he can send it to Cadence.  The Guardians are taking the follow up, so please make sure everyone is well aware this won’t be a larger op. I know you’re upset with me and your inexperienced partner on that account.  But please know it wasn’t personal.  And I know Feist had his sights set on a task force, but—”

“Dammit, Sutt!  Shut up for a second.”

“Wesley, I don’t have time for whatever this is right now,” he clipped.  “Get the envelope, store it, and then push that report through.  I want it signed, sealed, and sent off with a courier before three.  At three thirty a driver will be waiting for you outside headquarters to take you to LaGuardia.”

“LaGuardia?!”   Wes’s blood pressure skyrocketed.  “The fuck am I doing there?”

“Picking us up.  I-I need you there when we arrive.  Trust me.”  Sutton inhaled sharply.  Wesley felt his friend’s exhaustion in that one breath.  Something was wrong; Sutton was never flustered, and his calls for help were far and few between.

“Trust you?”  Wes asked softly.  “I thought I did.”  He looked down at the sign language book.

“Whatever that is supposed to mean, you can explain to me at five.  I’ve got to go.”

Wesley stared at his phone, a beep still ringing in his ears after Sutton hung up on him.  He gathered his things in a huff, well and thoroughly pissed off now.  In the span of their friendship Sutton had never lied to him.  Not once.  Wesley had fought by his side, knowing all the details before he took his next step because he trusted his friend’s instincts, trusted the bond they shared.  He’d had Sutt’s back and Sutt had his.  They laughed together.  They shared memories together.  They’d grieved the loss of Sutton’s eldest child together over whisky and tears.

Wesley had stood up for Sutton at a Romanichal wedding to his Gypsy bride mate, Vertina.  He was Quin’s godfather and the one that taught Ricky how to crawl.  He’d turned down Yuri’s offer of the Captain’s position because he knew Sutton was better for the job, the more levelheaded out of the two of them.

And with one phone call, Wesley suddenly believed every word out of Feist’s mouth.  Sutton had lied to him—betrayed him even.  The rift caused by the dial tone would not be easily repaired if there was no further explanation on Sutton’s end.  But in the meantime, Wesley marched upstairs to conduct business on Sutt’s behalf.  It was all he could do to not go on a killing spree that would stop him from getting the answers he needed.

If Sutton Donohue, his most treasured friend in the entire world was going to lie to him.  He had better have a damn good reason why.



All afternoon Wesley had been the bearer of bad news, the punching bag for the detectives’ complaints regarding the loss of their precious case, and all while he was irritated and barely caffeinated.  Did no one understand he had been left out in the cold with this case too, more than anyone?  Being stuck with a baby detective and his service weapon when Wes had worked so hard to nab the dealer in the first place… 

A mass of rage dwelled belly deep and continued to spread throughout his body until he was one word away from snapping someone’s head off. His ex-partner, a relationship that had lasted all of twenty-four hours, followed Jones to the conference room under Wesley’s enraged stare.  Like a young boy hiding behind his father’s legs, Wes’s short lived partner almost squeaked upon seeing Wes’s face, and then disappeared around Jones’s larger body.

Yeah.  Run, you little bastard.  Go hide behind a real man because you’ll never be one.

Wesley shut his laptop, careful not to slam it, and checked his phone.  Everything was done, everything that mattered at the moment.  He slipped on his trench coat and left his desk as it was to start for the hallway.  He ignored the whispering as he passed his coworkers.  Snubbed their overly curious looks he’d collected all day, and walked by Feist’s cubicle.  Plastic crunched under his boots.  Wesley looked down to see tiny lettered keys littering the floor, keys Feist was prying off of his laptop and throwing over his shoulder.  Next thing he knew a Hostess wrapper came flying at Wesley’s face and he ducked.

Fucking psycho.  I don’t have time for this shit.  Whatever floats your boat, Feist.

Feist had holed up in his cubicle with a thermos of coffee and a box of snack cakes for the majority of the day, livid over losing his chance at being the head of a task force. His stapler could be heard slamming against the wall throughout the entire building.  And the keys of his keyboard continued to be sacrificed across the tile floor between the cubicles.  It would’ve been Feist’s first big break.  Wesley almost sympathized.  Almost.

Had it not been for his beef with Sutt, Wes would’ve done the right thing by Feist and rallied for a task force.  It wasn’t uncommon for the Guardians to take over once a major case racked up enough substantial evidence to lead the Bureau to the enemies’ latest Rush bakery.  And it was standard for the Bureau to be mostly back up to the Guardians when taking down a lab, but damn if the Guards didn’t want a little of the glory too.  They’d done all the work.  Was it so terrible to ask for the glory once in a while?

Preoccupied with his own stuff, Wesley left the pit of detectives in Jones’s capable hands to go pick up Sutt at LaGuardia.  He would’ve left Feist in charge, as he was in line for a promotion soon, but Feist was as icy as a frostbitten popsicle at the moment.  Until the Junior Detective without a partner and a major attitude calmed down, he wasn’t going to be useful to any of them, so Jones it was.  And Jones already had the RLCU—the Rush Lab Case Unit—working off of another dealer nibble in the conference room.  With the report sent out to Yuri, Wesley swiped his badge at the front desk, granted access to the secure entrance alcove that fed to the service alley off of Madison Avenue.

The Bureau posed as an ultra-private security firm to the humans.  Their busy area of Manhattan cloaked them under the shade of large corporate buildings and crowds of frantic businessmen and women, along with Central Park’s overflow of everyday joggers, walkers, and vendors.  Wesley melted into the wave of bodies, weaving through them to get to the only car parked at the curb. 

He stopped short, almost whistled at the beauty set atop four wheels.  He even took a second to admire the sexy driver leaning against the black Rolls Royce Phantom.  A little James Bond, a lot foreign and completely vintage with the silver Spirit of Ecstasy ornament mounted on the unmistakable Phantom chrome grille, Wesley was in love at first sight with the automobile.  The chauffeur came in at a close second, although, he seemed a little young to be driving around Bureau honchos all day, and a little too young for Wesley’s tastes—nothing but a stunning pre-turn, might as well still have a pacifier in his mouth.  Maybe twenty if Wesley was being generous, the driver straightened away from the car and nodded his head. “Sir.”

