I just wanted to drop off a little gift and say thank you for your patience. Work picked up, someone had a baby, and another person quit... So, I picked up the slack and tomorrow will end my two and half week straight work schedule. Man am I ready for some time off! lol By the time I get home I want to write so badly, but usually my pajamas and pillows win out and I put off writing for another day. Hopefully my schedule will even out and I can pick up where I left off. But I have been working on Whispers and I have been shaping up the Mage finale. Give me just a little more time. :)
Thank you guys so much for the love. I hope you enjoy this lengthy installment. *Hugs*
“Footage is clean. No tampering of any sort and Briggs was the only one who appeared on any of the basement cameras that night. Whoever killed him had to have already known about the cameras and dodged them. In my opinion, this guy was waiting for Briggs when he came into his office, possibly for a day or more. We’ve got at least a hundred faces running around storage to set up for graduation in the days prior. He could have been anywhere down there before he moved on to Brigg’s office.” Davis stood up from his monitor and stretched his arms over his head. “We have nothing, Cap,” he said in a low, defeated tone. “Guy’s a ghost.”
Wes grunted, pushing his half of the attendance list away. He also stood up and started to pace. The Cage was starting to get to him, closing in until he thought they’d all suffocate. “We have to be overthinking this. Sure the cause of death took hours and skill, but the how and why doesn’t have to be complicated. Usually never is.” Wes rubbed his lips together. He turned to Feist and snapped his fingers. “Mind if I run with this here?”
“By all means—we need a new angle.” Feist chugged some lukewarm coffee and went to the glass board he’d had delivered to the Cage. He uncapped a marker and waited for Wes to continue.
“Briggs’s phone records have been checked. His emails have been gone through. He wasn’t communicating with anyone we didn’t know personally, and not anyone we didn’t know about through connections.” Wes pointed to Feist. “So he wasn’t seeing anyone, and he wasn’t receiving threats. Dating isn’t a crime, and no one was about to give Briggs shit for doing so. Hell, he could’ve been banging half of France and no one would’ve bat an eye. And, had he gained the attention of a persistent admirer that would pose a security threat, he would’ve taken that higher up and nipped it in the bud. A danger to him or his students wasn’t tolerated…”
“Got it,” Feist muttered around a marker cap. He jotted shorthand notes around Briggs’s picture. Single. No hookups. No threats. Work focused. Loyal—not that Briggs’s loyalty was ever in question.
“Rules out the lover angle.” Fontine tossed his pen across the file in front of him. “So then why the heart?”
Wes mulled over the question, wandering around Feist and glancing at Briggs’s photo. “Dramatic effect? Because the killer had the urge to, the time and the privacy to do so? We’ll get back to that. I think if we know what the killer wanted in Briggs’s office, what Briggs had on his computer or his phone that was so important then we can nail down the heart mystery.”
Feist put the marker cap down. He turned to Sutt, something on his mind. “How far off are we on accessing Briggs’s recent database entries from his personal IP address, or did we order that already?”
Sutton’s brows knitted together and his frown deepened. “That information has always been available through me. All you need is my clearance password."
“I thought Briggs’s information was encrypted to his computer. I’m not a tech on this, Cap. I just thought we’d need to crack into his logs since his database was full of…” Feist licked his lips and turned to Wes. “You were right. We did overthink this.”
Sutton scratched his jaw. “I never offered up my clearance because Briggs’s database usage is minimal. He wasn’t field active, and the secure information on his computer was—”
“Student files,” Davis whispered. “Fuck.” He put a hand over his eyes. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Davis?” Feist crossed his arms.
“I fucked up.” Davis looked up. His dark eyes showcased his worry. “I mean really fucked up.”
Sutton sat down in the empty chair next to Davis. He took a deep breath, prepared, and then asked, “What did you do?”
“I should have thought about it earlier, but my head was somewhere else, Cap. It was just a minute…”
“What was just a minute?” Wes prodded, leaning on the table.
“You used Briggs’s office to access Adrian’s file, didn’t you? I’d heard talk that… Nevermind.” Maloy scrubbed a hand through his blond hair. He cursed softly. “Briggs was the only one that had access to those records besides Cap, obviously. Briggs was serious about privacy. And Adrian must have had a flag on his file, with his past under wraps and all.”
“Tell me I’m dreaming, Davis.” Sutton’s facial features hardened. “Tell me you had a reason for using Briggs’s personal database login when it is strictly forbidden to prevent situations like this. Tell me you didn’t do this.”
Davis’s eyes glazed over as he stared beyond the Cage into the pit of evidence that lay. “He trusted me to go get his phone from his office during the senior final exam. He was busy with testing and wanted to scan the grades into his phone to send to you ASAP, so you could get a full graduate count and plan accordingly.”
“I don’t care about any of that!” Sutton slammed his hand on the table. “I want to know what possessed a high ranking Guard to sit down at his superior’s personal computer, somehow gain his login password to a database containing information on every student at the academy, and then proceed to take a joyride through classified profiles! And if you say because you could, I will rip you to pieces…”
Davis shook his head adamantly. “Briggs gave me keys because his office was locked up. When I got there I unlocked the door and found his phone on his desk. The laptop was open and running a scan. He was already logged in, that’s why he locked his door. I was there in that gym for Adrian’s exam. I was fucking curious, okay? He’s still human. No human could’ve done that to a new turn. So, I fucked up, sat down, and typed his ID number in from the roster on Briggs’s desk. Not because I could, Cap, but because I had to.”
Sutton’s expression was murderous. “You will be debriefed on this investigation, submit your resignation, and sign a confidentiality agreement before you leave today. If you break that agreement and talk about this case to anyone you will be charged with treason and executed as a traitor.”
“Sutton, don’t.” Wes glared. “You can’t do that to him. He made a mistake. We all have—most a lot bigger than this one.”
“Turn in your badge, your gun, and report to Constance immediately.” Sutton stood up, a stony shadow of the man he’d been minutes before.
Davis pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “Cap, please. I’m sorry,” he begged.
“Sutton!” Wes blocked Sutton’s cold exit from the Cage. “He might have fucked up but he also gave us a lead. This is huge. This is our ticket.”
Sutton licked his fangs, a sign he was damn near ready to become violent. “He also got Briggs killed. One of my men, one of my most trusted men failed us and gave someone the idea that Briggs needed to be taken out. Briggs’s blood is on his hands.”
Davis growled and lunged, right into his partner’s body instead of Sutton’s. Fontine held Davis around the middle, blocking him from ripping Sutton to pieces, but just barely. The dark skinned Guard’s eyes swirled a brilliant yellow. His fingers dug into his partner’s back, leaving painful indentations. Wes stepped into Sutton’s space and looked down on him.
“You fire Davis and I walk. You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. You aren’t God, and you don’t have the power to pin Briggs’s death on an innocent man because you’re frustrated.”
“I’m warning you, Wesley,” Sutton hissed.
Wes didn’t care. He continued, “That’s not you, Sutton. And if anyone is guilty in this room of lying, being deceitful, or withholding information, it’s you. You’re right. You didn’t prep any of us for Adrian. Davis wouldn’t have had to go snooping for his info like any of us would’ve done if you’d have been honest. You knew Adrian would pass that exam with flying colors. You knew you were going to partner him with me, thus making him a part of this team. And you kept it all to yourself. You want to fire someone for wanting the truth? Fire yourself, because I don’t think you would know the truth if you hit you upside the head.”
“You are on thin ice, Wesley,” Sutton warned, his fangs dangerously sharp against his bottom lip. “I know what truth looks like.”
Wes ignored Sutton’s threat. “You know the truth, huh? In case you need a refresher, your nephew saw Briggs’s ghost for a reason. We all know it. I had a heart explode in my face a proof. Briggs isn’t haunting Davis because he made a poor choice. He’s haunting Adrian, trying to warn him. And I’ll bet you my entire life savings that if we log onto Briggs’s Bureau database, we’ll find that his last inquiry, or whatever Davis checked up on was about Adrian.”
Sutton shifted from one foot to the other, darting angry glares at his Detectives around the room. “And? Your point, Wesley…”
“That would mean you didn’t cover your tracks well enough and someone is out there gunning for your nephew, watching him, spying on the database. You know what else that means, Sutton? That means we’re in deep shit, means we have someone on the inside working for our killer. That means you need every trusted Detective you have on your payroll, including Davis. So pull the stick out of your ass and get over it. We have shit to do.”
Cue the tense silence. Wes observed the many stages of Sutton flit through his Captain’s dark eyes. Sutton gripped the gate to the Cage like he could melt the metal bars with his body heat. After he had his breathing under control and composed himself long enough to address his men, he turned to Davis. “Starting now you’re on probation. Any more of this and you will be gone, and I will not listen to any more arguments in your favor. I might not be God, but I am your Captain and that’s as close to God as you’ll ever get until your dead. And I’m not afraid to help you out with that either.” He scanned the room, taking in every Detective and waiting for any backtalk. Every male remained silent, just the way Sutton liked it. “Feist, when Adrian wakes up I want to know. Until then I want more answers, I want more evidence, I want a name. Find me our mole.”
“Yes, sir.” Feist nodded.
Wes tried to reach out and touch Sutton’s shoulder on his way past, a reminder that work was work and this had nothing to do with their personal relationship. Sadly, he was denied so much a glance his way. Apparently Sutton didn’t share in Wes’s separation of the two, all he saw was his best friend crossing a line and making a fool of Sutton in front of his Detectives.
Every male had a degree of pride, vampire males more so than any man, but Sutton’s pride had taken one too many hits this week. His pride was Swiss cheese, so many holes it might as well not exist. As Sutton walked off, letting the security door slam shut behind him, Wes thought maybe it was a good thing they hadn’t said anything more. Perhaps Sutton needed to cool off. It could be Wes needed to back off and remember his place.
Then again Wes had been offered the Captain’s position first because of his hands on leadership, because of the way he saw people and the way he acknowledged their strengths and weaknesses, and played on both for good reasons. He was just a people person, good with witnesses and undercover work, a striking clash when it came to his off duty personality.
