DAN AND ROWE CHAPTER 9/ FINALE PART 1
Cycle was packed wall to wall. The bouncers out front were having a hard time keeping the crowd in line to the point that the manager had called a few off duty staff members in for the night. The commotion up front left the back door spot vacant from the usual security that wandered up and down the alley. It was there, where the two alleys met, that a young man stood right out of the light of the lamp above. Leaning against the wall, he kept his hood up and his hands in his pockets.
Two girls came walking down the alley. In their knee high boots with sky high heels, they shuffled with a toddle here and there on the hunt. Glitter covered their lids, too much gloss sealed over their lips, and enough cleavage to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind what they wanted, the women stopped in their tracks as the young man stepped into the light. He lifted his chin before hiding in the shadow once more.
The girls looked at each other with a gleeful giggle. They made their way over, looking side to side before joining the man in the dark.
“Whatcha got?” The blonde smacked the gum in her mouth.
The man didn’t make a move to show his eyes. “How much is worth to you?”
“It’s like that huh?” The brunette rolled her eyes, fishing between her breasts for a roll of twenties. “See? Now what are you pushin?”
The man snatched the roll from her hands, flattened it out to count the twenties. “Good enough.”
“Hey, that’s all we brought. How are we supposed to buy drinks?” The brunette put her hands on hips.
“You won’t need anything else tonight. Trust me.” The man reached into his coat pocket and produced two small vials in his dark palm.
“What the fuck is that? Look, you asshole. I just gave you two hundred dollars! Either you give me pills or dust. I don’t want no juice.”
“Yeah you do.” He smiled under his hood, dumb bitches. “Tell you what ladies, you take a swig right here and if you don’t feel it, I’ll give you your money back.”
Sharing a look with her friend, the blonde shrugged and reached for the vial. She twisted the cap off, knocked it back and licked her lips.
“Well?” The brunette bobbed her head.
Smacking her mouth in thought, the blonde smiled. “My tongue is numb, tastes like candy too.”
The brunette groaned. “That’s it?”
All the sudden the blonde’s eyes relaxed, her hand reached out to steady herself on her friend’s shoulder. “Mm,” she purred. “You smell good.”
“Tracy?” The brunette had to grab her friend before she fell in her heels. “Whoa.”
“Told you,” the dealer said. “You in or what?”
Tracy’s friend smiled. “Hell yeah.” She helped Tracy to lean against the wall and grabbed the vial from the dealer. “What’s this shit called anyway?”
The man smiled. “Rush. Tell your friends.”
Brunette turned around to face him, but he was gone. The only ones in the alley were her and Tracy.
“Feels so fucking good.” Tracy shivered against the wall. “I wanna dance.”
“Weirdo,” the brunette commented on the dealer’s absence. With a shrug of her own, she knocked back the vial.
Inside Cycle, Tracy and Sarah were dancing their hearts out. The colors, the touch of other people was so much to take in. Neither of them could stop smiling or laughing, their skin like one giant nerve as the other dancers brushed against them. Rush was like no other drug they had ever tried. The two girls touched each other, danced so close that they soon caught the eye of a man near them.
“Hi,” he whispered, taking his place behind Sarah—grabbing her hips and pulling her closer.
Sarah moaned at his touch. She laid her head back against his broad chest as Tracy worked her front, shimmying up and down, setting her on fire.
The young vamp grinned as he felt Sarah’s arousal, her friends as well. “Why don’t we take this out to my car honey? I’ll make you feel even better.”
“Yeah,” she purred.
The two women followed the vamp out to his car down the street. Once inside, Sarah placed herself in his lap as the seat went back for him. Tracy licked along his jaw, unbuttoned his shirt to reveal hard muscle underneath.
“Come here,” he commanded Tracy. Revealing her slender neck to his mouth, he made eyes with Sarah before sinking his fangs into Tracy’s skin.
“What?” Sarah slurred, a little frightened by the glowing eyes of the man, but she found she couldn’t move herself from his gaze.
He rolled his hips underneath her, the bulge in his pants rubbing over her thin panties. A moan left her lips, his eyes forgotten. She planted her hands on Tracy’s back, closing her eyes, giving over to the heat growing inside her. It wasn’t until the vampire started to growl heavily that Sarah opened her eyes.
Red eyes stared back, blood covered the bottom half of his face as he threw Tracy’s lifeless body into the backseat. Sarah was torn between the pleasure that rocked her and the terror surfacing at the sight of half her best friend’s throat missing. The vampire roared and lunged for Sarah, pinning her to the steering wheel that left the horn blaring at her back. There wasn’t a scream as Sarah had no time to. Her hand dropped off his shoulder, limp as her eyes rolled one last time.
Outside the vehicle, a few club goers walked by. The windows were foggy and it was dark, but they had a grasp on what was happening. They chuckled and made a few cat calls as they approached the car along the sidewalk. It wasn’t until blood splattered the inside of the windows that the group of young men gasped, backing up into a storefront.
“Dude, call the cops!” One cried out to his friends.
With shaky fingers, the tallest one grabbed his phone to dial the police, but a shadow in front of him made him stop. He looked up, his friends trying to grab for him. A large man stood there with glinting fangs, blood covering him from face to chest. A snarl ripped through the beast’s lips and the young man screamed.
A large hand grabbed him before the beast could strike, pulling him out of the way, but not before he saw a long blade slice the beast from the back. A group of large men joined them, pushing the boys into the alley. The group of four young men cowered in the corner while the man covered in blood was stabbed over and over. He fought back in rage, but a silencer was pressed into the back of his head. His face exploded from the front with the pull of a trigger.
“Not real,” one boy chanted, rocking back and forth on his feet. “It’s not fucking real.”
“Yeah, dude. Ah,” the other turned and hurled onto a heap of trash. He couldn’t take watching the head being removed. The thud of the red eyed cranium made him vomit again.
The tall one clutched his friends close. “Who the fuck are you people!”
“The clean-up crew, kid.” One of their sort-of saviors approached. “Sorry about all this, but you’re a loose end.”
“Ah no mister, please. We won’t tell nobody!”
“Yo, Gary? Help me out?” The guard turned behind him and shifted his head to his friend.
“What’s up?” Gary approached casually wiping blood off his face and the young men cowered even further into the corner.
The guard rolled his eyes. “Ah whatever, let’s do this.”
Ten minutes later, the four young men walked out of the alley laughing like nothing had happened. They crossed the street, not even looking at the blood spattered car that was slowly being rolled around the corner to an awaiting S.U.V.—a tow chain waiting. The small group walked over to Cycle on the next block and got in line.
A guy in a hood nudged one of them in line in the side. “Hey bro, looking for any party favors?” He whispered. “I think I got just what you’re looking for.”
As the group thought it over, the hooded dealer looked to the corner of the block where he saw one of the queen’s guards on duty. They’d already taken out three dealers tonight on the Haitian’s side, but not him. He was the streets and they were him, wasn’t a vampire alive that could him, a real street rat. The dealer smiled darkly, turning back to the group who handed him a roll of twenties.
“What’s this stuff?” The young man took the vials from the dealer.
“Rush. Tell your friends.”
The boy chuckled. “Like the band?” But when he turned to look for the dealer, he was gone.
Lounging in his pajamas, Rowe was propped against the headboard, Dan fast asleep to his side. The flat screen against the wall depicted the latest news report, making his stomach sink with dread. He’d known it was coming, but the fact everything was happening so fast boggled his mind. Every night he watched the news now. Never having been a current event buff, being forced to view the city’s crime on the rise made his job much more stressful.
“This is Bryan Gonzales reporting live from the East Village where yet another series of missing persons leaves police officials grasping at straws. No evidence of kidnapping, no signs of forced entry in their homes, and no prior reports of trouble with the law or mental illness. This is the thirty fifth reported missing person in the last two months.
I’m standing in front of the home of the Jacob Jigowsky, age nineteen. Who lived with his parents while attending NYU in his second year. Although the parents declined comment, the family lawyer has made the following statement.
Jacob is a model student with no record to speak of. His disappearance is out of character and the family would request that any information on his whereabouts be brought to the attention of the NYPD as soon as possible. He was last seen leaving the house around nine p.m. with his two best friends George Muniz and Timothy Cross who are also missing.”
A picture of Jacob flashed across the screen. A good looking boyish red head with wide brown eyes and a charming smile made Rowe’s heartbreak. That boy was someone’s son, someone’s brother, and friend. Now because of the enemy, they were gone. Dead most likely and there was nothing they could do to bring them back.
“We’ll keep you up to date on the missing persons as the reports continue to file into the studio. A list of all the missing and photos provided by the family can be found online at the KVTV-18 website flashing across the bottom of your television. Matt, back to you.”
“Thanks Bryan, and in other news…”
Slipping out of bed, Rowe pulled on a long sleeved T-shirt and kissed his mate softly. The one thing he could count on staying the same was the man wrapped up in their sheets on the bed. He took a second longer to soothe Dan’s curls and touch his skin before he padded over to the door. Making sure he was quiet, Rowe went into the hall, smiling at the guards who were trying their best to stay awake on their feet.
“Take a break boys, he’s out like a light. Shift change if you need some sleep.” Rowe kept walking, his bare feet gliding over the smooth marble floor.
“Thank you, you’re majesty,” one guard mumbled with a yawn. They waited until Rowe took the stairs before calling in the next shift.
Everyone was tired. The last two months had been trying for all the vampires, probably not as tired as poor Hill, who now looked like the walking dead. Rowe looked up, thinking of his mother and her growing belly. The vampire who was accustomed to tailored high fashion now had to let loose with flowing fabrics and stretchy garments. She was not pleased in the least, but she went along with it because her mate was worse off than she.
A little spaced out Rowe realized he was already on the main floor, headed towards the kitchen. He stopped short when he heard whispers. He peeked his head around the door, Rowe watched George take Maggie’s hand and spin her softly. She smiled, accepting his other hand as they danced to George’s quiet hum. Rowe had come to grow fond of both vampires and he didn’t want to interrupt their much needed romance.
With a sigh, he went back to the Great Room and sat on the bottom steps. He couldn’t sleep, his brain running a mile a minute. There was so much going on with the everyday appointments and real estate viewings in the city. Guards flocking around him and his pet all the time that they had to be more open with their affection than he cared for. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any time together.
Today had been tough on top of it all. The first safe house had opened for business. Three unmated Royal males had checked in thirty vamps looking for a place to stay. Not everyone had the luxury of having years of profit under their belts. Some didn’t even have jobs, couldn’t keep them because they had never been taught how to control themselves. It was a mess and it wasn’t, all at the same time.