As formal as the car was, in a black suit and a leather cap the chauffeur made up for his young age with his equally slick professionalism.  He moved with a quick grace, opening the rear door with a touch of his key fob.  A silent hydraulic motor opened the rear-hinged coach door to Wesley’s amazement.  Wherever Sutt had been hiding this baby, it had definitely not been in the motor pool.  The Phantom was a lollipop Wesley wanted to lick forever.  But he stilled and quirked a brow at the chauffeur, concealing his excitement.

“You must be new. Haven’t seen you yet.”  Wesley slid his aviators onto his nose and finished buttoning up his trench coat to fend off the chilly November air.  “It happens to be safety protocol to ask for my ID before you let me into a Bureau vehicle.  I could be an enemy for all you know, and you could be delivering the Captain to me on a silver platter.”

The driver didn’t flinch or fluster easily.  He whipped his phone out of his blazer pocket and smiled.  “Senior Detective Wesley Durren.”  He turned the phone around to show Wesley his own picture.  “The Captain sent it to me this morning, along with all of your credentials, although, if you wish for me to go through standard procedure I can do that too.”

Wesley lowered his shades, showcasing his charcoal eyes.  “You’re a smartass, and I’m not in the mood for that.”   His mouth hurt from holding back a smile.

The young man’s blue eyes darted around.  He shoved the phone back into his breast pocket, his strict composure cracking under pressure.  “I’m sorry, sir.  It won’t happen again, sir.  The Captain just told me…”

“I’m messing with you, kid.”  Wesley winked before shoving his sunglasses back into place.  “I don’t like drama.  I do, however, enjoy razzing newbs, which is why I’m now in the bitch seat going to LaGuardia.  It’s like timeout in style.”


“Yeah.  Oh.  You seem to know more about all of this than I do anyway.  I’m just the Senior Detective kissing ass here.  And you’re the brand new driver carrying around my picture and sweet nothings from the boss.  Ain’t it wonderful?”

The driver tried not to smirk.  “I’m guessing not really.”

“You guessed right. Name?”


Wesley shook his head and stepped off the curb, already soaking up the heavy scent of leather drifting out of the Phantom’s open doors.  “What a bunch of dicks.  I’m the first one to ask you that.  Aren’t I?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, unless you want to be called The Driver…  Could catch on, kind of like The Doctor.  But you’re probably too young to remember the beauty of the Time Lord.  And this baby is somethin’ else, but it ain’t no time machine.”  Wesley slid into the luxury car’s backseat.  He had plenty of room for his long legs and then some, and his head didn’t hit the ceiling.  Maybe being in the bitch seat ain’t so bad after all.  He smiled, still waiting for an answer.

“Time Lord?”  The driver looked to the side in thought and cocked his head.  “I have no idea what that means.  But I’m Fletcher, sir.  And I hope you don’t mind, but I sort of mentioned your name to a friend this morning—”

Wesley growled.  Seriously, kid?  Terrible form, not good at all.  “What part of security protocol do you not understand?  You don’t talk about Bureau employees to just anyone.  You don’t leak shit like that.  Everyone is suspect these days, that’s just common sense” he raised his voice.

Fletcher waved his hands in front of him.  “It wasn’t like that! Arnie has this creepy knack for filling in the blanks.”

At the mention of Arnie, Wes smiled, making the kid’s eyes bug like he was in for it.  Arnie was an old friend, a retired Bureau profiler who’d recently been promoted to Manager of the Village.  He ended up leaving the Bureau to build a bunch of condos for the less fortunate, and to change things for the next generation.  One too many bloody crime scenes up close and personal, even for a vampire, could do a number on a man.  Two hundred years and going strong, Arnie had hung up his hat for a simpler life, managing a small territory in the city.  Wesley couldn’t blame him for settling down.  Then again he couldn’t imagine sitting around twiddling his thumbs for the rest of his existence.  Wes thrived on action, not paperwork.

Fletcher was right, though, in saying Arnie had the innate ability to read between the lines.  Mentioning the Cap had probably got the cogs turning, and where Sutton was, Wesley wasn’t far behind.  And where Arnie was, there was a hell of lot of trust backing him up.  He was good people to Wesley.

“How is old Mutton Chops doin’?”

“Oh thank God.  He said you were friends…”  Fletcher put a hand over his chest.  “I’m sorry, sir.  He just wanted me to tell you hello for him.  That he, uh, misses you.  Not in those exact words, but I’m not really going to repeat what he said.”  His cheeks flushed.

Wesley chuckled.  “No worries, Arnie can make the best of us blush.  He has many talents.”

Fletcher frowned, ducked his head and shut the doors on Wesley.  Leaving the Senior Detective a bit boggled.  When Fletcher was secured in the driver’s seat, the ignition turned over with a slick purr, he refused to look in the rearview mirror.  “Will we be stopping anywhere before Queens, sir?”

“Cut the sir shit.  What did I do wrong?”  Wesley leaned forward, putting his forearms on the back of Fletcher’s seat.

“Nothing, Detective.  Any stops?”

“You and Arnie together or something?  I didn’t mean talents as in talents, you know.  He was just really good at his job.”

“So I hear.”  Fletcher pulled away from the curb with a jerk that sent Wesley back against his own seat.  Narrowed blue eyes glanced at him in the mirror.  The top of the line stereo system blared with some thumping techno music.  And on the dashboard, Wesley noticed, was a tiny little hula girl swaying to the beat. So much for that professional act the chauffeur had going.

Now this is the bitch seat, Wes thought, crossing his arms with a huff.