Wes could turn it off, the charm, the air of authority that was there but not forced down anyone’s throat unless he was having the day from hell. Sutton could not. Sutton was one person, one mind, with one goal. His way or the highway and he wasn’t permitting any detours. To be told by the man who should have been in his seat that he wasn’t doing his job correctly was like chopping Sutton’s balls off.
The reason for this sudden, unharmonious change was Adrian. Not Wes. Not Sutton being second choice for office. It was Adrian that had Sutton on edge and everything and everyone else was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Wes hoped he and Sutton’s friendship would weather this storm, because from the looks of things Adrian was here to stay. Sutton would have to deal. Wes was being forced to already. If Wes was being honest forced wasn’t exactly the right word. He sort of liked Adrian, could relate to him in small ways that he couldn’t relate to Sutton. Change was supposed to be good. People were supposed to be different. The world wasn’t meant to be one dimensional, with one friend, the same shirt to work every day and the same thing for dinner every night.
Wes was changing. Sutton was changing. And something big was on Adrian’s horizon. Now it was just a matter of how much they would change each other and who they would be tomorrow.
For now, they had to focus on a dead man they cared about. Who killed him? Why? And how did he link to Adrian?
“You heard him, let’s find this mole.” Wes sat in his seat next to Adrian and grabbed his soda. He kept his eyes glued to his portion of the graduation attendees list because he couldn’t look Davis in the eye after what had happened. But when he heard Davis sit down across the table, and heard the click of those thick fingers over a tiny keyboard, Wes could breathe again. They needed Davis. They needed their team.
Just as he’d awoken that morning, Adrian flailed against his unfamiliar surroundings. Caged florescent lamps blinded him. His back ached and his knees cracked from being huddled in the fetal position on top of two lousy rolling chairs. His feet had gone to sleep and failed him as he pushed the chairs back and tried to stand.
He collapsed on the ground. Shit that hurt.
Figures rushed around Adrian, blurry
from his retinas being blasted with harsh, unnatural light.
Although, being on the floor was to his advantage while the enemy ran around the table to capture him. Adrian ducked under the table and grabbed the thick pole bolted to the floor, gaining leverage to pull his sore body across the cement platform. He rolled under the network of piping holding the table upright and grabbed his gun before his other hip hit the floor. Before pushing to his feet again, Adrian knocked his heels against the ground to make sure the tingles were gone, and then shot to his feet once he was clear of the table.
His gun was out, hands steady with a cup and saucer grip, and elbows bent just a smidge so they didn’t lock up. Finally his eyes focused; his situation now a crystal clear reality. He wasn’t on a mission. This place wasn’t some enemy warehouse. Adrian had not been drugged.
He’d been sleeping, something he wasn’t accustomed to doing much of. In front of him were his coworkers, the other Detectives, because he was a Detective now and not a Hunter any longer.
Comprehension slapped him, an ethereal sting burning his cheek. He exhaled through his nose like a fire breathing dragon, locked eyes with Wes and lowered his gun to his holster. The weight of the other Detectives’ stares was too much to shoulder; their gawking and their frustration couldn’t be so easily countered. They had every right to call him a freak now, to be weary of him, not to trust Adrian.
Hell, he was a freak.
Adrian remembered why he’d gone to sleep at work in the first place and he shivered. He holstered his gun and wrapped his arms around his chest, then turned to look out into the shadowy storage area that went on for eternity.
The tiniest of movements, most likely tricks of the eye, raised every hair on Adrian’s body. The air was cold. Everywhere he looked was dark. Any minute Briggs would step out of the shadows and come for Adrian. His chest hanging open. Blood. That sick, wet choking noise. The smell of decay, of a metallic stench that lingered after a bloody death.
Adrian inched away from the chain-link partition, towards the table he’d run from. When his legs tapped the table’s surface, he sat down, but didn’t look away from the darkened rows of boxes.
He was still out there. Briggs was still a murdered man without justice. That brand of spirits always wanted more after they’d made contact, especially the terrifying ones. Always with more and more until Adrian had no choice but to do whatever they wanted to make them go away. To keep his sanity.
He’d become accustomed to not sleeping, sometimes not eating, and always running. He was always running away. Away from the spooks. Away from the warmth of a family. Away from death and feelings. Away from anything that could penetrate his mighty internal fortress and make the world more real, force him to deal with his problems, with his pain and anger, force him to realize he was a person too.
Adrian got up and moved away from the table because he couldn’t sit still. Went towards the door, but kept his eyes focused on the dark. Always focused, and right now, still aware of the others watching him.
Adrian shuddered from head to toe, clenching his muscles when two large hands eased over his shoulders from behind. Judging from the scent, the looming shadow that slid over the Cage steps and the way those fingers began to knead into Adrian’s tension, Wes had come to his rescue.
Wes held true to his promise, he wouldn’t leave Adrian alone, on his own to sink and then drown.
Wes’s eyes didn’t hold an ounce of condemnation as Adrian eased around into Wes’s arms. He didn’t pull back when Adrian slowly laid his head on Wes’s shoulder because Adrian was at a loss for how to deal. What he did do was hug Adrian right back. Wes held him tightly, tight enough to steal the breath from Adrian’s lungs.
It was a safe tight. The kind of embrace that let Adrian know when he needed a minute alone, away from the dark and pain, Wes would provide that small space for him, with him. Not one inch of wiggle room for the shadows to creep in—that kind of tight.
Adrian exhaled until his body had feeling to it, and then gently tugged out of Wes’s arms. He hadn’t cried. He hadn’t been rocked into submission like a child. Adrian had a problem, a near panic attack, and Wes as his partner had taken care of the situation and offered his support.
There was nothing going on beyond a simple hug, a platonic solution, a natural comfort ritual between two normal people. That’s what Adrian told himself as he allowed Wes to walk him back to the table. And kept telling himself as Wes rested his arm around the back of Adrian’s chair when they sat down. What he knew of societal norms, a possessive arm around the back of one’s chair staked a claim or issued an invitation for more physical contact. But he wasn’t sure if Wes meant either of those things. Probably not. He hoped not.
Maloy, Fontine, Davis, and Feist took up posts across the table like they were the head honchos at a board meeting. Feist pulled his phone out, but Wes shook his head. Whatever the exchange had been about, Feist conceded and put his phone away.
It was clear to Adrian that while Feist might be point on this investigation, Wes was calling the shots at the moment, and as Wes’s partner, Adrian was given a bit of leeway for his training kicking in after waking up. That meant they knew more than they were supposed to. This made Adrian very nervous. Wes lowered his arm and turned Adrian’s chair around so that their knees were touching.
Touching. Wes seemed to touch him a lot, or maybe it was Adrian’s imagination. Yes, Adrian had initiated first contact with a hug, but Wes’s touching went beyond that. It sure felt like Wes was everywhere, close to him always. So very close. But no matter how many times Wes touched Adrian, no matter how gentle Wes revealed himself to be, or how wide Wes’s protective streak grew for Adrian, Wes and Adrian would always be miles apart. Always too different to ever connect in the middle.
I’m so confused.
And somehow, Adrian was always seduced back with Wes’s eyes. Adrian could label him and Wes oil and water all he wanted, but Wes affected Adrian like no one else had before. Wes commanded feelings from Adrian he didn’t have the skills to deal with. Everything Wes said seemed a good idea. Everything Wes did, Adrian wanted to copy. Small things of course, like a nod to the guys in the hall as they passed. Getting coffee in the break room because normal people did that—even though Adrian didn’t drink coffee. But more than anything Adrian wanted to learn the art of Wes’s easy smile.
A self-proclaimed hardass, Wes sure did have a nice smile. One Adrian noticed. He never noticed smiles before. He did now. Now that Wes was smiling at him like Adrian was being rewarded for a job well done. In the back of his mind Adrian knew Wes wasn’t smiling at him for that reason. Not during such a horrific investigation, and not after Adrian had pulled a gun on his coworkers.
If that really was the case, Wes had a morbid sense of humor.
“You don’t have to describe everything, just the important details, and then we’re done today. We can go home and relax. If you don’t know how to relax, I can teach you.” Wes smiled again, the kind of toothy, syrupy sweet lift of his top lip that Adrian knew wasn’t some secret comfort between them. It was a guilty smile. The catch had yet to come.
But relaxing sounds good. Adrian, startled by this self-admission, leaned back in thought. Since when do you relax? He’s right—do you even know what that means? And what am I describing to get this night off? Why is he smiling like that! Adrian looked to his right, into the dark recesses of evidence and tensed. He glanced at Wes, eyes narrowed as it came to him, and he shook his head. “No. No fucking way.”
“C’mon, Adrian…” Wes rolled his chair closer, wedging his thigh between Adrian’s. “Everything’s cool. They know about your talent. And what you saw could be a big lead in this case.”
Disappointment stabbed Adrian like a jealous ex-husband over and over again. Fuck feelings. This is why my Dad said not to get involved. This is why he didn’t want anyone to know about me. Everyone’s a liar. They all want to use me
Adrian gave Wes a hard shove, rolling his chair back. Betrayal darkened Adrian’s blue eyes as he stood and glared from his corner of the Cage.
“You have no idea what I see, what I hear. The only time I get to hear…” Adrian sucked in air through his clenched teeth and shook his head. “It’s death. I want to hear music and I hear death. I want to hear you speak to me, instead I hear them screaming. How’s that, Wes? Is that what you wanted to know for your stupid investigation? How a dead man with his chest gaping open crawled across this fucking table and screamed in my face? How he smelled like rot and his eyes were…dead. Fuck! Fuck you.” Adrian pointed a shaking finger at Wes. “Fuck all of you. And fuck being normal.”
A ticking time bomb with no outlet for his bottled up emotions, Adrian popped the top and let it all out. His boots thudded over the concrete platform as he circled in his corner. He stopped. Adrian threw his chair into the Cage wall and screamed through his teeth.