Tomorrow was the opening of a shelter in Soho. Seeing as a lot of vampires lived in that area, Rowe had no doubt the opening wouldn’t go as smoothly as the one in Long Island. At least Oliver and Tate would be working this one. He needed a day with Dan, even if it was to go back into the city and continue with the wedding preparations. Not his idea of alone time as the women would flock around them all day, but Dan was excited about it and that was all that mattered to Rowe.
Looking up at the sound of heavy boots, the prince watched Knox guide a slender female vamp into the Great Room. Obviously fresh from a shower and smelling heavily of Knoxtian, the woman spotted Rowe with a slight gasp.
“Your highness.” She curtsied nervously.
“Good evening,” Rowe replied. He caught Knox’s eye roll and stood.
“Yeah well, see ya,” Knox muttered to the female.
She smiled. “So should I call you or do you need my number?”
“I didn’t give you a number for a reason. Sorry sugar.” Knox crossed his arms, letting her know he was serious.
“Oh, I guess I thought you…”
Knox opened the hall door that led to the front foyer in hopes that she would quit talking. “Nope, you get on home safely.”
“I’m just across the courtyard. Are you sure you don’t want to come have a drink?” She tried again. Determined little thing, Rowe grinned. The small show was lifting his mood already.
“Look, I don’t do this. This…” He waved his hands between them. “…whatever you’re after.” He leaned in. “It’s a one night thing. You were fun, we both got off. Go home.”
The female scoffed, slapping him across the face. “I let you do things to me I’ve never let anyone do.”
“Honey, the way you took a whip across the ass, I doubt that. You gonna tell me you were a virgin too?” He barked a laugh.
The woman screamed through her teeth, punching him in the chest. “You are a pig, Knoxtian Montesego! Let’s see if you ever get a piece of this again!”
“Had it, it was alright, not looking for any repeats.” Knox sighed, grabbing her slapping hands, and pushed her through the door. “You have a good night.”
Shutting the door with the lock, he could hear her clawing from the other side in rage.
Rowe met him across the Great Room floor with a huge smile. “You know that was the Compound Director’s daughter right?”
“Doesn’t matter who she is, she isn’t getting another dance on my card. I swear to God I’m gonna lose it if I can only fish in the Royal pond. They’re all looking for mates because of this Rush shit and you can see how that goes. Every fucking time they expect me to move them right on in or something. Put a ring on it. Yeah, fuck that. I want some nitty gritty city ass. You know what I’m saying?”
Rowe shook his head. “I’m taken care of, but thank you for that stunning image of city life.”
“Shut up, you know what I mean. It wasn’t that long ago that you were living it up too. Ah hell, I’m not saying Dan isn’t a dream boat or whatever, but…I’m just gonna quit while I’m ahead.” Knox groaned. “Tossing out the subject of ass, what are you still doing up? Don’t you have wedding shopping tomorrow?” The blue haired vamp smiled. He loved teasing Rowe about the big event.
“Don’t remind me. If I have to look at one more place setting example, I’m done. Not with marrying pet, but eloping is looking pretty damn good right about now.”
Knox waved him off. “You skipped the part about why you’re still up.”
“I watched the news again. Thirty five now, Knoxtian, and that’s only the ones that were reported. I know there are more out there. Homeless, abandoned, no family, there are more. I don’t know how to stop this.” He looked at his best friend. “How do I keep them all safe?”
“You can’t, Rowe.” Knox laid a hand on the prince’s shoulder. “We are doing all that we can at this point. You’ve got Cade and Micah out there on duty this week, training the territories, sourcing the hottest drug spots, placing guards. You’ve been setting up all the shelters to keep as many non-Royals off the streets as possible. Keep them in areas that are safer to feed.
Hell, you’ve got Yuri setting up shop downtown. He’s taking in young vamps, training them for the streets, getting jobs amongst the Royals. You’re making a difference and that’s all we ask. We’re never going to rein in all the bad guys in, Rowe. There will always be bad guys no matter where you go or what you do. You need to keep doing what you’re doing, influencing your people to better their race for their children and their children’s children, hell for all of us.
You need to stop watching the damn news too. Every morning you look like you haven’t slept and no wonder you look like that. Get it through your head old friend. There is nothing you can do that you aren’t already doing. Okay?”
“How do you do that?” Rowe stared at Knox.
Rowe couldn’t help, but smile. “Pull thoughtful words out of your ass like magic when minutes before you were such a dick to that female.”
“She was looking to make me her baby daddy!” Knox threw his hands up. “What was I supposed to do? Oh yes dearest female that I would rather spit on than marry, I would love to go back to your frilly pink quarters and have a night cap. You want to make love afterwards? Oh well sure, that sounds lovely. Hell to the fuck no. I had to put my foot down.”
“And apparently your whip as well,” Rowe replied with a chuckle. “Is it your turn to avoid the question?”
Knox rolled his eyes. “You needed a pep talk. I gave it to you. Done deal, and no, I’m not gonna hug it out with you.”
“But Knoxtian, I had hoped you could come back to my quarters for a night cap.” Rowe tried to keep a serious face, but failed. His laugh filled the Great Room and the tightness in his chest relaxed a little.
“Fuck off, bro.” Knox shoved him playfully before they started up the stairs. “Get to bed before D wakes up a hot mess because you aren’t there.”
“You as well, you still have to clean your play things of baby daddy cooties. Don’t be up all night.”
Knox groaned. “Not gonna let this go huh?”
“Not a chance in hell,” Rowe returned.
“Whatever. Night, Rowen.”
Rowe smiled. “Goodnight, Knoxtian.” The two parted ways back to their own rooms.
Passing the new shift guards, Rowe felt a little better, a yawn finally surfacing. By the time he got into bed again, he was actually tired for once. Maybe laughter was the best medicine and Knox had given him quite the treatment. He smiled as his pet wrapped around him with a frown.
“It’s okay pet, I’m here,” Rowe whispered in the dark, hugging Dan tight. He closed his eyes and was out like a light.
Chloe and Jess stole Dan away the minute they entered the top floor of the department store. Nina had called in a private session with the store manager and now Dan was going gaga with a small store gun that beeped incessantly.
“I don’t understand why we need all this stuff,” Rowe huffed. “We live in a compound for Christ sake, plenty of dishes and linens to go around. It’s not like we have our own private kitchen though!”
Cade and Micah chuckled, Isaac cooing along in his stroller below. The Original leaned into Rowe. “It’s called a registry, not a death sentence. It’s so all the people attending the wedding will know what to give you both as gifts.”
“I’m not an idiot, Cadence. I know what a registry is.” Rowe narrowed his eyes. “I just don’t understand why we have to one.”
“Because you love Dan.” Micah shrugged as if the answer was a given. “You’d let him fill the closets with gold glazed porcelain printed with ducks if he wanted.”
“Don’t even get me started on closets.” Rowe crossed his arms. “Half the time I can’t drag him out of ours.”
That earned him another set of sniggers. Knox approached from behind, slapping his best friend on the back. “Well look on the bright side, at least at the end of all this, you’ll be the proud owner of a twelve setting vacuum, complete with a shampooing feature.”
Rowe gawked. “We don’t even have carpet! Daniel!”
He stormed off to find his mate, leaving behind three laughing males in his wake. A store manager had a red satin table runner draped over his arm, delicately running his fingers over the hand embroidered design. “The cranes are very popular this year and the gold offsets the crimson perfectly, a finely crafted piece for any beautiful home.”
Rowe grabbed Dan’s arm gently with a fake smile for the manager. “If you’ll excuse us for a moment?”
“Or course, Mr. Gerard.” The manager bowed a little. Oh please, Rowe groaned inside, dragging his mate away from the employee and the women folk.
“Did you find something you liked?” Dan whispered, looking around to see where Rowe was bringing him.
“Yes, I found my mate who has fallen prey to the wonders of Bloomingdales. Pet, don’t take this the wrong way, because money is no object and I love giving you everything you’ve ever desired, but do you really need a table runner with cranes on it? Do you live in a Chinese restaurant?”
Dan frowned and looked at the ground. “I guess not.”
“Oh don’t do that. See, I should have just stood back and said nothing, but when I heard you were buying a vacuum…well…”
“I didn’t get a vacuum! I got a dust buster for Little Prince. He leaves hair all over the place and it makes my eyes water.”
Rowe sighed. “Why don’t you just tell housekeeping? That is their job, Daniel.”
“I like cleaning my own home. I like being normal and doing things that normal people do every day. I like wiping my own ass and tying my own shoes.” Dan knew he shouldn’t have said the last part, but Rowe’s dislike of the entire wedding process upset him. “Never mind, we don’t have to do this. Let’s just get something to eat and go home.”
“Pet, please don’t be upset. You can have the dust buster.”
“I can have? Oh, no you didn’t.” Dan whipped out his wallet and pulled out his own debit card. Hopefully it still worked or he would just be showing his ass and end up at rock bottom.
“Daniel,” Rowe growled.
Dan kept walking. He grabbed up the dust buster from the display and marched to the register. Slamming it down, he blew his curls out of his eyes and smiled none too sweetly at the poor clerk. “Ring it up. Please,” he added because the look on her face was somewhere between terrified and unsure.
“You don’t want to put it on your registry, Mr. Gerard?” She asked Dan who made a face.
“Oh, I’m not Mr. Gerard. That asshole over there is.” Dan hitched a thumb, fighting the anger bringing his beast front and center.
“Okay,” she said, sliding the device across the counter.
“Daniel,” Rowe growled next to him. “Stop being such a child. I only meant that…”
“You only meant that you don’t want to do this. It’s not about the stuff, Rowe. It’s about spending time with me, about planning our wedding together, making a fucking happy memory for once. You know what, screw this. Sorry honey, keep the damn Black and Decker. I’m out of here.” Dan turned, waltzing past Chloe and Jess, past the three men with open mouths.
“Put that on the registry and whatever else he wanted.” Rowe slid the cashier a few hundred dollars bills. “That’s for you. I apologize.”
The female fluttered her lashes with a sigh. “Thank you, Mr. Gerard,” she purred.
Daniel stopped dead in his tracks, scenting the female’s arousal from half way across the linens. He turned on his heel, bee-lining for the bitch making eyes at his man. A thick arm shot out to block him.
“Cool your jets, D.” Knox turned him around quickly, heading for the elevator with the others surrounding him. “You’re eyes,” Knox warned and it was in the reflection of the elevator that Dan caught sight of himself. Eyes glowing green, fangs descended, muscles along his arms clenched to the point that veins were popping out.