Chapter 6
After sitting through a thirty minute stop-and-go behind a three car accident in Astoria, they had finally breached Queens and stopped in front of the correct passenger pickup zone at LaGuardia.  Fletcher kept the engine running, turned down the ear splitting music then checked his phone.  “Flight landed.  The Captain says they’re in baggage claim and for you to meet him directly inside.”
Why is Sutt texting him?  What is going on?  “Hey.”  Wesley waited.
“Yes, Detective?”  Fletcher kept his eyes on the windshield, his hands on the steering wheel.
“What’s your problem?”
“It’s not my problem.  That’s the problem.  I’m sorry for taking it out on you.  It won’t happen again, sir.”
“Ah…”  Wesley snapped his fingers, Fletcher’s anger taking on a whole new light.  “I’m not the threat here.  Arnie is.  Can’t see why, but he told you no, didn’t he.  Some things never change.”  Wes snorted at Fletcher’s silence.  “Chin up, kid.  Good looking guy like you probably has a lot of prospects.  They may not be the prospects you had your eyes on.  But maybe you just need to look elsewhere.  You’re not the first one to be told no by Arnie.  Cliché as it is, it’s not you.  It’s him.”
“God I hate it!”  Fletcher finally broke.  “I hate all of it.  He calls me all the time.  Come have dinner with me.  Come hang out at my penthousealone.  He knows how I feel about him and he throws it in my face like my feelings mean nothing.”  Fletcher turned in his seat.  His cap slid to the side, revealing a stray tuft of blond hair.  His angry blue eyes wrinkled at the corners.  “I told him this morning that I think we should cool it on the hangouts because I’m more involved than he is and it hurts because he doesn’t want me back.  And you know what he does?  He kisses me on the forehead.  He hugs me.  Not just a few seconds, not some bro hug, but hugs me for way longer than friend necessary.  Then tells me whatever I need like he’s comforting some child.  Fuck him!”
Not expecting the outburst, Wesley sat there with his mouth hanging open.  He stared at Fletcher until Fletcher’s eyes burned with tears and the young chauffeur ducked back into his seat.  “That sucks, man.  But that’s how he is.  He’s waiting for the one.”
“I was too.  I really was,” Fletcher whispered.
“Have you ever thought that maybe he pushes you away so neither of you get hurt?  Maybe he would rather keep you around as his friend than nothing at all.  If I know Arnie, and I do, if he asks you to keep coming back he values you more than you could know.  You just remember that.  Sucks right now.  But don’t cut ties until you know what holds the strings together.  My mother used to say that.”
“Well these strings are cheap,” Fletcher grunted.
“Then you better double up,” Wesley murmured as he departed the vehicle.  “Be back soon.”  He figured Fletcher needed a moment of silence to contemplate his feelings, to get himself together before Sutton joined the party.  And if the party went how Wesley envisioned it going, Fletcher was going to need all the strength he could muster.
For the most part the kid’s confusing attitude towards Wesley had distracted him from Sutton’s impending arrival and Feist’s earlier admission.  As Wes entered LaGuardia, almost smacked in the face with a glass door by a family of five, his temper joined him again.  He wasn’t kidding when he told Fletcher he hated drama.  Worse than drama, he hated being on the outside, especially where Sutton was concerned.  He had no idea what to say or where to start when he saw his best friend.  Had Sutton really lied to him?  Would Sutton seriously keep something as big as a nephew from Wes?
He wasn’t sure whether to call his anger misplaced, or whether he should be legitimately mad over the situation.  One thing was for sure: he couldn’t blow up if he didn’t have all the facts.  Too many times he’d fallen into that trap and come out looking like a fool.  So to keep things from escalating, Wes decided to see what Sutton had to say before he overreacted.  If there was a good enough explanation for all of this, he would let it lie.  If there wasn’t, he and Sutt were going to have it out.
Wesley waited by the American Airlines terminal entrance, reassured as he scanned the screens with flight information to see that indeed Sutton’s layover flight from Chicago had arrived safely at LaGuardia.  It wasn’t a few minutes later Senior Detective Davis and his partner, Junior Detective Fontine ambled down the hallway with their rolling suitcases.  Behind them was a tall blond that could almost rival Wes’s height, and tagging along were two other young men that were definitely part of their entourage.  Every one of them looked exhausted and prickly.
Davis didn’t crack a joke or a smile as he stopped next to Wesley.  “They’re on their way.  Had a little hold up with Sutton’s bag.  Told him to just ditch the suit and bring a carryon, but who the hell listens to me?”  The dark skinned former Marine shared a look with his partner, something unspoken flitted between them.
Fortine cleared his throat and loosened his tie from around his thick neck.  “These are the new rookies joining us at the office.  This is Maloy.”  He nodded at the blond brute.  “And these are rookies Halverson and Frederick.  Say hi to the star of your little fan club, Senior Detective Wesley Durren.”
“No shit?”  Halverson reached out a hand to Wes.  “Wow.  It’s an honor, man.”
Davis elbowed the young rookie.  “He isn’t your man.  He’s your superior.  You address him as sir or Senior Detective Durren until you’ve got bullet holes in your vest and a year’s worth of coffee stains on your desk.  Understood?”
“Yes, sir.”  Halverson retracted his hand, eyes on the floor.
Davis winked.  “They had a bet going at the academy.  Who you’d get shouldered with this time.”
“And?”  Wesley scanned the small crowd, noting that Maloy hadn’t said a goddamn word, but had stared at him the whole time.  Wes wondered if this was him, whether this kid was reading his lips.  Maybe Maloy was using an alias so Sutton could continue to hide his nephew in plain sight.
Paranoid much, Wes?
Fontine twisted, cracking his back. Sitting in a tiny airplane seat for hours could do a number on a beast as big as Fontine.   He shook his head at Wes.  “This is Feist’s new partner.”  He hitched a thumb at Maloy.  “Not yours.”
A sudden smile touched Wes’s lips.  Seems I’m not the only one getting surprises today.  Feist is gonna shit bricks.  “Well, Maloy, I’m going to tell you this because it’s the most humane thing to do.  Feist is…mmm, he’s a bit out of sorts right now.  Approach with caution.  Stapler,” he added for Davis and Fontine’s benefit.  The veterans grumbled, already accustomed to Feist’s mood swings.
“I’ll remember that, sir.  Thank you for the advice.”  Maloy made no move to shake hands or come closer.  He kept up his vigilant stare and put his hands behind his back, and feet shoulder width apart like a good little soldier.