“I was fine! I never once messed up, always completed my mission, and always covered my tracks. That was my life,” Adrian wailed, spinning around to face Wes and the others. “I loved my life. I liked being alone. I was good at it.” Adrian pounded his fist into his palm. “I liked spending nights cleaning my guns and casing my targets. I liked…” Adrian looked around the table, absorbing every pitying stare cast his way. Males of this caliber didn’t pity anyone. Yet these males did—the kind of pity and sadness that made Adrian’s stomach churn.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that? Is it my voice, how ugly it is? You can’t stand a stupid, deaf retard on your team, but you’ll play along because I’m the boss’s nephew? News flash, I hate that son-of-a-bitch. I hate this place. I hate this fucking job and I’m starting to hate each and every one of you.” Adrian panted for air. His skin so hot with anger he wanted to peel it off like an old sunburn. He was aware of how foolish he looked and sounded, what his temper tantrum must look like to them. It just had to come out. Didn’t know the reason but Adrian had to let it go.
And the hardest part of letting something go, something private and sacred that he’d never meant to say was that Adrian couldn’t take it back. His carefully built fortress had cracked and started to crumble. Feelings had been introduced into his system and he couldn’t brush them off like cobwebs with his hand. Emotions stroked him from the inside, trying to coax his shadows away from the dark, trying to turn them into words so they could be free. So he could be normal. So he could be like one of them.
Just wasn’t how he was built. Adrian didn’t understand, didn’t know how to cope, what to do with the lump in his throat or how to control his heartbeat with his fingers like he’d done all his life. His heart pounded away, uncaring of trained responses or his past. It just beat and beat and beat away until Adrian could barely breathe.
“Get mad,” Wes stomped his foot. “You deserve to be angry.” Wes nodded, stepping closer. His charcoal eyes were almost black. “Let it go. You need to punch something, punch me.” He slapped his chest. “You need to scream, no one up there is gonna hear you. Only us. And no one here is gonna say a damn word.”
Adrian watched Wes flip the toppled chair upright and roll it to Adrian. Without a word, Adrian sat because he didn’t trust his legs to stand anymore. Wes dropped into his seat and pulled Adrian closer by his knees. He kept his hands there, Adrian’s pulse thumping under his palms. “No one’s got a problem with your voice, with the fact you can’t hear, or what you did on the other side of the world. Your voice sounds fine, so cut that shit out. You can’t hear? Thousands of other people in this world can’t either and they get on just fine. Fact that you can’t hear and your one of the scariest motherfuckers out there, that’s pretty damn incredible. Glad to have you around.”
Wes rolled his eyes. “But being alone, keeping all that shit inside because someone forced you not to feel…that’s fucked up. You hate yourself, Adrian. Not because you love your old life and hate us for making you be someone else, but because you were programmed to love your old life and they left you without a fucking personality. You don’t know who you are, but you know what you can do.”
“No… That’s not right…” Adrian shook his head quickly, stopping when Wes snatched his chin between his thick fingers. “Stop it,” Adrian hissed.
“I won’t stop. You’ve been told your entire life to keep your gift a secret. Why? You really think your Queen hates you so much she would turn you into a science experiment? Here’s your newsflash, Adrian. When Nina found out about your gift, she didn’t turn you over to the mad scientists. She let you continue to do what you liked because she wanted to give you a chance to grow, to become your own person. That is until you took it too far, and Nina gave a crap enough about you to yank you out. You wanted to be alone? No way. Ain’t healthy, Adrian. So she put you in school, where you should’ve been all along.”
“You’re wrong,” Adrian murmured.
“No. You are.” Wes grabbed Adrian’s hands. “Point is, doesn’t matter who was wrong or right, okay. What matters is that you got this gift that’s scary and draining and I can’t imagine what you see and hear, Adrian. But you have that gift for a reason. You got thrown into the Academy and met Briggs for a reason. And now his death is linked to you and he came back to you for a reason. You’re mad he’s dead. We all are. We all respected that man. But now he’s dead and we want to know why. You can help us, Adrian. How great is that?”
Adrian shuddered. “Terrible. You don’t know…”
Fontine tapped the table and lifted his chin at Adrian. “Then tell me how terrible it was. If you have nightmares, we’ll share ‘em. Tell us, Adrian. We’re your teammates now, like your family.”
Davis sighed and shrugged, slashing a hand through the air to gain Adrian’s attention. “I almost lost my job because of you—isn’t your fault. It’s mine. Had never seen a kid flip a new turn with such drive in my life, and I had to know who you were. Who this incredible kid was that moved like a damn Guardian. So if I got Briggs killed because of what I did and I messed up and…” Davis licked his lips and let out a slow breath. “If I messed up and left you in danger, I got your back, man. I owe you pretty big.”
Feist sputtered with laughter. He raised his hands. “The fuck is this, a Lifetime movie? Should I call down some cookies and milk for this female fest?” He grinned at Adrian. “Look here, I judged you before I knew a thing about you. I’ll admit it.” Feist sighed. “Usually don’t but I will this time. I’m sorry I was an asshole to you. I’m sorry you got stuck with us when you could be out there playing Batman with terrorists. But what we do here is just as important as what you did out there. We take down enemies too. We save lives. We clean house and don’t take the credit for it. You can still sweep the streets, maybe on a bit of a smaller scale, but you still can. You just have to work with us.”
Maloy nodded. “I’m in the same spot as you are, Adrian. I don’t know anyone here really. I don’t have any family left. I’m pretty much a spectacle now that…well, you know. It’s hard being here. It’s hard feeling small when back at the Academy I was someone to somebody. Kind of an asshole actually but that’s beside the point.” Maloy looked beyond the Cage into the dark then back to Adrian. “But Briggs was there for us, Adrian. He didn’t make us feel all alone and he didn’t make us feel weak when we needed help either. He was a good man. And now he’s dead, talking to you, trying to get some peace. Why listen to him if you’re going to ignore him?”
They were all patient, turning towards him just right, talking slow and deliberately as if they knew the pace at which Adrian could understand. They were trying for him. So why couldn’t Adrian try for them?
“I have no choice,” Adrian muttered. “I can’t control all of them.”
“You can listen to Briggs.” Wes leaned into Adrian. “You can tell us what happened so we can lock this guy up and throw away the key.”
Adrian closed his eyes to cut off contact with all of them. In the darkness of his mind he grasped for patience, for some calm to combat the dread pumping through his heart. They had no idea what they were asking him to do. First it would be Briggs. The deeper they got into the investigation, the more Briggs would come to him, the more Adrian would have to see those eyes and hear those screams.
Then, if they ever found Briggs’s killer, it would be someone else, another victim they wanted answers from. Adrian would spend half his life depleted of energy. He would never sleep, not even a wink. He’d go crazy, crazier than at this very minute. Finally, when he did turn, his “gift” would amplify in power and destroy him completely.
At least that’s how Adrian saw it. His coworkers did not. They thought this gift was meant to be used, believers in fate, an almost religion among vampires. Fate brought two mates together for eternity. Fate placed them in the right place at the right time for a specific reason or to start a chain of events that would eventually help someone else. Fate gave him the gift of talking to the dead to help them move on and tie up their loose ends. Fate took away Adrian’s ability to hear as the price for this horrific ability. It was the circle of life, cause and effect and all that jazz.
Bullshit. Adrian cracked his back and opened his eyes. They’ll use me and toss me away like trash. They’ll take and take until there’s nothing left. But what do you have now that’s so precious to live for? What’s the point of fighting them, they’ve always controlled you in some way or another… The Queen. Your father. Your Uncle. They always left you with no choice. You thought you had choices, but you never did. Not really. So what have you got lose now, Adrian?
Adrian put his chin in his hand on the table, absorbing the gravity of his predicament. He was never going back to his old life. Arrangements had been made and set in stone, provisions provided, and a new life spread out before him. He was no longer a vigilante killer with no curfew and unlimited resources.
He couldn’t remind himself enough.
Now Adrian was expected places at certain times, to be with certain people and follow strict protocols. He was expected to eat meals three times a day and sleep an entire eight hours. One home was all he would have. No globetrotting in slummy motels or staking out on rooftops with a sniper rifle.
His exciting lifestyle was gone.
The part he struggled with, more than losing his old life, was that he… He wanted this new life, had all along, but didn’t know how to function in it. Adrian remembered times when he was very young, sitting by the front window of whatever place his father had taken them to. He’d watch his Uncle get back into his car after a short, usually intense visit with Adrian’s father.
Uncle Sutton always waited at the curb, waited until Adrian’s father left Adrian’s side to roll down the car window and lift a hand for his nephew. He always said goodbye. He always brought Adrian a small gift—candies, a book, or sometimes toys that Davide would throw away. Sutton always got on his knees and hugged Adrian close when he arrived. They were the only hugs Adrian remembered receiving.
And then Adrian would go to his room after Sutton left and try not to cry. Tears were an involuntary, human response his father had told him. But his father didn’t like tears, didn’t accept them, so Adrian never cried because he wanted to appear strong like Davide.
But Adrian sure did miss his Uncle when he was gone, missed those simple affections he knew other children needed to live. Wanted to run away with Sutton, have a mother and a father and a home. Wanted to play on the playground with other children and run around carefree. But Adrian still loved Davide. He couldn’t leave his father all alone.
Eventually Adrian grew up and saw the world his father told him about. While the cravings to live a simpler life still remained, his heart hardened and the life he once dreamed of slipped out of his grasp and out of his mind. Those silly ideas were replaced with purpose and intent, the weapons of a true warrior.
Now Adrian was essentially in retirement. His father was gone. His Queen had given him the life he’d never had. And Sutton was still waiting on him, however tense their relationship was. In the middle of Adrian’s chaotic life was Wes, appearing out of nowhere to guide him through the settling dust. All Adrian had to do was accept this. Accept himself. Accept the reality that not everyone saw the dead, and those that did had the ability for…a reason.
This was his reason. To be bold and face his demons. To attain the rush he once thrived on by getting to the bottom of a case. To let others in, be a teammate, and surround himself with people who would teach how to be human again. To ask for help and to give help. To talk to the dead and get the justice he had always sought for others. The only difference between his old job and the new one, the people he wanted to save were already dead.