“Deep breath,” Cade instructed, pushing him into the elevator. “She didn’t touch him. You know Rowe would never allow it.”
“I can’t…” Dan tried, but shook his head. He took a deep breath, facing the wall with his palms planted flat. “He just…”
“Didn’t mean it bro. He’s learning just like you are.” Knox patted his shoulder. “This is a lot for him to take in.”
A hand shot out, keeping the elevator doors from closing. “Dan,” Rowe growled. He could feel his pet’s anger, how upset he was. “Look at me.”
“No. You leave me alone.” Dan’s reply was deep, breathy, as he tried to regain control.
“I will do no such thing.” Rowe crowded into the elevator, trying with irritation not to bump Isaac’s stroller. He didn’t want to do this in front of everyone, but he would if he had to.
“Yes, you will,” Dan hissed. He turned his swirling eyes on Rowe as the elevator began to lower to the first floor. “Stop telling me what to do!”
Everyone tried to act like they weren’t listening, but in such a small space it was kind of hard not to. Knox snatched his hand from D’s shoulder when Rowe narrowed his eyes. Cade slowly stepped between the couple like he wasn’t doing it on purpose, but Rowe caught on quickly. He sighed and crossed his arms.
“Fine,” he sneered, turning around.
“Fine,” Dan returned.
“Danny, you okay?” Jess tried.
Dan just shook his head and waited out the ride. By the first floor, his eyes had returned to normal and he could keep his fangs from dropping, but his anger still lingered. Getting used to the beast inside him would take time, but damn it was hard to control.
Filing out of the elevator, a few guards greeted them on the way out. They opened the doors to the outside world. The afternoon sun was bright to their eyes. Loud noises from traffic and thousands of people roaming the streets made Dan sick to his stomach. Three cars were waiting out front, one, Rowe frowned wasn’t theirs.
A snow white town car with tinted windows was parked in front of their vehicles. A man, a vampire rather, opened the back door for the occupant and an expensive loafer planted on the pristine pavement, followed by another and a spotless white suit. Rowe froze in place as Anton stood, adjusting his suit coat before turning around.
His honey toned eyes narrowed with a smile. “Well, this is most unexpected. To what do I owe the honor, Rowen?”
Dan growled, his territorial streak going for best out of two. Before he could make his way to Rowe’s side, he was snatched back, locked against Knox’s chest in a tight embrace.
“No.” Knox’s tone was deadly, his quiet growl constant.
“Such a beautiful day, is it not?” Anton lifted his hands with a grin. “Thought I would do a bit of shopping, maybe take in a show. Thierry would have come along, but as you know, he’s been rather busy.”
Dan’s heart stopped. He knew the name Thierry. Putting two and two together, he lifted his eyes to take in their enemy’s mate. Suddenly all his anger towards Rowe was gone. He wanted nothing more than to grab his mate’s hand and get him through this. Out in the open, there was nothing they could do. There were too many people, witnesses if things got out of hand. They couldn’t swipe them all and judging by Anton’s face, he knew that.
“Anton,” Rowe hissed.
“Come now, Rowen. Why so angry?” Anton clucked his tongue then chuckled. He snapped his fingers and a male that couldn’t have been over twenty years of age got out of the car—the red head from the news, Jacob, the missing boy. “Ah well, you can’t please everyone I suppose. Come along,” Anton said to Jacob. “We have places to be.”
“What are you doing with him?” Rowe took a step forward.
“Who? Him? Thierry insisted I bring a friend with me for the day. He has meetings and I tend to get thirsty in the afternoon. Isn’t he lovely?”
“No, he’s a human. He isn’t your play thing!” Rowe hissed quietly as a group of girls slowly walked by, giving the group sidelong glances.
Micah pulled Isaac from the stroller and the guards opened the door to the SUV, Cade staying put beside his prince. He grabbed Dan, pushing him behind Micah into the vehicle. Dan fought a little, but knew he would only cause Rowe more stress. He could feel his mate in his head. Get in the car and stay put, Rowe pushed through his thoughts, but he couldn’t hide the dread, the fear that went along with it.
Out on the sidewalk, Anton smiled. “That isn’t your call, now is it, Rowen?” He sighed dramatically and looked at his watch. “As much as I would love to stand here and chat, I have many things I must do today. You all have a wonderful visit in our city. Come back any time”
Anton wriggled his fingers with a wink, guiding the boy into the department store full of humans. Rowe was forced to watch the boy walk away with hazy eyes, unknowing of the danger he was in. His eyes fell on the car again, the bodyguard that walked past them with a knowing grin. Seconds later, the car merged into the flood of vehicles on the busy street.
Feeling Knox beside him, Rowe fetched his phone. He dialed Yuri’s number quickly.
“Rowe?” Yuri answered on the second ring.
“Dowtown, 59th and Lexington. Anton just showed up.”
“You saw Anton!” Yuri slammed a fist into the table, starling his mate on the other side. “Forgive me, Tinka,” he murmured to his mate.
Rowe turned away from Knox, who was still gazing after the car even though he couldn’t see it.
Yuri leaned back in his chair. “He’s baiting us, Rowe. He had to have known you were there.”
“That is why I’m calling you! Get over here, now,” Rowe spat.
The way Rowen spoke caused Yuri to get out of his chair and go to the door. Waving at his mate, he went downstairs to the small training room where his guards were working out.
“We’re on the way.”
The call ended and Rowe guided Knox into the SUV. Every face in the vehicle was blank. No one knew what to say, where to begin on what had just happened. Instead of speaking, Rowe slid next to Dan and pulled him close. Dan gripped his mate tight, sliding into his lap—not caring what the others thought.
“I’m so sorry,” he murmured. “I’m just so, so sorry.”
Rowe couldn’t speak, but he sent his love into Dan. Calming his mate, touching him anywhere he could was more important than any words he had to offer. They stayed like that the entire ride home. Only there would Rowe be able to breathe. Knowing his mate was safe was the only thing he cared about, that, and the blank eyes of Jacob, the latest human sacrifice.
Ghost ran down the busy Miami Port. Cruise liners docked to one side, he struggled to find the small terminal he was looking for. Grant ran behind him, but Ghost was faster. His legs pumped, pushing tourists out of the way to get to the terminal on time. He could almost feel Gabriel near. In fact he was sure of it, if the ship manifest was correct on his phone.
Tracking Gabriel proved to be harder than he thought and now that the little hellion had teamed up with a mature vampire, things were only sliding downhill from there. How the hell Gabe had managed to shack up with this Henri guy was beyond Ghost and Grant, but he had, and this was the last chance they had to catch them on land before they took off again.
A few Miami officers yelled for them to slow down. The Guardian ignored the request and pushed on. A small sign for another dock veered them off the tourist path to a not so elegant side of the port. Clapboard docks with more wear and tear, hooked together down a massive sub-port. Hundreds of boats, large and small, commercial and private, looked back at the duo.
“I’ll go this way, you go that way. We’ll find him this time.” Grant gulped down some fresh air with a nod.
Ghost didn’t respond, he didn’t care about Grant. He smelled Gabe, his scent floating in the air like an invisible trail. The vampire took off. Trying to blend in, he cursed himself for the flat canvas sneakers he wore instead of his boots. Not enough traction with the damned things unlike his boots provided. Shoe choices be damned, the smell grew stronger, a man up ahead sifting rope through his hands into a coil on the docks. Another man carried a crate to the boat across the way.
More important was the loud engine of the boat he could see moving off the docks. A flick of long dark hair caught his eye on deck, a slow turn of the man he’d sought after for the past two months.
“Gabriel!” Ghost shouted, pushing past the men to the end of the dock where water now separated them.
On deck, Gabe stared back at the figure screaming his name from the dock. He knew who it was. Hell, he knew all too well he was being chased. One of their crew mates who had switched boats in Boston had warned them the man had come around asking questions. Thankfully, his mentor Henri was already a step ahead of the Cartel assassin. The vampire in question walked out onto the deck and put an arm around Gabe, a cheerful wave to the roaring vampire on the dock. He knew his little Gabriel was more than a Cartel target. He just wanted to have a little fun.
“What did you do to piss him off so much, little one?” Henri continued to wiggle his fingers, watching Ghost fume as he grew smaller and smaller. “Or are you that good in bed that he finds himself obsessed.”
“I didn’t sleep with him!” Gabe squeaked. “I already told you a thousand times, he’s trying to off me and tie up loose ends for the Cartel.”
“I’m starting to think that might not be the case.” Henri guided them to the bow as the crew worked around them. “Not that I mind having you around in the least,” he teased—his tricky eyes smiling. “But don’t you think you should try to get in contact with your uncle. Maybe find out what’s going on?”
“You want me to try and get in touch with their enemy, your enemy? The guys that want you dead too.” Gabe made a face and Henri laughed, flicking his braid over his shoulder.
“They are nothing to me and the Cartel is not my enemy. I’m not involved in their little war. Nor do I care to be. I’m a lone ranger, Gabriel, a pirate of the sea. They’ll never find me if I don’t wish to be found.” Henri waved his hand out over the water. “This is my haven amongst the new world and now I share it with you. A simple phone call won’t change that.”
“He’s probably dead anyhow.” Gabe gripped the railing, thinking of his uncle. With the information Grant had given him, the new boss was bound to know by now.
“Oh please, Grenier is as resilient as they come.” Henri winked. “He would lie the pants off a man of the law to keep his head and if he sent you that kind of information, don’t you think it meant he cared for you in some way? Don’t you also think he would like to know you are at least alive and well?”
“Grenier? How do you know his real name?” Gabe looked to Henri, who again flicked his wrist. He wasn’t going to divulge what he didn’t want to. Gabe had figured that out by now. He sighed. “And what am I supposed to say? Hey Grant, it’s your nephew, you know, the one you sent out into the world all alone. Yeah I’m calling to see if there are hit men still after me or if Ghost is just crazy. Oh, I’m just swell, how are things going over on enemy lines?”
Henri chuckled. “Such a smart ass, and yes, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to say. It would be nice to know what’s going on back in New York. Just in case we return at some point. I did a lot of business there, you know?”
“That’s what you’re worried about? You’re business?”
“No, I just happened to like it there on occasion. Nice folks.”
“New York? Nice?” Gabe laughed. “Yeah right. Okay, I’ll think about it, but I’m not promising anything.”
“Rule number one, my little one. Pirates never make promises.” Henri grinned.
Gabe smiled out over the open water, letting the wind whip through his hair as the port became too small to decipher. “Pirates huh?”