Wes looked away from Maloy’s steely blue gaze to check out the others coming down the hall.  “Where’s Sutt?  How long does it take to find one piece of luggage?”
Again Davis looked at Fontine.  His gaze slid back to Wes, making him uneasy.  “Okay, truth.  The Cap is having a chat with one of the newbs.  New kid is a bit of a handful.”
That seemed to unnerve Maloy, whose jaw twitched.  His stance shifted from one foot to the other.  He glared at Davis.  “I’m sorry, sir, but Adrian isn’t a handful.  Like all of us he had a long flight, but unlike you he’s spent the better part of this week in vigorous finals.  Some of us have a harder time hiding our exhaustion.  I think the delay is forgivable.”
“You might want to watch your mouth, Maloy.  I don’t care if you and Adrian are BFF now.  He’s not your partner to stand up for.  And I’m your superior; you don’t talk to me like that.  He’s a handful if I say he’s a handful.”  Davis stepped up to Maloy.
Maloy stepped in too, towering over Davis.  “With all due respect, sir—”
“Cut the shit.  Both of you.  We are in a crowded airport full of humans,” Wes hissed quietly.  “I outrank both of you, so back down and shut the fuck up.  Davis, you’re back on home turf.  You’re not their king anymore.  Maloy, don’t you ever challenge one of your superiors, even if he doesn’t have the power to throw it down, and even if you’re right as rain.  He may not be able to toss you out, but he does have the power to come to me or the Captain and we will be your judge.  Got it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Message received, jackass.”
Wes grunted.  “Good.  This is taking too long.  I’m about to call Sutt.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary.” Fontine nodded at the terminal hallway.  A tall male, maybe twenty-one or two with a lean, commanding build came charging down the hall, nearly barreling into his fellow passengers with his rolling suitcase and a duffel slung over his shoulder.  Loose curls, glossy and copper, bobbed near his eyebrows whereas the sides and back of his head had been shorn close to the skin.  His blue eyes targeted their group, sparkling with madness.
“Ah, man.  He’s still mad?” Halverson groaned.
Yards behind the enraged young man, Sutt followed with a weary gait.  His shoulders slumped.  He trudged through the crowd and he carried a suit bag over his shoulder.  One look from Sutt was all Wes needed to reach out and grab the angry rookie by the back of his coat as he made to storm by.  Wes bent down the scarce inches between them to whisper in the shaking man’s ear, “Whatever your deal is, you’re going to stop right now and wait for the rest of us.”
“Oh shit,” Frederick murmured.
“Wes, don’t…” Fontine stepped forward.
The curly haired male stepped out of Wes’s hold so quickly Wes didn’t have time to lean away from the angry face that was already in front of his.  Hot breath rolled from the man’s nostrils, hitting Wes across the lips.  Wes saw the fire churn in those blue eyes.  Blue eyes that seemed so familiar, yet impossible to recognize, even for someone with as sharp a memory as Wes’s.
Brows knitted together, the young man slapped Wes’s hand away and left a sting behind.  His gaze darted between between Wes’s face and his hand like he just couldn’t understand who the fuck Wes was or what he was supposed to do next.  It was clear he was ready to beat the shit out of Wes, but Wes didn’t comprehend why or how a rookie could blatantly ignore orders with such hostility like he was above it all.  And then Sutton joined them.  He stood silently at the young man’s back and looked at Wes.  Everything clicked for the Senior Detective.
“You can’t hear me, can you?”  he asked while looking directly at the young man.  “Adrian, right?”
The copper haired man snarled.  He started to walk away.  Wes yanked him back, rewarded with a shocked blue-eyed stare.  He let go, blocking Adrian’s path but kept his hands up.  “W-E-S-L-E-Y.  Call me W-E-S.”
Adrian wasn’t the only one stunned as Wes signed his name.  Glancing at Fontine and Davis and the rookies, Wes found them all with wide-eyed looks of confusion.  Guess Constance was good for something.
“Wesley, is the car out front?”  Sutton shut his eyes for a moment.  Wesley instantly wished to comfort his friend.  If this little shit was his nephew, Wesley would hide any trace of relation too.  He could only imagine what the flight had been like, stuck in close captivity with such a volatile creature.
“Yes.  But I wasn’t aware you were all taking the same flight back.”
“We have our own ride.”  Fontine gestured for the others to follow.  “Good luck, Wes.  Maloy and Feist are gonna be a piece of cake compared to that,” he whispered on his way past.
“Later, jackass.”  Davis patted Wes’s shoulder and walked away.
They filed towards the front door, but Maloy lingered behind.  He put a hand on Adrian’s shoulder and squeezed, bringing his other hand to his ear as if to say call me.  Adrian nodded with a clipped jerk of his head.  Then there were three.
“So… This is your nephew, huh?”  No malice in Wes’s question, just a simple truth.
Adrian looked from Wes to Sutton.  The guy was like a down power line at the edge of a river, ready to spark at any minute and burn the whole place down.  His fierce gaze lingered on Sutton, a disapproving roam of his eyes from head to toe.  Then he sniffed and took a serious interest in his luggage, giving Wes time to lift his hands at Sutt.
There were only two times in Wes’s friendship with Sutton he could remember the Captain looking this sad, this pained.  Wes’s vampire senses couldn’t pick up on the exact cause in this situation either.  Not fear or lies or nervousness regarding Wes and the talk they needed to have.  Sutton had simply shut down.  Just like when Sutt’s son Ricky had died.  And another time a few years later when Sutton had returned from a vacation to Europe that he wouldn’t speak about. Wes had never asked because he knew Sutton wouldn’t elaborate.  It was why they made a good team; they knew when to push and when to be quiet.
But now, if Wes had to venture a guess, the reason was physical.  A beautiful male with striking blue eyes, a stunningly toned physique, and an attitude the size of the Atlantic Ocean was the cause of Sutton’s mood.  They were night and day standing to next to each other.  Sutton with his dark hair and eyes, flawless skin and well groomed appearance. 
And then there was Adrian.  Coppery curls in disarray on top of his head, falling into his bright blue eyes.  A lethal expression etched into his sharply angled face, and his predatory posture spoke of training beyond the Guard Academy.  His long fingers had callouses when they skimmed around his suitcase, fingertips flirting over the hefty fabric like delicate butterflies who could turn into stinging bees at any moment.  When Adrian stopped moving for just a second, Wesley noticed Adrian’s bitten nails, a guaranteed indicator of anxiety.