Adrian glanced up. He’d never thought of that before. Truth was he’d never thought outside his training at all. Adrian studied the group gathered. “He’s coming.”
Feist lifted a brow. “Who’s coming?” He looked around nervously. “Is…Briggs here?”
Adrian shook his head. “That’s what Briggs told me. He’s coming.”
Davis groaned at Feist. “What are you an owl? Don’t sound like he got a name, just the warning.”
Adrian nodded. “I don’t think he was warning any of you.”
“What do you mean?” Feist rested his arms on the table.
“I think he was warning me. The way he said it was too personal, like I should know who he was talking about.” Adrian eyed Davis. “What did you mean when you said you almost got fired because of me?”
Davis put his hands up. “I ain’t got any beef with you, okay? I apologized and that’s all I can do right now.”
Wes flicked Davis off. He tapped Adrian’s shoulder and started signing quickly. By the time Wes put his hands down, Adrian knew the entire story, and silently put some pieces together. His fingers tapped against his wrist in thought. Finally he nodded to himself and stood, going for the glass marker board. “Don’t talk while my back is turned. Just listen for now.” He checked over his shoulder and caught Wes’s approving smile. Adrian wanted to smile back but caught himself. He wasn’t ready for all of that yet. One step at a time, and this was a pretty big step in his book. “This room is clean, right?”
“Bug free,” Feist confirmed.
“Good, because I killed Ulysses Maloy and I think I know how Briggs’s killer did it.” Adrian kept his expression neutral in the face of their shock. He turned to the board before he lost his nerve. “Anyway, when I saw Briggs. Here. In this room. He had a wrap over his mouth, some kind of medical gauze we usually used in the infirmary at the Academy. It had some type of chemical on it. This stuff smelled so bad, smelled like hospital disinfectant on crack. Smelled familiar too.” Adrian scribbled across the board: R190.
He faced his audience. “R190 is used as a paralyzing agent for Academy students undergoing the first stage of the turn. The purpose of R190 is to keep a student from hurting themselves or staff members when the first wave of pain hits. Another reason for using the agent is because it allows the student to retain awareness in those first moments of the turn, so a staff member can explain away our fear and help us to realize what’s happening before we go under. Studies have shown that if we are aware of our situation before we blackout, waking up is a far calmer process.”
“And my Uncle?” Maloy’s brows were inching close to his hairline he was so surprised.
Adrian flashed a cruel grin. “R190 can also be used to paralyze a victim and keep them awake while you use a razor wire to remove their extremities. The punishment should always fit the crime.”
“Fuck. Me.” Feist put a hand over his mouth. He dropped it a minute later. “You cut off his… Sick. Fitting. But sick.”
“That’s not the only thing I cut off. But back to R190. The drug is regulated by the Bureau for the use of students and Guards only, distributed by one lab at the Royal Compound as sort of a trial run before they distribute it in mass to our clinics. The trial started last year and will continue for another four years. As of right now the only two places to find R190 are at the Royal Compound or in the Academy Infirmary. And I can bet you anything Nina has her end under lock and key and at least two dozen armed, warm bodies.” Adrian narrowed his eyes at Wes. “There’s a mole at the Academy and he was looking for me.”
Wes gestured for Adrian to sit. “Tell us why you think that.”
Adrian was on a roll, sharing his train of thought so naturally that if he’d stopped to think about it he would’ve clammed up.
“Twelve Hunters cover their territories in a structured pattern to take out a coven or a cell. They know we exist, not what or who we are, but that we take them out on a regular basis. Just like the military sends black ops teams to locate terrorists and dig them a final hole. The enemy knows those teams exist, and that they operate on the regular, but they don’t have true identities, names, faces to get their revenge, so they take out their pain on a whole nation to get their point across.
“While we can cover our tracks all we want, the enemy can still loosely monitor our activity. The Hunters switch territories week to week to keep the action fresh and the enemy confused because they’ve grown accustomed to one Hunter’s style and aren’t prepared for the next. But when one Hunter gets stuck behind the walls of the Academy, leaving one territory to grow with enemy cockroaches, the covens take notice of that. And if say that missing Hunter had really pissed someone off, they could be tracked by the right person. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to change things up to shake off a tail. But this is different. This is personal. I have personally affected the one who killed Briggs, or whoever this guy is working for. Taking the heart was both a trophy and a message, telling me I’m going to suffer for what I did. Makes sense now. It’s what I’d do too.
“I’m sure the tracker has my name now, and has had it the entire time I’ve been at the Academy. He just didn’t know what I looked like. We don’t take badge pictures until we graduate for security purposes. Pre-turns are considered minors. Until then we’re just a number and a first name in case our family has an enemy and we aren’t prepared to defend ourselves. But that wasn’t there problem. I wasn’t the only Adrian there. There were four out of all the classes.” Adrian couldn’t believe how lax he’d been at the Academy. You didn’t just walk away from Hunting. You were always someone’s enemy.
“When Davis pulled up my ID number on Briggs’s computer, he then logged into my personal file, which is the only place that had my real last name. I always went by a fake at the Academy. Sutton flagged my real file as confidential and that would have hid it from anyone hacking into the database from the outside. When Davis clicked it, clearing up the red tape, whoever was out there looking for me was alerted. Someone inside the Academy let the killer in, had to have, and gave the killer the R190 to paralyze Briggs so they could question him on my whereabouts, but we were already headed to London after the ceremony so this frustrated the killer. They thought Briggs was my contact, the one I received my missions from. They thought we were close and that his death would hurt me. They thought I’d understand the message right away.”
“And did it? Did his death hurt you?” Fontine asked.
Adrian was slow to reply, “Yeah. It did. He died for no reason. Even if Davis hadn’t clicked on my file, they would’ve known about me eventually. Because I was the one who fucked up by going on the mat with Maloy to show him up. I gave myself away and someone was watching. I just gave them the confirmation they needed. I was the Adrian they wanted.”
“There wasn’t an enemy in that gym, Adrian.” Davis shook his head. “I was there.”“Not all of our enemies are of Haitian descent or come from traitorous bloodlines. They don’t always look bad to the bone and not all of them have a sinister laugh and a bunch of minions. Enemies hide in plain sight, Davis. They look like you and I. Talk like us, think like us, act like us to get close. But they aren’t us. Problem is, sometimes you don’t realize who they are until it is too late.”
“You realize you’re implicating a Guard as a terrorist don’t you. The only ones in that gym for finals were students and Guards, and now those students are all graduated. You could be implicating Maloy here or any one of those men.” Davis rested his hands on the table. His eyes darkened to black. “That’s a serious accusation. I’m not saying you’re not correct, but that’s big.”
“It’s not Maloy,” Adrian countered. “While his childhood left little to be desired, he retained a mental state consistent with that of a healthy individual and continued his education, even seeking therapy from an outside source. After his brother’s death he enrolled in an Academy prep program to follow in his brother’s footsteps and a year later he was in France. He was determined to make something of himself, something good. He was surrounded with friends, way too involved in the Academy’s extracurricular activities to have large gaps of time to confer with enemy intelligence off campus. And besides, if he were a terrorist, his brother would have told me that fact. His brother was something of a vampire patriot and he wouldn’t have let that little detail go.”
“How do you know all that?” Maloy slapped his knees as he pushed his chair back.
“You pissed me off. Used to. Know thy enemy like the back of thy hand. Although I didn’t know the cause of therapy until I met your brother in the locker room.” Adrian shrugged. “If I hadn’t checked up on you, kept my eyes peeled, and if I hadn’t had a visit from your brother, I would have suspected you immediately. But you’re not who we’re looking for.”
“Who are we looking for?” Wes was leaning back in his chair, chin resting on his fist, and a fire in his grey eyes that made Adrian swallow.
Adrian’s stare darted to Feist, and then to Fontine. He looked anywhere but at Wes. And then he did what he did best when searching for his target. He profiled. “A student would be easier to manipulate. Most of them are still human, bringing mind control into play. I’d have to do some research. I mean we would have to do some research on the graduating class to weed out the good seeds. But in my opinion, our mole is young, most likely emotionally unstable but great at hiding it. He lacks confidence, which was his motive for joining the Academy in the first place. Possibly forced into signing up by a demanding, Alpha father, or criticized for his weaknesses by a mother who wanted to live vicariously through her son’s achievements and wasn’t getting what she wanted. He wanted to appease them. He failed. He always failed.
“He was definitely unpopular throughout childhood, seeking praise and acceptance from his teachers because they were the only ones who would give it to him. He isn’t sexually active, and not by choice, shattering his confidence completely. I’m betting he was first approached by a female for the enemy. They would’ve spotted his awkwardness around females quickly in a social setting and used it to their advantage. His shy demeanor around females is what sets him apart from his exterior. He might be handsome and strong now, growing out of his ugly duckling days, but his mind hasn’t caught up with his body and he’s still that abandoned little boy on the inside.
“He wants to be wanted. He wants to feel powerful. He wants to hurt others for hurting him, but this was the first time he truly acted on it because he had the enemy backing him. They made him feel special. He feels accepted by the enemy, where he was never truly accepted by his Academy buddies because he knew he wasn’t like them. He will have an excellent record, so good his Guard placement will be somewhere important to reward him for his diligence, but his slow-to-act tendencies will keep him from ranking too high next to other more qualified candidates.
“He won’t wear a wire or keep evidence of his findings to minimize his chances of being caught. Now that he has the freedom to do as he pleases in a larger, adult setting, he will spend his free time on his own, to meet and plan with his contact. Refusing after work gatherings, especially crowded, loud environments, he will be the perfect mole—pliable, manipulated and brainwashed. More importantly, he’ll blend in. He will look like any other Joe on the street. And that is why he’s dangerous.”
Wes looked about ready to come in his slacks. He rubbed his jaw slowly, staring at Adrian hard enough to make the rookie squirm. “You could give Arnie a run for his money with that kind of profiling. Fucking hell…”
Adrian arched a brow. “Who?”