Henri whistled with his fingers, causing the crew to stop what they were doing. “Gentlemen, would you inform our youngest crew member what we are?”
The men looked around with shared grins. “Pirates!” They all laughed, some missing teeth, some with enough beer-belly to go around.
Gabe laughed, he couldn’t help it. His eyes wandered back to the direction of the port. “Got it.”
On the dock, Ghost braced himself on a stack of crates that smelled of fish. Above the scent, he could still inhale Gabriel. He watched the boat grow smaller in the distance as Grant joined him.
“Did it again huh?”
Ghost closed his eyes and counted to ten so he didn’t stab Grant in the face. “Yes,” he growled. “I brought you with me for a reason.”
“I thought splitting up would help us find him faster,” Grant defended.
“He’s supposed to see you with me!” Ghost faced Gabe’s uncle with narrowed eyes. “He thinks I’m trying to kill him and by some small act of God, maybe if you’re with me he won’t run away.”
“I told you from the beginning, Ghost. Gabe is more like you than you think. Sure he’s young, but he knows how to blend in, how to hide, how to run.” Grant leaned against a post. “If I was him, and I saw the two of us together, I’d think you were holding my uncle hostage to get to me.”
“Bullshit!” Ghost finally lost his cool. He stomped past Grant and clapped a hand on a fisherman’s back. “You.”
With a jump, the human turned. “Me?”
Ghost rolled his eyes. “Any other people standing here or am I talking to myself?”
“Uh, guess you mean me then.”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
The plump man pulled up his pants. “What do you need?”
“That shipping boat that just left, you know where they were headed?”
The man eyed him for a moment. “You’re Ghost I take it?”
The Guardian’s mouth fell open. “Who the hell are you?”
Fishing something out his pocket, the man handed over a folded note. “Henri paid me a twenty spot to give this to you. Now I did, so I got work to do.” The man waddled back to his boat and whistled to another man down the dock. “C’mon man, I got to be out of here by five!”
Ghost opened the note, Grant coming to his side. “What is that?”
Flattening the sheet out, Ghost read the note. Dearest Kitty, See you in Aruba. I hear there’s a parade in town. Love, Mouse
Ghost grinned. Whoever the fuck this Henri guy was, he knew what was going down.
The end of winter was always Knox’s favorite time of year. No holidays to worry about ducking out of. No fancy parties that he hated dressing up for and there was this calm in the air that always chilled him out. He stood outside of an abandoned building in the meatpacking district, studying the exterior. The windows were boarded up, the black paint peeling everywhere, but he saw potential for something better.
“This shit shack is what you dragged us all the way out here for?” Rowe met him on the sidewalk.
Dan threaded his arm through Rowe’s. “I like it. It’s a fixer upper sure, but it’s perfect for Knox.”
“Thanks, D.” Knox grinned. “What do you think, Frank?”
“It’s no Waxxy’s, but I can see something brewing here.” Frank scratched a bit of paint off one of the door windows in an attempt to see inside. “Makes me miss the bar. That’s for sure.”
“You finalize all that yet?” Dan leaned on Rowe.
“Yeah, did some e-signing bullshit yesterday. It’s officially sold,” Frank said, but it was clear he wasn’t happy about it.
Knox nodded. “That’s good though, bro. We can really do this here. You and me, give those punks somewhere to go that’s legit, clean.”
That got a smile from Frank. “Do it up right. Rough yet classy, the vamps will love it.”
“Speaking of clean, how’s it going over on the medical end?” Knox looked to Rowe.
“Theo is working on a testing device for feeding, but nothing official yet. Suarta’s team has begun the vaccine research, but again, there isn’t much to tell. It’s still very early.” Rowe frowned. The more time that passed, the more weight added to his shoulders. At this point it was routine to hear of the human deaths that the media were chalking up to gang violence and overpopulation in the city. A big crowd equaled lots of crime in the media’s eyes.
“Yuri and Cade are getting numbers though. Their teams are sweeping dealers right and left. That’s good news right?” Frank smiled, but he knew it wouldn’t lift Rowe’s worries.
“Yeah. Good news all around,” the prince muttered.
Dan kissed Rowe’s shoulder, trying his best to keep the affection high between them. Rowe always returned his smiles, his kisses, his touches, but it was always as if he were somewhere else in his head—always thinking of the warfront, new ways to up their kill numbers, plots to take out Thierry and his mate. But the enemy boss was careful, never going out at night and only in the day. Thierry made sure his outings were very public. At one point Rowe had demanded they just blow up the Italian front and damn the consequences, but his brethren had carefully reminded him blowing up the building would result in damage to the entire surrounding block. Chaos, questions, the humans would be involved, the media filming. It would be disastrous.
A car pulled up behind theirs and the plain clothes guards went on alert across the street and at the corner. Another car pulled in from the opposite direction blocking the SUV in. Pushing Dan behind him, Rowe slid his hand slowly to the gun under his jacket.
The doors opened and two men got out of each car, forming a line in front of the vehicles. The vampires waited, not jumping the gun as they were waiting for a realtor. But what the hell kind of realtor showed up with muscle? Not anyone Rowe knew of.
One guard extended a hand to the open car door, a female placing hers in his before stepping into the cool evening air. A man followed, a tall man with a lean build, but his eyes were strong and deadly. He put an arm around the teenaged girl before approaching.
“Mr. Montesego?” He scanned the crowd.
“Yes?” Knox glared, ready for a show down with these Japanese men watching him studiously.
The man dropped his hand to reveal a set of keys between his fingers. “I believe we had an appointment. I regret that Mr. Miller wasn’t available to help you this evening, but I will be filling in for him. Mizuki Yamanashi, pleasure.” He slipped his arm off the girl’s shoulders, extending his hand.
“Forgive me if I’m being rude, but do you usually travel with an entourage, Mr. Yamanashi?” Knox looked at the hand offered, shaking it with suspicion.
“Everywhere I go, but you probably read my mind. Didn’t you?”
“What did you just say?” Rowe moved next to Knox, pushing Dan with Frank.
“Would you like to see the property?” Yamanashi grinned. “I think we have a few things to talk about and it is rather chilly out here. Isn’t it?” Mizuki smiled, but his body was stiff, ready for action.
The Royals and Frank stared at the Japanese businessman like he’d lost his mind. Rowe nodded. “Yes, it is chilly,” he grit. Who was this guy?
The girl lifted on her tip toes and whispered in Yamanashi’s ear. Although they could hear her, none of the vampires were fluent in Japanese, so they were left in the dark. He nodded and she stepped forward with a small bow.
“Konbawa,” good evening she said softly. Straightening, she smiled. “I am Mai Yamanashi, Mr. Yamanashi’s daughter.”
“Hello.” Dan bowed a little, mimicking her before he was elbowed by Frank.
She giggled behind her hand. “My father, while a very good businessman…” She smiled at her father warmly. “…forgot to inform you the security is for precaution only. We wish you no harm of any kind, only for a peaceful meeting to discuss something we both have in common. They are here because we are not the kind of people that can go out alone, if you understand my meaning.”
“What kind of people are you?” Knox crossed his arms.
“The kind of people that cannot discuss such things on a street in public, shall we?” Yamanashi dangled the keys.
“Fine.” Rowe tucked Dan under his arm and allowed the Japanese to file into the building first.
Once they were inside the old bar, they took a minute to look around. Lots of space, drywall cracked like veins through the walls, broken glass, cobwebs. Knox loved it, every inch of the place. That he had seen anyways.
“So.” Rowe kept a distance from the Japanese. “Where did Mr. Miller go?”
“There is no Mr. Miller. This building is mine, but I thought you would perhaps recognize my name if I responded in person. When my agent called me with your name, it was one of the names my daughter was told of, and I could not ruin this opportunity. I had no other way to contact you in secret.”
“Contact us for what?” Knox sat on a creaky bar stool.
“You can stop being so cryptic, Mr. Montesego. I am well aware you are all vampires.”
“Chichi,” Mai whispered to her father, laying a hand on his arm with a shake of her head.
“Mai-chan, there is no easy way to say that.” He sighed, turning to the Royals. “I am sorry if you took offense, I don’t know what else to call you.”
“How do you know this?” Rowe walked to the middle of the room, his eyes swirling. Mr. Yamanashi only inhaled deeply, remaining still in the face of a beast. “Tell me who you are and what you want. Because if you are so underground with the happenings of my race, then you also know I will rip you to pieces if I so wish. Right now, I’m not very happy if you get my drift.”
“Please,” Mai pleaded. Her small hand clutched at Rowe’s arm. “He only wishes to help you! If you should be mad at anyone, be mad at me. I…I was the one who helped my brother meet Thierry.”
“Mai-chan,” her father gasped. “You had no choice. Do not bring shame upon yourself when you have done nothing wrong!”
“But I did,” she whispered. “I didn’t come to you first, or even to Oji-chan,” grandfather, she cried softly.
The girl’s cries made Rowe stop and think. He could feel her emotions true in his heart, likewise with Yamanashi who was trying to console his daughter.
“Start from the beginning and maybe this will all make sense.” Rowe allowed the family some room, holding up a hand to guards filing in from the street. “We’re fine in here.”
The guards took a moment to scan the room, all the eyes watching them back. Once they confirmed no one was in immediate danger, the men left to take up post on the street—wandering back to their posts like they were no one in particular. Rowe paced along the creaky floorboards, waiting for Mai to calm down enough to enlighten them all. His eyes shifted between his friends, his mate who was obviously interested in the young human woman and her story.
Always magnetized to Dan, Rowe absentmindedly reached out for him. His mate didn’t even look him in the eye, but there hands found each other’s anyways. The simple act, while he had held Dan’s hand a hundred times by now, was always refreshing. All the stress seemed to purge from his body with his mate’s touch. All the weight that had built in his shoulders, his thoughts, was now lighter than a feather with Dan near him.
It was there in the dilapidated bar, facing off with a group of Japanese strangers that Rowe realized what Dan had meant before. The normalcy he had craved back in that department store, a household appliance amidst a throng of glittering marble, that’s what they needed—the train that Rowe needed to board in order to make this work. He stared at Dan while his mate still looked at the girl.
Rowe leaned down, barely a whisper. “I love you.”
Dan smiled, his look slightly surprised when he turned to Rowe. “I know.”
“Good.” Rowe kissed his hand.
The corners of Dan’s eyes crinkled in thought, he rose on his toes to Rowe’s ear. “You okay?”
“I’m fine pet. Whenever you’re here, I’m just fine.”
Dan sighed with a smile. “Charmer.”