There was a scar on the side of Adrian’s neck just under his ear, a puckered white line that curved into the collar of his coat, as well as a few sharp lines on top of his knuckles and his wrists when they peeked out of his sleeves.  Wesley was certain these healed wounds hadn’t happened at the academy.  They looked much older than the four required years abroad; he’d had enough scarring before becoming a vampire to be an expert.
Wesley met Sutton’s eyes for affirmation to what he was seeing.  This male wasn’t just a student, was he?  But to everyone else he needed to be—the apprehension, the urgency to rush him to the states after graduation, his past unregistered in the system.  To anyone other than the three of them standing in the middle of LaGuardia, Adrian Donohue was just another guy who had graduated his training and was on his way to be a real detective.  He was one of them for all intents and purposes, when really he could potentially be the most dangerous person at the Bureau and unlike any of them at all.
Sutton swallowed and nodded.  His eyes begged.  Wes complied because he felt an explanation on the way, a long awaited one.  He grabbed the duffel Adrian had tossed to the ground and threw it over his shoulder.  With his free hand he gently grabbed Adrian’s chin to see the man’s face.  “We’re leaving now,” he said slowly, holding Adrian’s blue-eyed stare for a few seconds longer than necessary.  “Don’t fight me.”
Wes’s large fingers slipped away from the freshly shaven skin of Adrian’s chin, leaving behind a hint of sweat on the pads of his fingertips.  Along with a scent that made Wes faintly salivate.  If Adrian hadn’t made such a bad first impression, he could have ranked higher than the sexy chauffeur outside, the one with more drama than a soap opera.  Luckily Wes was much smarter than falling for his best friend’s nephew in a split second.  The implications, both from Sutton and the riled up Adrian, if Wes emitted some type of lusty reaction wouldn’t be good.  No, Wes hated drama and unnecessary tension, so there wasn’t a problem.  Adrian was good looking, even angry.  So what?  Wes left it at that. 
Wesley issued Sutt a calm glance and then walked toward the door.  He didn’t expect Adrian to run off and cause a scene, no matter how angry he was.  And thankfully he did not.  Outside, as the other members of their party were shutting the doors to a Bureau vehicle behind the Phantom, Adrian and Sutton joined Wesley and Fletcher.
Wesley’s stomach was a ball of knots when he slipped into the back of the vehicle.  He scooted over to make room for three, which was pointless as Adrian scared Fletcher and slammed shut the door to the front passenger seat instead. Making it clear he wanted as much space between him and his Uncle as possible.  Wesley was relieved.  Fletcher was not, he stood there helpless, looking to his superior for answers.
“Let him be.  Don’t try to make small talk.  He can’t hear you and he won’t try and communicate with you either.  Don’t touch him.  Don’t make any attempts to comfort him.  Just drive, Fletcher.” 
“Can’t…can’t hear me?”  Fletcher scrunched his nose.  He didn’t get a reply. 
Sutton left his suitcase on the curb for Fletcher and eased in next to Wesley.  He rubbed his face with the heels of his palms, and then rested his head against the seat.  Once the door was closed and the custom window partition between front and back had lifted, Sutton turned to Wes.
“I don’t know what to say to you right now.  I do know I can’t allow you think you can’t trust me after this. Your comment this morning…I knew what you meant.  I knew you had found out.  How could you not, Wesley?  You work with the world’s biggest gossips.”  Sutton licked his lips and rolled his head until he was staring at the ceiling.
“Adrian is my brother’s only child.  A brother I used to work with until we were about Adrian’s age.  At some point I found it impossible to fight at his side when I knew at any moment he could die in front of me.  It was my greatest fear,” Sutton whispered as if this was the first time he had admitted it to anyone. Clearly it was because he couldn’t look at Wesley and couldn’t stop his hands from fidgeting in his lap. “The Queen noticed it as well and separated us as partners.  At first I thought she was being cruel.  But it was the greatest thing she had ever done for me because my fear had grown into a weakness during combat.  I was unfocused, doing more harm than good to protect Davide when really my head should have been in the game, attentive to our mission.”
“I would have done anything to protect my family,” Wesley blurted, needing to support his friend.  The moment was too tense.  He didn’t like how Sutton seemed to grimace at every sour word coming out of his mouth.  “It was probably best she split you up.  Not everyone can handle working like that.  I don’t think I could have.” Holy shit.  A brother? Fuck, Sutt, why didn’t you tell me?
“No.  And it was for the best.  I was and still am a very capable warrior.  It is how I met you, is it not?  Your white knight?”  Sutton smiled fondly for a split second.  His features hardened again quickly.
Wes cracked a weak smile.  “I seem to remember a slightly less storybook introduction.  But if that’s how you want to spin it, who am I to correct you?”
Sutton didn’t smile this time.  His exhaustion rendered him incapable of anything except speech.  And his next words got right to the heart of it all.  “Davide and I…we weren’t just any warriors for our Queen.  I think you knew that, about me at least.”
During the beginning of their friendship Wesley had known very little regarding Sutton’s orders.  After joining up with Sutton, Wes was still new to the vampire world, in shock and uncovering bits and pieces every day about the dark, passionate race that warred right under the humans’ noses.  Wesley had been discharged as a Union medic after the Civil war. 
He had nothing to provide his mother and tiny sister at home, and he was the only one capable of being the bread winner as his mother was past her working prime and his sister wasn’t even ten years old.  No father.  Just them.  He’d promised his family he would find work, work he couldn’t seem to get around  their home, and send money to them every chance he got.  That was his life mission—to provide for and to protect the ones he loved.
He’d become a courier, a riding messenger for high paying clientele; men whose statuses outweighed their seedy dealings, with enough money to put a sparkle in Wes’s eyes.  His reputation for delivering paperless messages from one client to another, spread like wildfire.  He was sought after for his gift, a photographic memory that, once arrived at his client’s home or hideout, he could safely replicate detailed blueprints for robbers, army orders down to the letter to interested parties, or even the last will and testament of a poor dead man to be forged and changed by a disowned relative.  A dangerous job, he was a spy, a crook, and known throughout the country as The Artist, a man who could delicately copy anything he had seen with his eyes to the letter and down to smallest, most intricate detail of a custom printed floral stationary.