Feist smirked. “Arnie doesn’t matter. What matters is we got what we need for now. Answers. You got us some answers. Now we need to back it all up with proof. We’re calling it a night to let everything sink in—kind of a lot for one day. Tomorrow we’re gonna start from the beginning and map everything out with what evidence we have to present to Sutton. None of the evidence here leaves. Not one sheet of paper or sticky note, got it?”
Feist stood up. “Keep your eyes peeled, and if you get a vibe from one of the rookies, or you hear something, you come to me or Sutton. Don’t let on anything. Absolutely no confrontations. We keep this quiet. And when we find out who our mole is, he won’t see it coming. Hell, I’ll even toss the razor wire in for free.” He winked at Adrian. “Now I’ve got to report to Cap, break it down for him, and then I’m taking Boy Wonder here for a beer. Who’s in?”
“Thank God.” Davis rose from his chair and stretched. He put his jacket on and slapped Fontine on the back.
When everyone was gone, Wes was left alone in the cage with Adrian. They’d declined Feist’s offer. Getting drunk sounded like the worst possible idea right now. “You did good.”
Adrian shrugged. He wasn’t one for praise, possibly just didn’t know how to accept it, but it made him uncomfortable.
“I mean it. You know Feist would’ve thrown you off this case because of the connection you have with the killer, but you threw him a bone and proved you’re valuable to this investigation. They just wanted to know you. That’s all.”
By having a mental breakdown? That’s how they wanted to know him, as the crazy person on the team? Wonderful. Adrian rubbed his hands over his thighs in thought. Being distracted by Wes didn’t help him see anything clearer. They were alone. In a secure basement. Wes staring at him like that. Adrian all exposed, wading through the emotional mud he wasn’t used to dealing with.
His identity had been compromised and he’d brought a leech from his past back with him to the states, all the way to the Bureau, putting every one of these hard working Detectives in danger. And yet they wanted to help him, to protect him. He’d never needed protection before.
He’d never needed anyone before.
It was hard to let go. It was hard to admit he wanted this life with all its warm and fuzzy nuances. Worse to know he had to change, had to grow up and let go of that angry fourteen-year-old boy who’d lost everything and then spent the next ten years in a volatile state of revenge. Adrian had to accept that he was only one man. When he looked back on the things he’d done, he was both proud and ashamed.
But the truth of the matter was he couldn’t continue that life and he had to let go. Thousands of men and women fought for a purpose every day, although, they still had lives to come home to. They still had feelings that they bared when angry, sad, happy, or lost. Everyone, including his new team members, didn’t feel like less of a person for asking for help, for feeling small at times and indulging in the kindness of others to get through. They didn’t waste what precious lives they had and keep their feelings bottled up until they went nuts.
They just lived the best way they knew how. And now Adrian was privy to the secrets of normalcy, of being a person and not a shell. He’d have to adapt and lower the gate of his internal fortress so that others could come inside. He’d have to curb his childish attitude to work as a team, where he would not be running the show. He would need to face his abilities and his weaknesses, his gift, because in time they would only consume him if he didn’t get to know them intimately.
More importantly, he would have to change because someone was watching him. That someone would see the Hunter in him from miles away—his eyes scouring his surroundings, his rigid walk, his separation from the others, his lack of personality—and they would strike. The best way to surprise his enemy would be to confuse him. Hunters were all the same, they were soldiers 24/7. They didn’t have smiles or friends, didn’t have homes, didn’t go for drinks just for the hell of it.
But Adrian would. He’d played many parts over the years for the sake of his missions. Now he would live it and not as an actor. He was going to get to the bottom of this case, find Briggs’s killer and send his stalker off to the fires of hell. And he was going to enjoy doing it.
For the first time in his life, Adrian crushed the discomfort Wes had brought on and tacked on a small smile. “Thank you.”
Wes tilted his head, his brows lifting a fraction of an inch, and blinked. After a few moments he relaxed and smiled back. “Let’s get this cleaned up and go home.”
Home. Adrian had a home now. He nodded and stood to help Wes put all the files away. As he followed Wes out of the Cage a little while later, he shut the door on the dark and didn’t look back. Tonight he wasn’t going to think about the ghosts. Wes was going to teach him how to relax.
A week went by. Those days felt more like an eternity. They’d gone through so many graduate records, from birth to the present, that Wes knew each and every one of them like the back of his hand. Problem was they all looked spotless. Even Adrian was at a loss, which didn’t bode well for the confidence he’d built this week. The past few days, after discovering the Bureau gym set far to the back of the building, Adrian had crushed the bags, run enough miles to get him to the other side of the country, and challenged more men in the ring than a prize fighter.
Out of six rounds with Davis, Adrian won once. That only made things worse.
While Wes had seen change in Adrian, his willingness to make this work, Adrian had become so frustrated he was starting to remind Wes of himself. Pushing other Guards out of his way, barking orders to people he didn’t have rank to order around, and he was just plain cranky. Wes also noticed the paranoia. He’d come home from the corner store two nights ago to find Adrian in his room with his suitcase dismantled down to the wheels.
Beautiful fighting knives had been hidden within steel casings inside the suitcase’s extendable handle. An entire rifle and mount had been locked away in bits and pieces behind a panel at the back of the suitcase. The wheels clicked open to reveal a handful of wireless microphones and tiny cameras no bigger than an infant’s pinky nail. The entire case had been rigged to pass through security at the airport, plated with custom steel that didn’t reveal its secret contents in the scanner.
Adrian hadn’t even had the grace to look guilty, like he hadn’t been hiding a high powered weapon at the Academy this entire time. He’d gathered the rifle pieces and brushed past Wes with purpose. An hour later a rifle was hooked up to the ceiling in the foyer, pointed at the street facing front door and connected to a remote in Adrian’s hand. Whoever tried to break in the door, through the industrial vent in the hallway, or popped out of thin air would trigger the motion sensors Wes already had and alert Adrian’s watch. Then Adrian would blow them into a thousand pieces like he was playing a video game from the small monitor on the remote.
It was genius. It was also scary.
On top of it all Wes was getting thirsty. Blood thirsty. He’d gone over his normal waiting period to feed and was now feeling the first side effects. Irritability. Small pains in his stomach. Sexual cravings. Fatigue. Adrian’s actions didn’t help. He smelled too good to Wes. He looked fine as hell. He had blood Wes could drink. And…fuck if Wes didn’t want to jump him and make him calm the hell down. God, he kept moving. Adrian never sat down. He was all over the place and Wes just wanted to pounce.
Currently, Adrian was walking in the front door. Davis lifted a hand from the hallway to make sure Wes had seen that Adrian hadn’t been followed and then went back to his vehicle on the curb. It was Davis and Fontine’s turn to watch the house and make sure no one was attempting to murder Wes and Adrian in their sleep.
Wes was just glad Davis didn’t invite himself in. He’d know after a few minutes Wes was in full thirst mode. That wouldn’t be good. That would be a fight and a half because Wes knew better than to wait this long.
Wes closed his eyes and inhaled the ripe sweaty scent of Adrian’s body. He allowed himself a quiet growl. Adrian couldn’t hear it and the guy was already slamming the bathroom door when Wes opened his eyes.
Wes thought about getting dressed and hitting up one the donors he’d used in the past. Maybe go to the bar, get some dinner, and then go back to his donor’s place for a little bit of stress relief therapy. But he knew he couldn’t leave Adrian alone, as alone as he was going to get anyway. Getting drunk and getting some was also a bad idea to Wes. He and Adrian had to be in tip top shape for the Donohue Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
Neither of them wanted to go. Adrian wasn’t one for family gatherings. Wes and Sutton had ignored each other all week. But when Tina had called last night to make sure they were still coming, what was he supposed to say? No? Yeah right. If there was one thing Wes was sure of at all times, you didn’t upset Sutton’s mate. Little Vertina in tears made for one scary Sutton Donohue.
So they were going, and that was the reason Adrian had agreed to go to the gym with Davis and blow off some steam. Not with Wes. With Davis. Wes wasn’t sure what was going down between Adrian and Davis, but he didn’t like it. Why? Wasn’t sure. He just didn’t like it.
With his mind on one thing only, Wes got up from the couch and headed to the bathroom. He stopped in the hallway, putting his forehead to the door and inhaled. Fuck, Adrian smelled amazing. Wes was about ready to lick the damn door. Instead, he did the unthinkable. Involuntarily, his subconscious forced his fist gainst the bathroom door. Skin against wood pounded over and over in time with his heart.
Stupid! He can’t hear you. He’ll never hear you. Wes braced his weight against the door frame with his hands. You have to walk away. Call a donor, get it over with.
No matter how many times Wes attempted to reason with himself, he couldn’t walk away. Senses heightened, body screaming for more than sustenance, Wes panted in the quiet hallway. His eyes afire with need, and his hands holding onto the doorframe for dear life, Wes stared at the door like it would melt away if he craved the man on the other side just a little bit harder.
Conscious of Adrian’s fragility, of the former Hunter’s bitter journey so far, Wes knew he should step away. Recognized he had only to grab his phone and get the fuck out before he pushed Adrian away for good. Their relationship was new and easily breakable with one wrong move.
Adrian had come a long way, finally ready to grab onto life’s frayed edges and be folded into the tightly knit fabric that made up the world. Wes noticed Adrian’s newfound need to be touched. The way Adrian’s eyes radiated hope. He was an outsider looking in on something incredible.
Wes wished Adrian’s change had something to do with him. He prayed one day he could share in Adrian’s rage and heartbreak and happiness. To understand what exactly Adrian saw and the way he thought. And while it was okay to seek physical comfort in the body of another, and they were both grown men with needs, it was not okay to take advantage of Adrian when he had no idea what he was doing. He was incapable of dealing with his feelings at this point, but he was trying. Wes wasn’t about to scar him for life and ruin his progress.
“What the fuck am I thinking?” Wes whispered. “This isn’t me.”