“Will ya give it a rest already? I mean come on.” Knox groaned behind them. “How the hell do you go from I’m gonna rip you to pieces, to here, look at my god damn Kodak moment?”
“Jealous?” Dan grinned.
Knox’s lips pulled tight in a line. “No.”
Rowe pulled Dan close to rub it in. “I sensed some hesitation there, Knoxtian.”
“I am not jealous.”
“Seemed that way to me, bro.” Frank chuckled, punching Knox in the arm. The look he got was anything but friendly. “Weird, dude, you just looked like Hannah when I tell her it’s nap time.”
Everyone laughed at that, even one of the Japanese guards cracked a smile. Knox scowled at him. “No one told you, you could laugh asshole.”
The guard’s smile grew wider until Mizuki turned a stern eye on him. A few words in Japanese and the guard went back to blending into the wall. Mai’s father sighed. “I am sorry for making you wait. I think she’s ready now.”
Bowing her head in another show of respect, Mai lifted her almond eyes to the Royals. “It all started a few months ago when Zian forced me into an engagement. He said he had wanted me since he had first laid eyes on me, but I knew he just wanted an in to the Yukuza. When I tried to leave him, he threatened to kill my grandfather, my father. He said he wanted my brother to meet with him. It was then that I heard about Thierry and it was then that I made the call to my brother…”
By the time she finished, she couldn’t look up, not even at her father.
“You killed a newly turned vampire? By yourself?” Rowe wasn’t sure he had heard that right. “And he was the head of the Jing, so your head is up for grabs?”
Mai nodded. “Yes.”
“Do not judge Mai-chan by her size or delicacy,” Mizuki boasted.
“I guess not,” Knox agreed. “How do you know he’s really dead and not running around healed by now?”
This time Mai looked up, her eyes narrowed and everyone leaned back at the sheer lethal gaze she presented. “Because I left his head on the desk before I ran.”
“Not attached to his body I assume?” Rowe pursed his lips. The idea of this tiny creature hacking her fiancé into pieces was somewhere between comical and scary.
“Usually when you cut someone’s head off it is not attached to a body any longer. Or am I mistaken?” She eyed Knox and he glanced away.
Damn, he huffed, this female ain’t fucking around. “Nope, that’s how it goes.” He nodded.
Rowe shook his head. “Kill Bill re-enactments aside, what do you need from us? Don’t your people usually handle this kind of situation? I mean you are a crime family after all.”
Yamanashi narrowed his eyes. “Usually we do, but excuse us for not being up to date on how to dismember a vampire.”
“She seemed to get the gist pretty quickly,” Knox mumbled.
“Knox,” Rowe groaned. “What do you need from us, Mizuki?”
“We are willing to provide you with the real estate you are looking for in…”
“How do you know about that?” Knox growled.
Mizuki lifted his hands. “That is what why you came here is it not?”
Knox frowned, his boot scuffed over the floor. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Exactly, as I was saying, we are willing to provide you with any space you need, the connection of the Yukuza as allies, and any help you need if you will in turn train my men.”
“You mean turn them?” Rowe sighed. Again with this, he flicked his eyes away.
“No. I believe my life was given to me to live and let live. I shall die as I was meant to and so will my family. Immortality changes people and I do not wish to allow myself the option of being something I was not meant to be.”
“Unexpected,” Dan commented.
“Very,” Rowe agreed. “You wish for my men to train humans to kill vampires with no end game of immortal life?”
“Yes.” Mizuki bowed.
“How do I know I can trust you to keep our secret? There is nothing stopping you from going to the media or alerting the humans to our existence.”
“It is your choice. Believe or don’t, but I think we may be able to help each other more than you know.”
“A few pieces of prime real estate and a pack of gun toting thugs? We got that.” Frank shrugged.
Mizuki smiled, pulling something from his jacket. Guns were drawn from the Royal’s side.
“Slowly,” Rowe hissed.
The smile on the Japanese man’s face grew wider. His fingers came back with a tiny vial, crimson liquid sloshed about inside it.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“Rush.” Mizuki held it up for all to see. “I may be human, but I am well connected. More real estate covering all parts of the city would be a smart move for you. Owning places where the dealers dwell, places where secrets are told and the underground slithers about. Some of those places possibly near other places…”
“What are you getting at, Yamanashi?” Knox was losing his patience with this guy.
“You’ve all been busy taking out the dealers, understandable, but not a plausible end to the actual problem. Have you ever stopped to think, how can I really hit my enemy where it hurts?”
Rowe looked at Knox, the two sharing the same thought. Yes, they had, but nothing seemed to work out in reality. Both males turned to Yamanashi. “What did you have in mind?”
“Rumor has it, Rush is being made in the city. Take out the lab or labs, take out the problem. Only Thierry disperses the vials to the families or so I’ve heard.”
“Shit,” Rowe whispered, squeezing Dan’s hand tight.
“Double shit.” Dan smiled. “That’s genius. I never even thought of where the drug came from.”
Mizuki nodded. “I thought as much. Which is why my father, our head, is willing to help.”
“We would have the entire Yukuza behind us? Sniffing out labs for the vampires?” Rowe thought it over. They would be adding another powerful family to their pocket. The Yukuza would definitely be a risky ally, the prince thought, but if they had connections that would lead them to Thierry’s labs, the risk was worth it.
“Yes.” Mizkui smiled. “Your enemies would be our enemies.”
Rowe looked to Dan instead of Knox. His mate stared back. “What do you think pet?”
“Do I have another pet?”
Dan blushed. “This really isn’t my area of expertise, Rowe.”
The prince leaned down. “No, but you are mate, and everything you feel means something to me. This prince business is just as much your title now as it is mine. So tell me pet, what do you think?”
Flicking his eyes up to Rowe, Dan tightened his hand on his mate’s. “Do it.”
“I thought you might say that.” Rowe kissed Dan gently. “Yamanashi, tell your father we accept.”
Knox grinned, showing a little fang. “Does that mean we get the bar for free?”
Micah ran along the water, wooden planks bouncing under his boots. Boats rocked slowly to the beat of the channel and in the distance the sounds of the city could be heard. His target going quiet, the sound of another set of boots no longer running, he stopped. Over his shoulder, Micah pulled the pump action shot gun to his chest and closed his eyes.
Inhaling the world around him, another scent lingered. His mate was close by, but above all, an unfamiliar male’s sweat called to him—another vampire, a feral one. One Haitian vampire—a new turn on the enemy side that just happened to be out at an art gallery event of all places. Who knew criminals liked art, Micah grinned. Or that the vampire was under the impression rich socialite women didn’t do drugs. Who would have guessed?
His eyes snapped open, swirling blue as they targeted the direction the Haitian had run. Five humans dead in a back alley of some fancy building downtown equaled one big old hunt for the son of a bitch. He felt the feral’s striking energy closer and closer—a violent game of hot or cold. Micah was about to shout blazing, but a roar from above distracted him.
The feral landed on top of him, pinning Micah to the ground for a few seconds before he could wedge his knee between them. Using all his strength, the Guardian knocked the male back and aimed his gun at his enemy’s head. He had a moment to glimpse the red eyes narrowed at him, the blood dripping from the feral’s chin before it moved so fast, even he had a hard time locating it.
A whisper to his left, his built-in alarm system, and Micah swung his gun, end first, right into the feral’s face. A loud smack filled the dark. The feral went to the ground with a snarl. His top lip pulled back, bloodied fangs hinting to the damage he was about to cause, but Micah was one step ahead.
“Night, night mother fucker.” The Guardian pulled the trigger and the feral’s head exploded.
His earpiece beeped, a scream sounded close by. “Fuck,” Micah swore under his breath, taking off at a dead run. He touched the com in his ear. “What!”
“Two blocks over, back alley of the furniture store, got a live one…” Blaze grunted accompanied by another couple of bullets from his gun. “I’m holding it back, but I got a human here.”
“You what?” Micah ran faster. “Where’s Cade!”
“Went to a movie, what the fuck do I know, Micah?” Blaze threw his gun to the ground, his other hand holding back the screaming female that he was having a hard time controlling. He drew a short sword from his back and sliced the feral across the chest.
Micah growled. “I’m on the way.” He pulled his phone from his jacket, locating Yuri on speed dial. The phone answered on the first ring. “Clean up at the docks.” It was all he had time for, ending the call and going after Blaze.
A feral, two Jing, and a human lay dead behind the furniture store an hour later. Blaze and Micah looked at each other before planting eyes on the passed out female against the wall.
“This is getting bad, Micah. Anyone could have seen that thing and the Jing just came out of nowhere. This isn’t even their turf. What are we gonna do?” Blaze wiped his glasses off on his shirt before putting them back on. His vision was fine, but he rather liked the heat censored lenses—the ability to spot moving shit through walls if he had too.
“We’re doing what we can. Obviously this is working out. No one saw us, or them, and we were able to control the situation.”
Blaze shook his head. “For now anyways, you know Thierry is going to turn everyone he can to benefit his side. Look how fast he moved into town. I had to shut down my shop for fuck’s sake because I was in Haitian territory! I loved that shop, damn it.”
“But look at all the toys you have now. Disposable budget, reinforced walls, all the lead your little heart desires.” Micah chuckled.
“You are not seriously laughing right now. May I remind you of what just happened?” Blaze waved his hand at the dead bodies on the ground, cocking his head in shock.
“No, I always remember victory,” Micah replied smugly.
“You like this, don’t you? You sick fuck, you actually like killing them. I may like weapons, but this much blood is over the top.”
Micah smiled. “No, I just like to mess with you. Of course I know how deep shit is getting, Blaze. I just don’t see the point in being reminded of it verbally when I’m constantly reminded physically.” He looked at the bodies littering the ground with a sigh. “Cade and I promised each other we would keep our heads about all this. We do a have a child to devote some our sanity to, you know? If we dwell on the fact that it’s only going to get worse, we won’t be the parents Isaac needs.”
Blaze turned away to hide the face he now made whenever Isaac was mentioned. Ever since his talk with Knox, he couldn’t view or hear about the child in the same way. “Yeah, I get it.”
Micah raised a quizzical brow. “You okay, or is the wall more interesting than me?”
“The wall, most definitely,” Cade joined in.
A sigh of relief and Micah went to his mate. “I’ve been trying to reach you.” Without pause, he pulled Cade’s lips to his. Not a brief connection, but one that meant something—hard with a caress of tongue.
Flushed a little, Cade wiped his bangs out of his eyes. “I was a little busy.” He held up his phone, a picture of three Jing and a younger male in the back of one of their vehicles.