All of it had been to provide for his ailing mother and his sister back in the Midwest.  And when they both died from a fever one winter, Wesley couldn’t bear to return home. His devastation almost ended him, until he was requested for service from one of the most whispered names in the criminal world.  He ran to the East Coast, where he boarded a ship with that man, a client offering more than he could refuse for one last job. 
It was a chance for Wesley to reinvent himself in another place, with enough money to live off of until he was old and gray.  His dreams were curtailed when his eyes were opened to the truth, when he found himself an ocean away from home with no hope of rescue.  His client turned out to be someone on the wrong side of a vampire war, and Wesley had been stuck in the middle of a den of traitors, a scared human abandoned to the underbelly of Paris and an entirely new world of blood and shadows.
They made him do things with his gift, run errands between their hideouts with messages he rarely remembered in the morning because they made him forget.  He was used, abused, and played with like a toy until one stormy night a stranger killed every one of them in their sleep… except for Wes.  To this day Wesley still remembered how scared he’d been upon hearing those heavy footsteps trudge down the basement stairs.  The way the man’s boots hit the wet dirt of the lower level room.  How musty the basement had smelled and how cold it was, so cold Wesley recalled his breath rolling out of his mouth.  But one glimpse of the stranger’s kind eyes in the flickering lamplight, the way the stranger’s hand had extended like a savior in the dark, and Wesley had sobbed in relief.
He took Sutton’s hand and never looked back, never questioned why them, or why he had lived or how Sutton had known.  He was just grateful to breathe fresh air again, to live again, and to receive the second chance he’d counted on.  Years went by.  He and Sutton were a formidable duo once Sutton had trained Wes and educated him about their race.  The man was an endless well of knowledge and he made sure to give Wes every last drop of it.
And even as inseparable as they were, Wesley would often wake in the middle of the night to find Sutton gone from his bed across the way.  And hours later, when the first rays of dawn broke across the horizon, Wesley would pretend to be asleep as Sutton crawled back under the covers.  Or sometimes Sutton would send Wesley out on his own when the mission was safe enough and they would go weeks apart.  Sutton never offered any explanation to what he’d done when Wesley was away, but Wesley wasn’t stupid.
He knew Sutton well enough to know when he was doing something dangerous, something he didn’t want to involve Wesley in.  At first Wesley had thought his inexperience on the field and the fact that he’d denied Sutton’s offer to become a vampire had been the reason.  But now, after many years together, after Wes had finally accepted the gift of eternal life, now it all made sense.  Sutton had already lost one partner because of his love for his brother.  And whatever he did in those hours apart from Wesley was to keep him safe.  But the time for protecting Wesley was well behind them.  He could hold his own in a fight, was secure enough in his abilities and accomplishments to hear the truth from Sutton now.  He needed to hear it.  He deserved it.
“Yes.  I knew.  Not why you didn’t want me with you.  But…I knew you were doing side jobs.”
“Side jobs?”  Sutton snorted.  “I was a killer, Wesley, plain and simple.  The missions we did together were under the guidance of the Guardians and the Royals.  What I did alone was murder, unknown to anyone except for Nina. Not even the Guardians knew of us, their bloodline was thinning and their power was a dead giveaway for such operations.  I had no rules, no monetary limitations to restrict my methods, and endless resources unlike the Royal Army at the time.  I was free to get the job done however I wished because I had no ties to hold me back….until you, my friend.  You became my anchor, my conscience, and the person I wished to come back to at night.  I needed you much more than I ever confessed, Wesley.”
Wesley swallowed down the knot in his throat.  His gaze locked on the window, at the waves of smashed together residences leading out of Queens.  He couldn’t look at Sutton.  “Just as a friend, right?  You didn’t save me that night because you…liked me…in that way, right?  By confess, do you mean—”
“Heavens no!”  Sutton smacked Wes’s arm.  “Wesley, for fuck’s sake, I meant that you became like a brother to me, someone I needed to protect and someone to protect me from myself.  I was a cold blooded killer for the Queen.  I was a man who did the dirty work because it needed to be done, the vicious slaughter of those who deserved it slowly.  When I found you and you looked at me like Davide used to, like the one he looked up to, the big brother who would always protect him…. Wesley…this is getting too soft for me.”
“No shit.”  Wes smirked and finally turned to Sutt.  All romantic notions left Wesley in a much needed exhale.  “Well at least we know you love me like a brother and not as the star of your wet dreams.  I was starting to freak out a bit.”
Sutton pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Durren, I swear to God...”
“That you love me?” Wes teased.  They needed some sort of comic intermission before whatever Sutton was going to say next.  It was big, an elephant crammed in the backseat between them. 
Sutton cast him a sidelong glance and smiled.  “Whatever, Wesley.  I think you know now.”  He folded his hands, rubbing his thumbs together.  “What I’m going to say now can never be repeated to another living soul as it would jeopardize many lives, comprising mine and others I care about.”
“I swear to you, Sutton.  I will never say a word.”
Sutton nodded.  He turned his dark eyes on Wes. “We were called Hunters.  An undercover sect of the Queen’s army used to carry out assassinations of known enemy operatives.  We were chosen as young as teens to be trained by the Hunters who had come before us, my father included. We killed, gathered intelligence, and sometimes worked in teams to take out larger enemy covens.  Very rarely did we work with others of our kind, but we were aware of each other at all times.  Only Nina and two other trusted Royals know our identities and the details of our mission, and the location of our…our families.”
Wesley kept a straight face.  Inside, he was chilled to the bone.  These warriors operating without Guardian knowledge, and all with the Queen’s permission was a scary thing to learn of.  “And Davide?”