He took a deep breath, lungs filling to capacity. And for a tiny second he filled the hollow void in his chest. Air came rushing out his mouth and Wes pushed away, still thirsty and now lonely. Yeah. He’d call one of his donors, maybe that blond guy who did that bendy thing he liked so much.
Seemed wrong—standing in the hallway outside the bathroom, thinking of a flexible substitute when the real thing was mere feet away. Wes glanced at the door one last time and stepped away, feet sluggish, toes curling against the floor in protest. Walking away was wrong.
“Just tell him what you need. He’s your partner. It doesn’t have to be about sex.” Wes bit the inside of cheek, jaw going rigid as he mulled it over. He stopped walking and spun around. The bathroom door clicked open. Adrian, presented in a cloud of soap-scented steam, walked barefoot into the hallway.
Their eyes locked. Adrian a bit startled and Wes even more so. Blue eyes raked over Wes, narrowing after a moment of observation. It was ironic how much Adrian enjoyed watching people, but was completely uncomfortable being watched back. “What?”
Wes didn’t trust himself to speak. He soaked up Adrian’s damp curls, droplets of water sliding over his golden brows, then sloping down his neck and to his bare chest. A pair of sweats rode low on his hips, revealing a deep, muscular indentation on each side that arrowed into his Adrian’s pants. Wes followed the trail of coppery hair that journeyed up to Adrian’s belly button and then disappeared and reappeared between his pecs.
When Wes arrived back at Adrian’s face, the anger was gone. Adrian stared at him, eyes mystified and lips parted just a fraction. While beautiful in his innocence, Adrian’s acceptance of Wes’s eye-fuckery made Wes nauseous. So many things wrong with this situation he couldn’t pinpoint just one. Sutton’s nephew. Too fast for this. Partners. Where was this coming from?
“I have to go out,” Wes choked on his words. They were forced. No hiding that.
Adrian blinked. Tilted his head suspiciously and frowned. “Where?”
“Just out. I’ll be back soon.”
“I thought you were going to help me with my suit.” Adrian clutched his towel closer to his chest, hiding behind it from Wes’s prying eyes.
“I am helping you.” Wes signed. He couldn’t speak, had to hide his fangs. Adrian didn’t need this. He was in too vulnerable a position right now, introduced to a life he should’ve known since childhood, fighting with his past, and trying to find himself. He didn’t need Wes’s thirst on top of it. Surely didn’t need his sexual advances either.
“I meant with my clothes. Fontine loaned me a better suit than mine but it’s wrinkled.”
“Steam it then,” Wes snapped. With the eyes of a scorned child, Adrian flinched. Wes closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“What is your problem?” Adrian’s voice drew Wes’s eyes open. “You’re the one who told me my suit was shit. Begged me to get a new one, but wouldn’t give me the money for the one I wanted.”
“It was a thousand dollars, Adrian!”
“Not important. I got a decent suit now and you’re still being a prick.” Adrian threw his towel into the open bathroom. “Fuck you too, Wes,” he murmured and turned around.
“Stop!” Wes chased after Adrian towards his bedroom. He caught his wrist, turned Adrian against his will and pressed him to the wall. Chest to chest, Wes searched Adrian’s flushed face. “I’m sorry,” he repeated through his fangs, unable to hide them any longer. “It’s not you,” he promised and knew his eyes were swirling, white tendrils among the grey.
Adrian’s eyes widened. But the smell of fear never came. Either Adrian was as good as his father had taught him to be, or… Wes hoped it was or. “I have to go out now.”
“You’re starving.” Adrian’s hands relaxed in Wes’s hold. “You haven’t fed.”
Wes still held Adrian’s hands, pinned above his head against the wall. His breathing deepened, tongue swiping over his bottom lip, tasting and searching Adrian’s scent. “Yes.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I shouldn’t. No,” Wes agreed. He dipped his head, stopping himself before he got too close.
“Why what?” Wes looked Adrian in the eye. So close. Smelled good. Adrian’s voice was like music to his soul.
“Why would you do that? Starving yourself puts others in unnecessary danger. ”
Sounded simple, like reading from the Bureau handbook. Rules he had to follow. Feeding was necessary and natural. But not now. Not anymore. Just as Adrian’s world had been flipped upside down, so had Wes’s. Where these strange behaviors and his attraction to his partner were coming from, Wes had no idea. But he wanted to know what it was like. Just once. He had no doubt Adrian would be the best he’d ever have.
“Go sit down in the living room. I’ll be right there.” Adrian shoved Wes gently.
Wes pushed his hands into his pockets immediately, missing the warmth and softness of Adrian’s wrists. “Why? I should go.”
Adrian let out an exasperated huff. “Seven out of ten street donors, even trusted regulars, have been infected with Rush or have traces of it lingering in their bloodstream from past encounters. While a Nick is helpful, it is not one hundred percent accurate in detecting low trace counts.”
Adrian looked Wes up and down, unruffled by the topic of conversation. “I’m guessing you found your list of regulars in a bar or a club venue. Nothing personal, the average vampire does. But sites of entertainment for the younger, glamorous demographic usually circulate party drugs and therefore make that pool unsafe to feed from. You should have scouted retirement homes. While not really a place for sexual interaction, you can have a clean feed guaranteed.”
“Is that what your father did?”
Adrian’s eyes snapped to Wes. “Sometimes. If the area had any.”
“Are you going to call a retirement home for me now? Play the long lost grandson of some poor old lady?” Wes rolled his eyes. He fisted his hands in his pockets. His thirst was strong now.
Adrian shook his head. He blinked rapidly. Wes smelled his anxiety, yet Adrian’s face remained passive. “I’m going to feed you.”
“Say what?” Wes breathed, gripping his thighs with his fingers through his sweats.
“You can’t go out like that. I know from experience you’ll only get worse. The smells will heighten. You won’t be able to help it once you step foot outside.”
“Davis is out on the curb. He can drive me wherever I need to go.” Wes backed away.
“Is there something wrong with me?” Adrian fumed. “I am tested regularly and this isn’t my first time feeding someone.”
Sometimes… Adrian’s voice rang in Wes’s head. “You fed your father sometimes, didn’t you?”
“Sometimes we couldn’t leave our post, couldn’t be seen and didn’t trust the people around us. He never took from me without permission. So don’t you dare accuse him of—”
“I wasn’t.” Wes took a step forward. His mouth watered. His stomach growled painfully. “Before I… Before your Uncle turned me…I used to feed him too.”
Adrian snorted. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Why would you do that? He could have had any of the Royal pre-turns to choose from, the ready and the willing to feed precious Sutton Donohue. Unless you two were involved…” Adrian’s nostrils flared.
Jealousy—the air was thick with it. A flare of rage filled Wes’s nostrils like exotic spices. He returned Adrian’s anger with a small smile. Adrian had no idea who his uncle used to be, what he used to do. He had no idea that Sutton Donohue used to be just like him, and at one time in his life, Sutt had been exactly where Adrian was standing now.
“Back then, there were times when we had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. We couldn’t be seen and couldn’t trust anyone.” Wes bridged the gap with a few steps, enjoying the confusion on Adrian’s face. Either Adrian couldn’t connect the dots or he didn’t want to.
“When you were in Europe, fighting with the Queen’s army,” Adrian said, sure of what he knew.
Wes shook his head. “I thought that’s what we did. I guess I was wrong.”
“I don’t understand.” Adrian squinted. “And I don’t feel like playing games right now.” He pulled back and went to his room quickly. He emerged with a shirt on and walked past Wes to the living room. “Come on. I don’t have all night.”
“Because pointing your gun at the door all night is much more important,” Wes said to Adrian’s back.
When he entered the living room Adrian was seated on the trunk, facing the couch. He looked over his shoulder. “You can feed from my wrist, but that’s it. I’m not stupid, you know. I know how great it feels, and know that if I’d been fed from by anyone but my father it would be a lot better. You know… The neck…” Adrian’s cheeks flushed. He turned around.
Wes eased into place on the couch, knees bumping Adrian’s. “It does feel good. Scary good.” Wes met Adrian’s eyes. “But if you’re willing and you don’t think this will come between us as partners, okay. I won’t try to make it good. I won’t… I won’t touch you other than where I have to. Strictly business.”
“Right,” Adrian murmured. “Yeah,” he recovered, looking away. “Just do it.”
Wes ran a finger down Adrian’s arm, catching his attention. “Thank you for this.”
Adrian sharply inhaled. He swallowed back a reply and closed his eyes. With a jerky nod, Adrian was ready. Wes lifted Adrian’s wrist like a precious treasure to his mouth. He couldn’t believe his luck, that the universe allowed him such an experience. Better than bendy guy and tapioca pudding shakes all rolled into one, Adrian was made for this moment. Wes’s thick fingers curled gently around Adrian’s upturned palm and forearm, leaving a stretch of skin between, and a fluttering heartbeat against Adrian’s wrist.
Wes stared up at Adrian, sealing his lips over tender skin. Such an intense connection between them, Wes had no choice but to make it good for Adrian. His partner deserved that at the very least. They could bend the definition of professionalism if they wanted. No one else would know.
Wes ran his tongue in circles over Adrian’s wrist, tracing the veins he was about to taste. His teeth grazed, barely touching, and his fangs raked but didn’t cut. Adrian shivered. His smell burst into the room, soapy and simple, yet sensual and heated. He was aroused, almost as much as Wes and nothing had happened yet. Wes slid to his knees between Adrian’s thighs, lowering into a position of submission when really he was the predator.
He tightened his grip on Adrian’s arm and rested his head on Adrian’s chest. When he couldn’t stand his thirst a second longer, Wes peered up at Adrian and bit down. Adrian sucked in air, tilted his chin back, and lost himself in the euphoria flooding his body.
Wes tasted heaven.
Wes felt their mutual confusion at the intensity of the moment twist together and then dissipate. Walking away would have been wrong because this… This was right.
The walls that had served as Adrian’s internal fortress came crumbling down. And as a natural Detective, Wes had to investigate. He swallowed, and went for another pull, simultaneously clutching Adrian around his waist now. Wes needed him closer, needed him to know there was trust here. That he was here for Adrian.