“Damn,” Micah whispered. “I felt you close by, but I was…”
“Busy.” Cade looked over his mate’s shoulder at the mess. “You call it in?”
“Of course we did.” Blaze shot the couple a hiss. Knowing Knox’s secret was slowly eating his insides. Being in tight space with the parents of said secret was all, but driving him into his own blade. He had to get out of here and fast.
“We’ll wait for cleanup. Why don’t you take a walk, Blaze?” Cade watched the red head pace back and forth like a caged lion. Something was up, but he didn’t know Blaze well enough to tell what it was.
“Yeah, I think I will.” Blaze marched past the couple. “Later.”
“I know,” Blaze called, disappearing down the street. Maybe a drink with the blue haired fucker would calm him down.
Micah slung an arm around his mate. “What’s with him?”
“Not sure. Then again, none of us really know him enough to find out.”
“You think maybe he’s tripped out by two men together? That’s what I’m starting to think.” Micah grunted into Cade’s neck.
Cade’s laugh filled the night. “Baby, that is so far from the truth I don’t even know where to start. You don’t believe me, go and ask Knox. Or so the rumor goes.”
“Blaze and Knox? Yeah right.” Micah’s eyes lit up. “I have a feeling four eyes isn’t our boy’s type.”
The two shared a laugh before the cleanup crew pulled up to the curb. “What, can’t picture Blaze chained to a wall in latex panties?” Cade roared with laughter.
Micah growled into his mate’s neck, stepping aside for the two guards with body bags. “No, but I think I can picture you.”
“Fuck…” Cade let out a slow breath. “If Maggie is watching Isaac, I think I can work it out.”
“Oh, I know I’ll work it just fine.” Micah licked Cade’s neck and the two hauled ass for their vehicle down the block.
In Maggie’s quarters, Dan silently sifted through examples of wedding invitations. Maggie sat on the other side of the table, half a baby blue blanket covering her knees while she continued to knit the rest. Dan had discovered that Maggie’s three small rooms felt more like home than his own rooms did, not because of Rowe, but there was just something about these rooms.
Maybe it was the framed pictures of Cade and Dan as boys, or the cinnamon candle she burned by the window. Maybe it was the hand sewn quilt across the bed instead of yards of expensive fluff. Maybe it was the way Maggie wore pajama bottoms with hearts on them and fuzzy red slippers. Dan wasn’t sure, but here, he felt okay without Rowe.
“I don’t know why you insist on not telling him about this, Dan. Don’t you think your husband wants to help pick these out?” Maggie never looked up, but she slid the plate of cookies across the table in an invitation to talk, going back to her knitting after.
Biting into warm chocolaty goodness, Dan groaned. “I don’t want to have a repeat of last time. He’s stressed out as it is, Mags. I can pick out black or white paper, honestly. It’s no big deal.”
“Oh really?” She set down her knitting. “Then why…” she grabbed the two cards in his hands. “Do I know you want the white one, but will settle with the black one because Rowe would want it?”
“How do you know that?”
She chuckled. “Daniel Walker, is that a real question?”
“Guess not.” He slid down in his seat, covering his eyes. “Do we even need invitations? Can’t we just send out an email? It would be simple and…”
“Honey, I don’t think you understand what a wedding like this means. Rowe, the Blood Prince, has taken a mate—one that he is proud to show off, at a wedding that he wants to be over the top. He wants this to be a day you will never forget and if it requires you to go down the hall and bother him momentarily, so be it. Now take a cookie for the road and get it in gear.” She glanced at the clock.
“Hot date?” Dan studied her with a grin.
She clucked her tongue. “It’s none of your business.”
“Oh really?” Dan turned the tables on her. “Then why do I know George has been going at the same piece of furniture with pledge for over an hour outside?”
Maggie tried not to smile, but failed. “Get out of here you brat.”
“Should I send him in, lemon fresh and all?” Dan giggled, jumping out of the way as a throw pillow shot past him.
“Goodnight honey.” Maggie stood.
Dan waved. “Night, Mags.”
Opening the door, the blonde chuckled—George almost jumping out of his skin three feet away.
“Er…Daniel.” George sprayed another whiff of pledge on the table.
Trying to fan the fumes away, Dan laughed. The door to Maggie’s room left wide open in invitation. “She’s waiting for you,” Dan called over his shoulder, feeling rather than seeing George’s look of shock.
He bit his lip to fight another bout of laughter, heading for Rowe’s new office down the hall. The cards were in his hand when he pushed open the door. In the chair behind the desk, Rowe was slumped over—his face plastered to the surface of the desk, a small snore making Dan smile. His dinner was still untouched across the way, papers scattered all over the place, the computer blinking a new message behind him.
“Baby?” Dan whispered. When he got no reply, he solemnly tucked the invites into his pocket, and went to his mate. He shook Rowe a little. “Rowe.”
Rowe shot straight up from the desk. “We already checked the Haitian turf,” he declared half asleep. Bleary eyed, he saw his mate, took in that he was still in his office and groaned. “So sorry, love.”
“Rowe, I’m worried about you.” Dan slid onto the desk, facing his mate with concern. “You haven’t eaten all day. This is the third time this week you’ve fallen asleep in here and…never mind, but I’m worried alright?” Mentioning Rowe’s lack of wedding planning was probably not the best idea.
“Sorry, pet.” Rowe rubbed his eyes of sleep. “We’re so damn close. I can feel it. If I didn’t have to worry about these requests in between, I wouldn’t be such a mess. My mother is out of commission and I’m the only one who can do it.”
“What happened to my title is your title. Or was that just a nice thing to say at the time?” Dan shook his head, picking up one of the requests from the desk. “Huh, a mated vampire wants to switch territories on her own? What is that bullshit? What about her mate here?”
“You know what I meant, pet.” Rowe leaned back in his chair, palming Dan’s knees just to touch him. “They’re getting a divorce and she wants to be with her new mate in Long Island.”
“Wait, hold up. Mates get divorced? New mate, I don’t understand.” Dan looked at the paper again. Dread filled every available space in his heart.
The page was snatched from his hands, balled up, and tossed in the trash. “Pet? Look at me.” Green eyes met his. “They aren’t true mates, never were, and they were only together out of loneliness. They thought they would never find their other half and they stupidly settled for each other. She found her real mate a few weeks ago and her current mate was happy for her. They loved each other, but they weren’t in love. Do you understand?”
Dan still wasn’t convinced. “Do true mates ever get divorced?”
“What? No!” Rowe saw the scenario playing out in Dan’s eyes and pulled him roughly into his lap. “I will never let you go. Tired, hungry, fucking starving and possibly a lunatic at times, I will still love you. You are it for me Daniel Walker and I’ll be damned if you ever think, but for a moment, I would do such a thing.”
“Then come to bed. Don’t sleep here again tonight.” Dan laid his head on Rowe’s shoulder.
“Only if you promise to tell me what you really came in here for.”
Dan’s nose was drawn to Rowe’s neck. “I just…wanted to see you.”
“Mm.” The prince inhaled the clean scent filling the air. “As sexy as you are to me, I know you’re lying.”
Stilling against his mate, Dan finally sighed. “It’s nothing, wedding stuff that you don’t really need to deal with.”
“Daniel, how many times do I have to tell you this? It’s our wedding, meaning you and I, and I would like to be involved as well. I will apologize about the dust buster as many times as I need to if that is what you’re still upset about.” Rowe rolled his eyes. “That was months ago. I have yet to even see a cake topper at this point because you’ve hidden everything. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
“But you’re busy with this and I don’t want to…” Dan was cut off, lips pressed to his. His ass was lifted onto the cluttered desk. An arm swiped off the surface—papers, pens, the phone falling to the floor as his back was laid out on the desk. His arms found Rowe’s neck. His lips opened to accept his mate’s tongue.
Rowe had craved Dan all day—wondering what he was doing, what new wedding jazz he was hiding, hoping he was getting by on his own for a few hours. He had tried to be a part of Dan’s planning, but duty always called. And even as he tried to cut out from his duties early to see his mate, more shit always hit the fan. The search for the lab was nearing an end. The informants had proved skillful. The dealers always squealed. The area in which the lab was held seemed to grow smaller and smaller.
On top of all that, five new shelters had opened, two hundred new jobs created, and the Royals were really coming out to help their prince. Things were changing both with him and Dan, and his people. Balance took time, Rowe knew that, but he wished he had a fast forward button so he could have his mate back. He wished the lab was long gone and Thierry and Anton were dead. He wished those poor humans would stop going missing and think about the ramifications of drug use. He wished for a lot of things, but first and foremost, he always wished for Dan.
Planting his hands on Dan’s ass, he felt something stiff in the pockets and not the kind of stiff he wanted. He frowned as Dan wiggled underneath. “What is this?”
“No, it’s nothing.” Dan gasped for air. “Come back here.”
“Huh uh.” Rowe pulled the invites from his mate’s jeans. He read the mock script joining their names as one and he sat back in his chair with swollen lips. “The Blood Prince, Rowen Gerard, son of the Blood Queen and his mate, the future Daniel Gerard cordially invite you to their wedding ceremony…”
“It’s something Maggie had made up. No big deal,” Dan murmured.
“Daniel Gerard is a big deal to me.” Rowe’s eyes watered. “This is what you came in here for, isn’t it?”
Dan hung his head. “Yes.”
“Fuck it. Come on.” Rowe grabbed Dan’s hand and pulled him to the door.
“Where are we going?” Windows blurred past them, Dan’s wrist locked in Rowe’s grip
“I want to see everything. I know you keep that damn scrapbook around here somewhere,” Rowe growled to hide the emotion of his voice, stupid invitation just had to make him misty eyed. Daniel Gerard? Most beautiful thing he had ever heard in his whole life.
“Rowe, that would take hours and you haven’t eaten yet!” Dan was dragged up the stairs.
“You.” Rowe pointed to a passing guard. “Large cheese pizza, thin crust, and a six pack of Rolling Rock sent up my rooms.”
The guard looked around before nodding with an unsure look. “Sure, your highness.”
“See, I’m eating something.”
Dan laughed for a second. “Rolling Rock and pizza? Who are you?”
“Someone who’s trying to be normal. Maybe later I’ll give you a demo with the vacuum.”
Grinning ear to ear, Dan was pushed into their rooms. “That would be quite the show.”
“Don’t test me, I’ll do it, with all the settings too. Now hop to it, I want to see what you’ve done.”