“Yes.  My brother was one as well.  In fact, he was better than I was.  It’s why I was surprised to hear he’d taken a mate.  Being a Hunter…it’s hard to be there for others, to have a personal life.  Loved ones are targets in that line of work.  They could be pawns used to negotiate and then killed.  Davide was never one for love, or to be tied down.  Though after I mated with my Vertina, I understood what the unmated do not.  You can’t deny that kind of bond, no matter how sudden or startling it is.  Your mate becomes you.”
“Did he stop Hunting after he mated?”
Sutton inhaled deeply and shook his head.  “She was a Hunter also.  It was in their blood.  They wouldn’t have stopped for anything—not even their son.”
Wesley’s gaze roamed to the partition.  On the other side was a man who had most definitely seen his fair share of violence with parents who were killers.  There was no way to hide that kind of life forever.  Had he been a target?  Had they hid him away to secure his safety?  “You said was, she was a Hunter.”
“She was killed in Prague when Adrian was very young, on a mission that was supposed to be quick and easy.  It was a trap.  Somewhere along the line she’d left a trace behind and they caught up to her.  It was all so fast and none of us were ever able to pick up the pieces.  Adrian…he was so young, so helpless, and Davide was in no state to raise him properly.  Losing a mate is the worst fate imaginable, having to see the product of that mating, a perfect image in which the two of you are reflected on an everyday basis was hell for him.  But he wouldn’t give up on his son.  Davide was much stronger than I ever gave him credit for. 
“Still…we didn’t see eye to eye concerning Adrian’s future.  Those weeks in the summer, the weeks you spent at the Queen’s home and I went away.  I went to see Adrian, to beg Davide to let me have him.  I wanted to save him from what Davide had planned, what was already taking place after his mother died.”  Sutton’s jaw clenched.  His eyes were murderous.  “It is a great legacy to bestow a child our ways, our traditions, and to leave him capable of defending himself against the enemy once he comes of age.  It is another thing entirely to teach a toddler how to kill, how to maim, and how to slip away silently into the night like a ghost. To teach them how not to feel or trust, how to become a shell of a living thing.”
“What?”  Wesley’s blood ran cold.  His fingers bit into his thighs.  “Sutt, please don’t tell me—”
“You have to know this as his new partner. Yes, I said partner.”  Sutton narrowed his eyes, ready for an argument that never came.  “He won’t tell you, Wesley.  To him, you are a weakness he cannot afford to have, just as I am, his blooded family.  He rejects relationships and emotions because he was taught not to have them.  In his eyes his mother’s death was proof that bonds are meant to be broken, further instilled by his father’s pain and teachings.  And Davide…he loved his child more than life itself.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a good father.  That said, Wesley, he also used his son to some degree to fill the space left behind by his mate.  He wanted Adrian safe, so he created the perfect weapon, a perfect partner—a child who would never be left defenseless.  He made Adrian a Hunter.”
“No way.  How could the Queen approve that?  Nina would never…”  Wesley gaped.
“By the time she learned of Adrian’s abilities it was too late to pull him out.  He would never have gone quietly, never fit in with the others and not only because of his deafness, although that was a key factor in her decision.  Imagine how cruel they would have been to him, Wesley.  Imagine how he would have retaliated against others his age.”
Wesley didn’t want to dwell on that image, of innocent children being victim to a child who had been a victim himself.  It was sick and twisted, and suddenly, he pitied Adrian.  They were nearing the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, cars streaming by, and the East River fast approaching on their left as Wesley stared out the window again.  “She should have pulled him out.  She should have made Davide—”
“You couldn’t have taken away his son if you tried.  Besides, Adrian was too smart for that.  He liked being with his father and going on missions.  He would have run had he known his father hadn’t given his permission and never been found again.  The only thing Nina could do was rely on Davide’s loyalty to her as a warrior, and to teach his son the same loyalty.  It is the only reason Adrian did not go completely off the grid after Davide’s death.  She is the only thing that ties him to us now because Davide lived to serve her and his race in his own way.  It is the reason Adrian still lives, Wesley, because he believes his purpose is to carry out his father’s allegiance to her whether he likes it or not.”  Sutton shifted to stretch his legs.
“No one truly knows what happened the night Davide died.  The only thing we know for sure is that in addition Davide’s death, another of our operatives was killed, shot point blank in the head multiple times and had her heart cut out.  Her body was found in the alley of a local café, the rendezvous point for our Hunters to pose as enemy informants, so they could stop an enemy coven from leaving for the States.  Adrian was located about twenty minutes south of the rendezvous point, and only because he texted Nina for pickup.  Not one spot of blood on him, Wesley.  They found him naked, shivering under a blanket in some elderly human’s home, and the only things he possessed were his daggers that no one was allowed to touch.  He claimed he knew nothing.  That was ten years ago.  Envision what he can do now.”  Sutton’s stare burned into Wes’s back, urging him to turn around.
Sutton’s eyes were so dark they were almost black.  “Four years ago the Queen received complaints from the other Hunters.  Their missions were already done when they showed up on the scene.  Bodies were piling up, the right names and faces that should have been dealt with, but too many of them to begin to hide.  Human authorities started to notice, Wesley.  Adrian was getting out of hand, playing night vigilante to avenge his parents.  It’s the only motive we have at this point, the only logical reason he would kill that hard.
“Nina demanded he take a break.  If Adrian refused, she would strip him of his title, cut him off and the next time he killed he would be put behind bars.  Our kind of prison.”  Sutton cringed.  Wesley did so inwardly.  If Adrian was to be put behind bars by the Queen, he would rot there like a criminal.  He could take to the turn and no one would help him.  No blood.  No food.  Just a man alone in the dark left to die for his unfathomable sins.  No one would choose that ending.  No one.  Not even Adrian.  “He was angry to say the least, but I believe he appeased her by going to the academy because he knew he could serve his time and then hunt some more.  One more notch in his belt, freeing the streets of those who had taken his parents away forever.”