Blood coating his throat, Wes delved into the world inside Adrian’s head, immediately smacked with striking visuals that couldn’t be hidden away any longer. There was Adrian, a secretly shy man staring at Wes when Wes wasn’t looking, mimicking the way he held his coffee in the breakroom. Adrian again, getting off the plane and running into Wes. Scared but pleased to have an equal as a partner. Startled by Wes’s handsome face and aroused by his large hands as they held him in place.
Equal? Me? Wes closed his eyes and breathed Adrian in. He continued to feed, holding Adrian as he slid to the floor with Wes.
Darkness flooded Adrian’s mind. Gunshots rang in his head. Screams and pleading from long ago. Wes was privy to Adrian in the reflection of a hotel bathroom mirror, covered in blood. Adrian was crying as he dropped a coil of razor wire in the sink and threw up. Behind him, body parts were piled in the bathtub. Blood was everywhere. And seconds later, Sutton Donohue opened the bathroom door and put a hand on his nephew’s shoulder.
Wes didn’t have time to be upset. He was whisked into the past, to somewhere cold. A young man’s bare feet padded along a snowy road. It was Adrian, Wes knew it with certainty. Adrian was shaking, fingers frozen and clutching a small canvas bag in one hand. He was naked as Wes looked down, skin almost blue. When he looked back up, a little house dotted the whiteout conditions, beckoning him forth. And almost as soon as Wes saw the house, he heard a voice.
“Sasha, is that you?”
Russian—the man’s voice was in Russian. Sure enough, an elderly man hobbled into the snow, almost gliding down the rickety steps to reach Adrian. “Sasha, come inside now. It is too cold.”
There was something strange about the man. He didn’t move right, almost inhuman. His words didn’t quite match up with his lips, like an echo. But Adrian took the man’s free hand, and Wes was yanked out of Adrian’s body to watch as an outsider.
Inside the house, all was dark other than slivers of moonlight piercing through cracks in the roof and an orange glow from a fireplace on one wall. Furniture covered and surfaces thick with dust.
The man was gone. But Adrian was there, wrapped in an old blanket, and as far away from the fireplace as he could get. He held a cell phone in his hand. The moment he pushed send, he looked up, like he was looking at Wes.
The bluish light of his phone washed over Adrian’s face, allowing Wes to see the tears of a young teenage boy. And then it was gone. Wes gasped for air and pulled his fangs from Adrian’s wrist. He sat up, realizing he was straddling Adrian’s arching body.
“What was that?” Wes twisted his hair under his fist. His entire body shook, still reeling from the fear he’d felt from young Adrian. “Adrian?”
Adrian ran his hands down his chest. His mouth was open, catching deep pulls of oxygen. His eyes were closed, but he looked serene, not panicked like Wes. As much as Wes wanted to explore Adrian’s undulating body and touch the hard length poking at him in Adrian’s sweat pants, Wes was worried.
He shook Adrian’s shoulders, startled by the unnatural smile spreading over Adrian’s lips. “Adrian.” He shook harder. “Look at me. I know you can’t hear me, but come on.”
Adrian’s lashes fluttered and he looked up at Wes. For a second he was spaced out, blood drugged as he stretched his arms above his head and sighed. And then he came to. He sat up so fast he smacked his head into Wes’s shoulder.
“What happened,” he demanded, pushing Wes back. A tangle of arms and legs, Wes managed to get free and stop Adrian from running back to his room in a cloud of embarrassment.
“It’s over.” Wes blocked the hall entrance. “Thank you.”
“Shut up. What did you see? I felt you… I felt it!”
“What, that?” Wes pointed at Adrian’s straining erection. “I felt it too.”
“No!” Adrian screamed. “You were in my head, but it felt too good to say anything. Not that I could.” Adrian paced, staring at Wes the entire time. “I didn’t give you permission to go in there.”
“You gave me permission when you gave me your wrist. I can’t help what you show me.”
Adrian stopped. He quivered with anger. “I didn’t show you anything. You had no right.”
Wes groaned. At least Adrian was physically okay. “You drive me nuts. Worse than a teenager with your mood swings. I said thank you. You say you’re welcome and we go from there.” Wes threw his hands up helplessly. “Right now you’re embarrassed because you let go in front of me. I get it. But in the real world when you’re embarrassed you blush and get on with it. You don’t have to bite my head off. Don’t be so defensive. It was nice. Least I thought so until you flipped out.”
Adrian growled. Wes growled back, louder and with fang. “I bite back.”
Cheeks growing red, Adrian stepped off and dropped onto the couch in a noisy huff. “So…” He looked away. “What did you see?” Adrian eyed Wes.
Wes shrugged. “I’m not sure what I saw, but maybe you can help me.”
Adrian drew his knees up to his chin and hugged his legs. “Yeah, let me help you decipher my mind.”
“A-D-R-I-A-N.” Wes kicked the trunk and bent over it. He splayed his hands on the top and leaned into Adrian. “Who is Sasha?” He stood up. “S-A-S-H-A.”
“What?” came a small whisper.
“Sasha… Why did some man call you Sasha?”
Adrian stiffened. His eyes glazed over and then he sprinted off the couch and down the hall. His door slid shut with a bang. Wes stared after Adrian for quite some time. I take it back. He’s worse than Sutton.
Speaking of Sutton, that was where they were going tomorrow. The dreaded Thanksgiving Day dinner was upon them and here he was, pissing off the guest of honor. If he had any hope of patching up his partnership and getting Adrian to Sutton’s in one piece and not in handcuffs, Wes had a bit of groveling to do.
Apparently, Sasha was not up for discussion. Nothing in Adrian’s head was up for conversation unless Adrian offered it on a silver platter. Since Adrian was holing up in his room like a teenager after a raging fight with a parent, it was up to Wes to make things right.
Should’ve walked away. You should have called Bendy and none of this would have ever happened. This is your fault. Wes trudged up the stairs to his bedroom to retrieve his portable steamer and then back down the stairs to Adrian’s room. You’re attracted to an emotionally unstable possible psychopath. That’s a long, dark road to recovery he’s looking at. And you’re not getting any answers to help him.
“He’s scared. That’s all. Someone is trying to kill him and you’re invading his head, rubbing up on him while you get your fill. Stupid,” Wes chided himself, stopping in front of Adrian’s door. He checked to make sure the steamer had water in it and rolled his eyes at the door. There wasn’t a point in coaxing Adrian out. He wouldn’t hear anything.
But Wes was still cautious of guns and bombs and angry Adrian as he slid the door open. Adrian was seated on the bed with a cloth laid over his lap. Two ivory handled blades were balanced on his thighs as he set about polishing them with vigor.
“I’m not talking about it, Wes.”
Wes sighed, and sat down next to Adrian. He held up the steamer and shrugged. “Okay.”
Adrian held a knife in each hand. “I’m serious.”
“I can see that.” Wes glanced at the sharp blades.
Adrian put the knives down. “I wasn’t threatening you.”
Wes smirked. “I know. Thought you might want the steamer.”
“Yeah, this is a steamer.”
“No I was referring to your questions.”
“You were the one who fed me. You said you’d done it before. I assumed you understood what that entailed.” Wes shook his head. “Yes I’m done with the questions. Steamer?”
Adrian tried not to smile. “That was a question.”
“You continue to try my patience.”
Adrian stood and wrapped his knives up carefully. “I tend to do that. It’s why I like to be alone.” He looked at Wes.
“Not anymore, right?”
“I’m getting used to cohabiting.” Adrian walked the knives to his closet and then shut the door after hiding them away. He faced Wes. “I’ll feed you until I turn on one condition.”
“What makes you think I want to go through that again?” Wes rapped his fingers on the steamer, snorting under his breath.
“Because I’m clean, I’m convenient. And, we both want to fuck each other.”
Wes coughed. “Excuse me?”
Adrian looked down. “Why lie about it? It’s a natural response to attraction, how we’ve been acting. I know you want me.”
Mortified, Wes shifted uncomfortably on the bed. That was not what he’d been expecting Adrian to say. This guy was just full of surprises since he’d discovered a whole new world. Maybe he ought to give Adrian a magic carpet and the Aladdin soundtrack to go with his newfangled personality.
Adrian’s laughter yanked Wes’s attention to his partner. Wes wasn’t sure what shocked him more, Adrian’s light, staggered laugh, or the fact Adrian was joking. He’d made a sex joke, with a straight face. Wes shook his head and groaned into his palm.
When he looked up at Adrian, Wes was grinning. “Asshole.”
Adrian shrugged. “I learn from the best.”
“Alright, that’s it. What have you done with Adrian?” Wes plugged the steamer in, laughing quietly.
When Adrian didn’t respond, Wes looked over his shoulder. Adrian sighed. “D-A-V-I-S said I should lighten up. He reminded me I am not the only one in transition and my situation changed your life also. I was trying to make up for putting you through a lot by feeding you.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can get by, but thank you.”
“I admit I was scared of what you’d seen. There are things I don’t want to talk about.” Adrian went to the closet and pulled out a suit bag. He unzipped it and stopped in front of Wes. He was nervous. Adrian’s long fingers shook as he peeled the garment bag away from the suit. “I’ll deny it until I don’t have any breath left if you tell anyone about this.”
“About what?” Wes stood up from the discarded steamer and crossed his arms.
“What you saw… Sasha. I’m not ready for that yet.”
Wes took the hanger, admiring Fontine’s suit that was obviously from his pre-turn days. There was no way he’d fit into something this lean and tailored now. In reality, Wes was busying himself, taking some pressure off of Adrian. Eye contact would be too intense. Instead he focused on the suit, but kept his body facing Adrian so the man could read his lips. “Can I ask one question?”
Grinning madly, Wes locked eyes with Adrian. “Red or blue?”
“That has nothing to do with what I—”
“I think a blue tie would suit you better. Do you have a shirt we need to steam also?”