Dan went to the desk and pulled out the notebook he’d kept all the pictures and receipts in—the flowers, the food, and the tuxedos—everything. For the rest of the night and well into the morning, Rowe and Dan finally got the time they needed together—laughing, smiling, and sharing kisses over their impending wedding. They fell asleep in each other’s arms. Half a box pizza at their feet and pictures of peonies stuck to Dan’s face.
Mai listened from the porch as her father talked to her grandfather. She took a drag from her clove cigarette and pulled the shawl around her slender shoulders—hiding out of sight of the two men.
“Shinobou has shamed us all, Mizuki. He is my blood and yours, yes, but he never was right where it counted.” Yuuta Yamanashi coughed into his elbow. His son handed over a glass of water with sad eyes.
“Father, he is my son. I know he has done terrible things and we must let him go from the family, but I don’t have the heart to see his eyes die. I cannot kill him with my own hands. Forgive my weakness.”
Yuuta groaned, the pain in his chest consuming him momentarily. “You know I cannot do it, my son.”
Mizuki looked at his dying father. Years of smoking led to lung cancer of a terminal kind. He hid his eyes with a nod. “I know.”
“And you are not weak, Mizu-kun. I am proud to call you son.” Yuuta placed his fingertips under his son’s chin, lifting his eyes to see his sincerity. “Which is why, I made the final decision, to call you Oyabun in my place.”
“What?” Mizuki gasped. The head chair, leader of the Yukuza, him? “You hinted at Kigari. Why me?”
“Because you passed this test. No man shall ever kill his own child, no matter the severity of his actions. You raised a beautiful daughter, who told the truth in the face of shame to her name and possibly death. A daughter, who wished to save her dying grandfather and family from slaughter, and sacrificed herself to a life of hate. You have put this family before your own needs and wants since before I can remember. Even when your wife died, you held your family together like any good Oyabun does. The inner workings aside, you Mizu-kun, you are who I want to lead.”
Mizuki got to his knees and cried on his father’s folded hands. “Arigatou gozaimasu,” thank you, he sobbed.
Yuuta bent to kiss his son’s head. It was the first time Mizuki had ever remembered his father showing such affection for him. It was not common in their culture to throw around the word love or for his father to give him praise. Mizuki had been quite different with his children, feeling the absence of their mother gave him reason to show affection. Now as he kneeled before his father, he felt the love silently flow from Yuuta into him.
“Go and see to business. I will handle this, Mizu-kun. Maybe not by my own hands, but know it is done.”
Mizuki cleared his throat. “Yes, father.”
As soon as Mizuki had left, he looked to the cracked door to his private terrace. He knew who waited in the dark of the night. “Be well, Mai-chan,” he called to her.
She didn’t answer. Instead she put out her cigarette in the tray and let the shawl pool onto the ground. A long sleeved jacket covered her chest and lightweight boots wrapped up to her knees as she soundlessly jumped over the balcony and hit the ground. Her long hair blew around her face as she straightened, securing the Katana blade at her back. The city lights just over the silent water, Mai ran over the last of the winter’s snow. Tonight, she would spare her father any more grief. Tonight, Shinobou would die.
She cut the bike’s engine a few blocks away, keeping her perfume covered hood up to mask her scent and her eyes like Knox had taught her. The training he and King had been giving the Yukuza went beyond kill tactics and defense, straight down to the small things they would need to know. Such as covering your tracks, your scent, and the sounds you made. They couldn’t know you were coming and Mai was almost scary good in her approach.
Weeks of planning this moment were finally paying off. The building Shinobou had taken over for himself and the Jing was not modest, a beacon of luxury if anything. White marble steps in the front, a golden dragon covering both doors—guarded by two men hiding to either side of the front door alcove. She knew they were there because she had watched them every night for three weeks. Glancing down at her cell phone, she noted another minute until the guards switched places, giving her a three minute gap to cross the street unseen before she came into view of the cameras.
Taking a deep breath, Mai made sure the men went through the front door. She was almost a blur across the street, hiding in the shadows next to the gated drive. She counted to twenty in her head. Like clockwork, two new guards stepped out onto the lawn to walk the perimeter. One stopped, his eyes flicking in her direction before he scented the air. A few cars and a taxi zoomed down the street and his attention was diverted. Mai took the opportunity to shimmy between the trash and the tall security fence to get out of view.
Being short was a disadvantage on her part, but being small wasn’t. She slipped into the tiny space easily, fishing for the pack on her lower back. A thin retractable cord in her palm, she pulled it out and knotted it into a loop—a rubber coated weight attached to give her some leverage. Holding her breath, she tossed the rope up. To her relief it caught on one of the spikes jutting out of the fence. She waited to see if the vamps had heard the weight hit the spike, but no one came.
A few tugs meant Mai was in the clear, and she began the process of hoisting herself up the wall behind her—the rung she needed only a yard or so ahead. A dog barking somewhere near gave her pause. Her honey eyes searched the night for any sign of vicious canines before she continued. With a final pull, she grabbed behind her and secured her fingers around the top rung of the fence.
Wordlessly, Mai chanted encouragements to herself. From the fence to the roof, she replayed again and again. Retracting her only lifeline to the ground below, Mai stood with her arms outstretched to her sides—teetering on top of a nine foot fence. A guard began to make his way to the back of the building. This was it, Mai thought, jump or die trying. With a swing of her arms, Mai leapt to the flat piece of roof only a few feet away. Her soft soled boot hit the shingles, followed by another before she folded in on herself.
She had to calm her heartbeat so the vamp wouldn’t pick up on it. If he did, she was fucked. Thinking of her father’s face, Mai closed her eyes. For him, she inhaled softly, this was for him. Mai had already come to terms with the fact her brother wanted her dead. No bond they shared was worth anything to the new Jing leader, not all the hugs and smiles of old, not the blood they both held, nothing was of meaning except money and power to Shinobou anymore.
Once the vampire had come back full circle, Mai crawled to the adjoining balcony and slid down. The doors were open, the curtains fluttered ominously. Her hands found the handle to her blade—the metal leaving a zing in the air as it slipped free of the sheath at her back. A few cautious steps led Mai into an elegant bedroom. Gold flecked tile under her feet, red sashed canopy bed, and…
“Hello, Mai.” Shinobou stood from the chair across the room. “You look surprised, sister.”
Mai said nothing. As careful as she had been, she should have known Shinobou would be even better.
“Did you really think after all these months I would not have noticed what you were up to?” He slid his fingers along the back of his chair with a sly smile. “Targeting me like this, us vampires, really, Mai? Are you that stupid?”
“Obviously not, I am where I needed to be.” She gripped the sword with her hand, holding it side to side, ready for his first move.
“Only because I let you.”He turned his back and she slipped a hand to her belt.
The side key to her phone was now programmed to dial an emergency line. King’s words floated to her. If you think you’re fucked, you are. Don’t think calling for help makes you weak. It makes you smart. The light on her phone flashed red and she smiled—they were listening on the other end now. The Royals would find her by the location of her cell. Sending a silent thank you to King, she prepared for the worst.
“I don’t even care that you ratted me out to our father. It was bound to happen anyways. You were always his little, Mai-chan. Always the good one, the pretty one, his everything. While he was going soft, I decided I wanted more than to be someone’s lapdog for the rest of my life. I wanted the power, the money, the title, and I guess I should thank you. But I just can’t get over how much I hate you.”
“Your jealousy is disgusting, Bou-kun,” Mai spat.
“Jealous?” Shinobou laughed. “Take a look around. I have what I want. Now it’s time to get you off my back, Mai-chan,” he mocked.
“You can try,” she replied. Her eyes narrowed and he lunged.
Eyes glowing gold, Shinobou danced around the slice of Katana sailing through the air. His hand smacked his sister against the post of the bed, but she fought through the pain and kicked out with her leg. Seconds on the ground meant nothing to Shinobou, righting his feet quickly. His fangs dropped in his mouth. He was done fucking around with the tiny human. She was done for.
Mai’s heart beat a mile a minute in her chest. In this situation, she let go of the need to run, and let her body work the moves she knew by heart. Swinging the blade in her right hand, she sliced through the back of her brother’s leg. Before he could think of turning around, Mai swung her arms for momentum and flipped her body back a few feet.
The blade lowered on purpose, an act of vulnerability, Mai let him come. Like a mouse to cheese, Shinobou rushed her again. She closed her eyes and felt the wind go past her, stepping to the right and slicing him across the back. He grabbed her arm with a roar, flipping her over his shoulder and onto the ground.
She could hear the others running towards them in the hall, but she had to keep fighting. Her blade flat to her chest, she waited until her brother came for her, lowered himself to the ground for the kill. His eyes sparkled with victory as he made his last move, leaping onto his sister. In the last seconds before their bodies made contact, Mai flicked the Katana towards the ceiling. Shinobou’s eyes went wide with disbelief. His body slid down the blade and through his heart.
Using the blade’s position, Mai flipped them over. She twisted the weapon as hard as she could. A tear came to her eye. Even as much as she hated what Shinobou had become, he was still her brother, her family. She really was too good, to love a mad man, even after all he had done to her.
“Forgive me, Bou-kun,” she whispered as the door broke open. Guns clicked around her. Blood spilled down the sides of Shinobou’s mouth. It took her a few seconds to look up at the men surrounding them and even then, she still didn’t recognize what was going on.
“Mai?” Yuri’s voice startled her.
A gurgle from below stole her gaze once more. Shinobou grabbed her wrist, something else slid through his eyes besides death. Something Mai recognized from long before. “Bou-kun?”
“Underground,” he choked. “It’s…underground.”
“What is? Bou-kun?” She grabbed his shoulders and he shuddered violently.
Shinobou’s eyes looked up at Yuri. “I would…killed Thierry…for the…la…”
“The lab,” Yuri breathed. The Russian crouched down with a hiss. “Where underground, a street? A building, give me something.”
Shinobou grinned, bloodied teeth peeking out under his lips. His eyes met Mai’s. “Roses, Mai-chan. You’re favorite…” His words slurred and his eyes went blank.
“Ah fuck, he’s done.” Yuri shook Mai’s brother. “Make sure the rest of the house is taken care of,” he instructed his team. “Mai?”
She slapped the hand that tried to comfort her. Standing slowly, she wrenched her Katana from Shinobou’s body. “Ah fuck? He’s done? Is that how you respect your dead?” She was shaking all over and trying not to show it.
“Mai, he tried to kill you, his own sister. He wasn’t worthy of respect in my book.” Yuri sighed, flicking his hand at the men to get the fuck out. “I’m sorry if I upset you, but honey, this is really important. Do you know what he meant by roses, Mai?”
“Yes.” She took a step back, memorizing the blood that covered her brother’s face.