“Do you think he’s stable enough to do this, Sutt?  Why is he even here?  Shouldn’t Nina have him around the other Hunters?  They could handle him better than…I don’t mean to say you can’t, but…”
Sutton hissed, cutting Wes off.  “At graduation…Nina provided me an assistant to sign during the service.  The Queen exposed him to our race as deaf, and Cadence Hightower initiated him as a Guard.  Everyone knows his name now, his face, and his weakness.  There is no going back for him now, Wesley.  He is no longer a Hunter by title.  It would be too dangerous and he knows it.  It is the only reason he got on that plane with us, he knows he has nowhere else to go.  He is broken, Wesley.  We have taken away who he is.  But it was necessary.  You should have seen what he did to…”
Wesley ignored Sutt’s last comment in favor of sleeping well tonight.  “My God, Sutton.  He’s going to freak out on me.  He’s a fucking killer, not a Detective with a cubicle and a Bureau coffee mug.  He’ll lose his mind.”
“He’ll regain his humanity, Wesley.  Hunters can’t go on forever although we never age.  There comes a time when even the best warriors must secede from constant death.  It would turn us into monsters.  I have faith in Nina’s decision.  It breaks my heart to see him suffer, to lash out at me when all I ever wanted was to bring him up as child who knew what it meant to be a child.  But what’s done is done and he is who he is.  Now it is time for him to open up the parts of himself he was forced to hide long ago.  Once upon a time a man did that for me, helped me recover my mind, my heart, and forced me back into the world of the living.  Now I’m begging him to do it again.  Anything you want, Wesley, name it and I’ll give it to you.  Just please…please help him.  He won’t listen to me.”
“He can’t hear you,” Wes murmured.
“But you can hear him.  You can get through to him.  I know you can.”  Sutton grabbed Wes’s hand and squeezed.  “He is all I have left of my brother, Wesley.  Davide might have gone his separate way and he might have been wrong to train Adrian so young, but he was brother and I loved him.  If he knew I gave up on his son, if he knew, Wesley… He would haunt me from his grave until I gave up on life too.”
Sutton, begging for help with near tears in his eyes was a sight Wesley never wished to see again.  Nevertheless he had to think on this some more.  To help a dangerous man who could kill him in his sleep, or to let Adrian go, and risk the former Hunter wreaking havoc on the city, or worse...rotting away in an underground prison.  While the answer seemed simple, Wesley wasn’t so sure if he was up to the challenge.  First there was the divide in communication, and not just the fact that Wesley was new to sign language.  That was the easy part.  Getting Adrian to open up and respect him was going to be next to impossible.
Then there was the issue of socializing him at the Bureau.  Where Adrian might have been top of his class at the academy, at the Bureau he would basically be a submissive.  He would have to abide by the rules, take punishment like an adult and not as a slap on the wrist for a fuck up like he would from an instructor.  He would be responsible for having the Guards’ backs on the field, be part of a team and understand that there wasn’t room for a showoff.  Making a spectacle out there was frowned upon; attracting attention that was poison to their livelihoods as vampires, creatures who thrived on secrecy.
Wes had worked as a Guard for a very long time.  Having a partner, a real partner was like being married in some aspects.  Knowing each other’s ins and outs, dos and don’ts, talents and weaknesses while maintaining a bond that branded them as brothers was a hard relationship, one any Guard would see through to the end if the partnership was right.  If he said yes to Sutton, Wes was stuck with Adrian.  That was crystal.  Adrian was a special case, a man who couldn’t be returned to sender once things went wrong.  And they would.  Wes knew that to be true too.
Now it was a question of whether Wes could rise above his preconceived notions of this dangerous vigilante and work to get the real Adrian to make an appearance.  Was he up to that kind of responsibility?  Could they make a partnership work?  He hadn’t even said two whole sentences to the guy and already Adrian viewed him as a threat.  What happened a week from now, a month from now, a year from now?  If things were so bad Wes couldn’t stand to breathe the same air as Adrian, what then?  Would he be stuck with the guy?
You like challenges.  And you love a good mystery.  This kid is a Detective’s dream, Wes.  He probably has a few things to teach you.  You’ve got a shit ton to teach him too.  Look at Sutt, look how desperate he is.  Can you really leave him hanging after all he’s done for you?  Has he ever asked you for anything, something this important?  He trusts you over anyone else with his nephew’s wellbeing.  That’s love, buddy.  Say yes.  You ain’t really got a choice here.
“And if I say no?”
Sutton withdrew his hands from Wes’s and slumped against the seat.  “He’ll be granted four weeks with another partner, a trial run of sorts, and if it doesn’t pan out and he reverts to his old ways…Nina will see to his prison transfer.  We will never see Adrian again.”
Wesley sighed.  “You really think I can turn him around, Sutt?”
“I wouldn’t have risked a dozen plus lives and my own ass by telling you about the Hunters if I didn’t.  You’re a hard ass, Durren.  You won’t treat him any differently than the others.  And you certainly won’t put up with his shit.  More importantly, you’ve done this before.  You have a way about you, a gift with people I can only wish to have.  You won’t baby him.  But you won’t push him over the edge either.  You’re the perfect man for the job.”
“Fine.”  Wesley hung his head.  “But if this doesn’t work out…”
“I know,” Sutton whispered.  “Thank you.”
“Whatever.  Just drop me off at the office before you guys go home.  I need to check in with Jones and—”
“About that…” Sutton peered at him. He forced a weak smile.
Wesley snarled.  “What now?”
“As you saw earlier, Adrian wants nothing to do with me…let alone stay with Vertina and me.”
The Senior Detective’s jaw dropped.  “Hell.  No.  You can’t be fucking serious, Sutt.  I said I’d partner, not live with him!”
“Part of the deal, I’m afraid.  He needs constant supervision right now.  You have a spare room that you never use… I’ve already transferred money into your account for expenses if that worries you.  I—”
Wesley’s nostrils flared.  He crossed his arms.  Eyes swirling and locked on the partition window, he growled, “I am never doing another favor for you again.  This is it.  That kid tries to murder me in my sleep and you won’t have to worry about his life anymore because I’ll kill him.”
Sutton exhaled, his torso bowing over his lap as he put his face in his hands.  “Fair enough.  Thank God.”
“Don’t thank him yet.”
 To be continued…