When Adrian realized Wes wasn’t out for more answers about what he’d seen, his shoulders relaxed. His eyes warmed. He nodded. “I’ll get it.”
Seeing Adrian so docile and receptive to him thrilled Wes to no end. They were bonding, something all partners were supposed to do. Truthfully, they both needed a happy moment in the middle of the investigation. Both of them frustrated and snapping at each other wouldn’t help anyone.
Still didn’t kill Wes’s need to understand what he’d seen. He would find out who this Sasha person was, if only to help Adrian through something he couldn’t seem to leave behind. For now, though, he’d let it lie. After all, it was a holiday.
Adrian retrieved a black dress shirt from the closet, one of only a few articles in his wardrobe. “I was serious about feeding. We shouldn’t trust outsiders right now. Whoever killed Briggs is capable of anything. And I mean anything. I don’t want something to… Trust me on this.”
“Are you an insider now?” Wes smiled.
Eyes widening slightly, Adrian seemed to lose himself for a second. He recovered, snatching his shirt back. “Are you saying I’m not?”
Adrian cared. He didn’t have to finish his sentences to tell Wes what he was thinking. It wasn’t a matter of Adrian being an outsider anymore. Wes was now an insider with Adrian. No amount of trained acting could put on such a production; Adrian was as sincere as he ever would be. He liked Wes. He wanted him safe. Who was Wes to argue?
“Were you serious about the sex too?” Wes hit Adrian with a hard stare.
“Not in your dreams. I would advise you to refrain from engaging in sex with your contact list until we’ve taken out my hit man also.” Adrian’s cheeks were bright red. His tone aggravated, almost a growl, and his scent was tinged with jealousy again.
Damn, he’s really letting go. The real Adrian was emerging and not even Adrian could stop him. What’s more, he didn’t seem at all bothered to let Wes see his fall from the strict warrior he’d once been. Or maybe he didn’t notice how relaxed he was. Probably from blood loss.
“Okay.” Wes shrugged. I can go a week without. Maybe… We’ll see.
“Good. Now help me work this thing.” Adrian swallowed. His tongue wet his bottom lip and went to his knees to grab the steamer. Adrian looked up at Wes towering over him and then at Wes’s groin before focusing on his task at hand.
Wes was lulled by the primal sound of Adrian’s fierce heartbeat, stoned on Adrian’s heady scent that was doused with purely erotic notes. And when Adrian’s eyes slid up to him once more, Wes wished he could will away an erection like Adrian could tame his heartbeat with a finger to his wrist.
No sex. I can do this. I think…
Wes rested his head on the bench seat, listening to Fletcher ramble on from the front as the chauffeur attempted to make drive through the parade detours. Tourists and locals flooded the streets, huddled together near the Macy’s Day Parade barricades. While Fletcher had skills as a driver, he wasn’t a wizard—traffic was near standstill on this side of Manhattan.
The Donohues lived a few blocks from the parade start on the West Side. The streets were in complete chaos and Fletcher’s tales were starting to wear on Wes.
“I’m just so excited! I’m gonna meet Arnie’s grandfather and he’s going to meet my parents all on the same day. Of course, my family dinner will be nothing compared to his grandfather’s spread, but Arnie doesn’t seem to mind. You should have seen him laying out his clothes last night. He looked nervous.” Fletcher chuckled and looked over his shoulder. “I think he might be the one, Wes.”
“Fletcher, I’m only going to say this once. Don’t get your hopes up. Arnie is Arnie and it doesn’t usually end well for his suitors.” Wes sighed at Fletcher’s look of despair. “Are you saying you moved in since I’ve seen you last? Or are you just sleeping with him?”
Fletcher quieted. He huffed, “Neither.”
“And did he announce any intention of presenting you to his grandfather as anything but his friend?”
“His grandfather is very important to him. Arnie would never spring something like a boyfriend on him, especially at a holiday meal without prior notice. I would also like to think he’d inform you as well if your relationship status had been upgraded.”
Fletcher gripped the wheel, making a sharp turn into another lane when cars started to move. Adrian, who’d dozed off, sat up straight, blinking his sleep away. He sought out Wes, made sure everything was okay, and then curled up next to the window again. His eyes closed and he sighed.
Wes shook his head. “You can be mad if you want, Fletcher. I think you’re reading too much into this. If Arnie was going to make you his, he’d have done so by now. Trust me.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ll just take advice from the closeted Detective who stares at his partner like chocolate cake when he’s not looking. I’m not the one with the problem here. I’m starting to think you’re just jealous of me and Arnie. I’m not an idiot—I know you’ve seen Arnie naked. That’s what you meant by talented. You two slept together, right.”
“You are so young, Fletcher. You have no idea.” Wes chuckled. He stretched his arms, his fingertips contacting a wisp of Adrian’s curls. Fletcher had no idea how close he was to the truth, except for one rather large misconception about Wes, and his own delusions where Arnie was concerned. “And for your information I am not closeted. I have no need to be.”
“You didn’t deny it,” Fletcher spat.
“You’ve seen him naked.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people naked. But if you’re asking me if I’ve slept with Arnie, the answer is no a thousand times over. He’s like a brother. The thought makes me sick.”
“It doesn’t make me sick.”
“Which is why I’m not the one with the problem.” Wes got out his phone and texted the Guard following behind them. “You can drop us off up here. We’ll walk half a block.”
“I’m not allowed to do that.”
“I’m telling you to drop us off. I’ve informed our escort already. And frankly, I have no intention of sitting in this car another five minutes if you’re going to interrogate me about your boyfriend who doesn’t realize he’s your boyfriend.”
“Fucking Detectives…” Fletcher stopped near the curb, as near as he was going to get. Horns blared behind him, pissed off drivers who had to make yet another stop.
Wes shook Adrian awake. Adrian became alert quickly and sat up to adjust his tie and jacket. “I can’t handle him anymore.” Wes tilted his head at Fletcher.
“Sometimes I’m glad I can’t hear.” Adrian smirked. Sleep still lingered in his eyes. “We close enough to walk?”
“Yes. Our escort is parking.”
Adrian nodded. They exited the car, leaving a fuming mad Fletcher on the curb. Together they met up with the two Guards who would accompany them to the Donohues. The walk was quicker than Wes expected, landing them on the Donohue’s doorstep in about ten minutes.
An elderly maid answered the door, delighted to see Wes. She hugged him tight, like family, and then smiled warmly at Adrian. Her employer must have filled her in because the maid shook Adrian’s hand politely and then opened the door without another word. No fussing over him like she did Wes. It appeared Sutton still cared about his nephew after all.
Wes caught Adrian messing with his hair in the foyer mirror as they walked in. He tugged on Adrian’s elbow, pulling his insecure partner into the lavish den after the maid. “Don’t worry,” he mouthed. “I got you.”
Adrian took in a deep breath. He was letting it go when Vertina came racing into the den, lighting up the room in a swish of gold sequins. She stood a little over five feet, but her presence felt much bigger with her young, pixie style hair and wide green eyes—so vibrant and intoxicating. Her smile, though, was what made anyone feel at ease.
She stopped short, holding back the hug Wes knew she wanted to give Adrian so badly. Instead she held out her hand, taking Adrian’s into both of hers. Vertina smiled so wide she looked like she would burst with joy. “Welcome home,” she said slowly. “It is so good to have you back.”
Adrian darted a terrified glance at Wes. His eyes screwed up, confusion rendering him helpless. “Thanks,” he mumbled out of the side of his mouth. It was enough to appease Sutton’s tiny gypsy mate.
Wes urged Adrian on with an elbow to his side. “Lovely as always, Tina.”
“Wesley, you old dog.” She rose onto her tiptoes to hug Wes. “I see you brought friends.” She wiggled her fingers at the Guards standing in the foyer.
“You make enough food to feed an army. I figured you wouldn’t mind,” Wes said, knowing Sutton didn’t bring his work home with him. The last thing he wanted was his mate upset and worried to have two armed Guards in her house for security purposes. Then the how and why would follow. In the end, Tina would surely lock Wes and Adrian in the basement and throw away the key to protect them like the fierce lioness she thought she was.
Wes let go of the thought, and asked, “Sutt here?”
“Where else would I be?” Sutton leaned against the dining room archway, holding a glass of something on the rocks. He lifted a brow and took a drink. The look he gave over the rim of his glass was anything but friendly.
Wes didn’t have an answer for that. He kept his rude commentary to himself and smiled at Tina again. “You and Adrian can get caught up later. I think we all could use a drink first.”
“Of course. How rude of me.” Tina put her hands behind her back, hips swaying slowly as she contained her pure elation that Adrian was standing in her presence.
“You couldn’t be rude if you tried.” Wes winked. He guided Adrian by the shoulder, following the maid into the dining room. His Guards right behind them.
Sutton still didn’t move away from the door. His tense stare slid over Wes as he tipped his glass back for another swallow. “Happy fucking holidays,” he whispered. “Quinton, pour a round for everyone. I know I could use another.”
Quinton, Sutton’s son, came into the dining room and pushed a bottle of water across the table to his father. “You’ve had enough of the hard stuff. Pretend its vodka.”
Wes bit his tongue. Sutton narrowed his eyes at his son but complied once his glass was empty. “Sit down. You’re all making me nervous standing around like we’re at a wake. The only thing dead here is the turkey and you better damn well smile when you eat it.” He raised his bottle to his son. “And stop harassing me. I’m not in the mood for your humor.”
“Are you in the mood for therapy? Free of charge. Consider it an early Christmas gift,” Quinton shot back.
The Guards looked to Wes, making sure he was seeing what they were seeing—their Captain losing his mind. Oh, he was seeing everything just fine. He gaped at Quinton. Adrian stared at Sutton like he’d lost his mind.
“Quinton!” Sutton placed his palms on the table and splayed his fingers. “That’s enough. I mean,” he smiled sweetly at something behind Adrian, or rather someone.
Adrian stiffened, leaning towards Wes when Tina appeared out of nowhere at his side. He looked up at her beaming face and she shoved a tray in front of him. “Hors d’oeuvre?”