“Roses, the ones at The New York Botanical Garden, the Rockefeller Rose Garden—they were always my favorites. There were so many kinds.”
“There’s a lab in the Bronx, under a bunch of roses?” Yuri snarled. “Fuck! That’s a perfect front, those jackasses.”
Mai couldn’t look away from her brother’s eyes. “Will you do it?”
“Do what?” Yuri snapped back to her gaze. She was starting to turn pale. Most likely had come in here thinking she was tough shit and figured out the long way, it was rough killing the people you loved. You always hesitated, felt guilty afterwards.
“Will you finish him.”
Dropping his hands, Yuri groaned. “Look, I’m sorry about your brother, but you’re the one who went all lone ranger coming in here. You shouldn’t have come, Mai. You shouldn’t be standing there asking me to behead your brother. You should be out at the movies with some boy from school or painting your toenails or some shit like that. If I was your father…”
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said dryly. “If I hadn’t come here to spare my father the grief of doing this himself, you wouldn’t have the location you so desperately needed.”
“You are one crazy chick. You know that?” Yuri shook his head. “Coming to a Jing vampire den, to kill your brother like some samurai princess, and then giving me some back ass response as to why? Get your butt outside and wait for me. Watch your step, Mulan.”
She narrowed her eyes. “It’s Mai.”
“And that was a joke.” Yuri rolled his eyes, signaling the men by his side to watch her. “Thought you were going all soft in the center, but you still have a mouth on you…” He continued to mutter to himself as he raised his blade.
Once down the bloodied hall, Mai had decided she’d seen enough. Stepping over body after body, hearing the hacking sound of Yuri back in the room, Mai was over it all. Her emotions had left her, floated somewhere else. She couldn’t think or feel. She just was.
Down the stairs of her brother’s home, Mai noted the blood staining the dragon tiled floor—gold and red mingling together in a morose work of art. She didn’t want this life—a life of vampires, blood, death, and tears. She wanted to fall in love. She wanted to have children. She wanted to have a home to call her own. No crime, no record, just life.
“Mai?” Yuri joined them, catching the look on her face. He knew what it was like to lose your brother, her eyes mirroring his from long ago. Yeah, she was just a kid. “I’m sorry if I was a bit harsh back there. Well, never mind, your father is waiting for you.”
“What?” Mai whipped around. “He can’t be here.”
“Mai, he’s right outside. He’s the one who called us when you went missing at home. How do you think we got here so fast?” Yuri frowned. “He isn’t mad at you. I mean, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I killed his son.” A traitorous tear slipped down her cheek. “He wasn’t supposed to know it was me.”
The guards looked at each other before settling on Yuri. “And he won’t. If that’s what you want.”
“You would do that for me?” She felt the corners of her eyes stinging with tears, that annoying tingle in the back of her nose that signaled she was about to lose it.
“I’m offering aren’t I?”
Bowing her head, Mai acknowledged the Russian with respect. “Thank you.”
“Whatever, Mulan.” Yuri grunted. “Get her out to the car before Mizuki comes unglued.”
She looked at Yuri with a small smile. “You are a good man, Yuri. I won’t forget that.” With that she was led out onto the private lawn and into the waiting arms of her hysterical father.
Two days later, Rowe had his feet spread as a tailor bent between them, pinning his tuxedo pants for the wedding. His cell in hand, the prince listened to Cade on the other end.
“You’re certain, Cadence? I can’t afford to blow down the wrong house right now.”
Cade growled. “Yes, I’m certain.”
“The Botanical Gardens?” Rowe shook his head.
The tailor looked up. “Your highness, would you please be still?”
Cade groaned through his teeth. “Rowe, we have to move tonight. We’ve been watching for a few days and already we’ve seen Anton and Thierry on the premises.”
“Yes, but where is the entrance to this lab? It’s a fucking garden, not some high tech wonderland.”
“The Rockefeller Rose Garden, Rowe. There’s storage underground and nobody, but the staff knows about it. It’s secluded and most likely an easy place to swipe employees. There are plenty of humans wandering about topside so we can’t make a scene much less thought about it in the first place. It’s the perfect front.”
Rowe waved Umberto off for a minute. “Tell me you’re sure about this, Cadence, and I’ll back you one hundred percent.”
“It’s not a trap, Rowe. This is real.” Cade sighed. “I swear on my child’s name this is where the lab is.”
“Then we move tonight. Call everyone in and keep an eye on the premises. Do not approach and come back to the compound with the others while Yuri’s people watch. You’ll escort me to grounds.”
“You don’t have to do this, Rowe. We have plenty of manpower.”
Rowe put a hand to the window. He looked over the last of the snow melted into puddles on the grounds—a few patches of green rising here and there. “Yes, I do. You may be the Original, but I am your prince and I’ll be damned if you go in alone. Risk your life for mine when you have a child, I won’t hear of it.”
A few moments of silence passed between them. Cade could tell there was no room for discussion on the matter. He wondered how Dan was going to take this, but his best friend didn’t have a choice about it either. “I’ll wait for your call.”
Ending the call, Rowe looked to Umberto hovering in the corner. “Rain check?”
“Tonight?” Dan looked at his hands in his lap.
“Yes,” Rowe repeated for the third time. “It will be over before you know it, like I never even left.”
A dry chuckle sounded from his mouth, Dan looked up. “Unless you die.”
“Pet,” Rowe whispered. He knelt down in front of his mate. “I’ll be just fine. We’re going to stop this tonight. End it for good.”
“I don’t care about that,” Dan cried. “I care about you!”
His hands found Dan’s, but Rowe’s mate wasn’t having it. “Just when we click again, we find the balance, something happens. You don’t know for sure you’ll come home tonight. You are going into another situation that you know anything about. Nigel was an idiot compared to Thierry. You have no idea what he has planned for you.”
“He doesn’t know we know about the lab, pet.” Rowe closed his eyes and counted to ten.
“That you know of!” Dan hissed, his anger no doubt reaching Rowe by now. “Is it so hard to ask for one thing to go right?” He screamed at the ceiling, hoping God would get the memo.
“Daniel,” Rowe commanded. “Calm down right now. I am going to lead my men into that lab and I hope you will be on the other end with nothing, but support and love. If I feel your anger towards me, then yes, I might as well put a stake through my own head.”
“Stay,” Dan narrowed his watery eyes. “Stay here with me.”
“Then get out.”
Rowe’s eyes swirled. “Get out of my own room?”
“Our room and I said get out. You wanna go out there and risk dying, leaving me? Go ahead, but I can’t support it.”
“I am your mate! You would push me out like this? What if you never saw me again and the last thing you said to me was get out, go away and never come back?” He was across the room in a blink, pinning Dan to the wall. Breath hot on his mate, Rowe bared his teeth. “You would do that to me?”
Dan struggled against Rowe. “Let go of me.”
“No.” Rowe’s grip tightened. “Not until you tell me you love me.”
“Please don’t go,” Dan wailed. The tears finally spilt over his cheeks.
“Tell me you love me,” Rowe whispered.
Dan hung his head with a sob. “I can’t lose you.”
“I will fight every second to come back to you, pet. Tell me, tell me you love me,” Rowe choked. He let Dan’s arms go, pulling his mate’s body close. Dan continued to melt in his arms, crying into his shirt, pleading. “I love you, pet.”
Dan heard the emotion in Rowe’s voice, felt his heart breaking, and he snapped. His lips crushed to his mate's, taking him to the ground. Rowe rolled them over. He worked the shirt off Dan’s chest as his mate clawed at his. Pants shimmied down, hands working over skin, teeth nipped, tongues battled—the two vampires tried to convey the anxious need welling inside of their hearts.
“Say…say…it,” Rowe gasped, planting a hand on Dan’s chest.
With a growl, Dan pushed his mate backwards. Now on top, he bared his teeth and rubbed his bare ass over Rowe’s erection. “I will,” he lisped. “If you stay.” Taking a deep breath, he sat on Rowe’s cock, taking it deep inside of himself.
“Fuck!” Rowe roared. “You will say you love me!” Grabbing Dan around the waist, they flipped again—the prince plunging deep into his mate a few times before Dan arched into the air. “Say it, you stubborn little brat.”
“No! You won’t leave me.” Dan clawed down Rowe’s chest, leaving trails of blood in his wake.
Harder and harder he took his pet until Dan lost his fight. “Yeah, love. You like that huh?” Rowe whipped his sweaty hair out of his face. “The man you love fucking you so good.”
“Yes,” Dan roared. “Please, please…”
“Please what?” Rowe growled, his lips itching for his mate’s blood.
Throwing his head back, Rowe laughed. “Only if you say you love me.” He pushed on Dan’s legs, backing those knees to the chest underneath. His thrusts slowed, teasingly deep.
Dan was out of his mind. He knew what Rowe was doing, could feel the need to hear his mate’s voice in his own head. He just wanted Rowe to stay. Was it selfish of him when there were people out there who needed their prince, yes, but he would die if something happened to his mate. He would just cease to exist. The world be damned, his life would be over. No one would ever replace the man inside of him. His heart clenched and Dan knew he couldn’t hold out.
“I do love you. I love you so much,” Dan cried out.
Fisting Dan’s cock, Rowe brought his lips down to his mate’s. “That’s better. I’m gonna kill them all, love,” he growled against Dan’s mouth. “I am a motherfucking prince.”
“Ah yeah,” Dan moaned. He loved how Rowe talked to himself during sex, gearing up for what was to come. To Dan it was so hot and he knew Rowe was going tonight. He had no choice. Licking his lips, Dan met Rowe’s next plunge inside. “Say it again.”
Eyes glowing, Rowe’s lips rippled with his growl. “I am your prince.”
“More.” Dan’s voice was breathy. He was getting close, Rowe’s hand on his dick squeezed making him shudder.
“I command you to be strong for me,” Rowe whispered in Dan’s ear. “I need you too. I can’t lose you either.” His fangs pierced Dan’s neck.
Shattering apart, Dan rode his orgasm like a fast moving train. Hot to cold, angry to soft, he and Rowe wouldn’t know vanilla if it hit him in the head. He loved how dramatic they were, how Rowe just got him, was on the same channel as him, and knew exactly what he needed. They would never be normal. He had to accept the fact and move on, be there for Rowe as he rose to his title, was there for others with his heart of gold underneath.
Still pleasure filled, but his cock spent below, Dan ran his hands through Rowe’s hair as he fed, as his mate came inside of him. “I love you, Rowen Gerard. You remember that when you go in there, that you have someone to come back to this time. I’ll be waiting.”
Tears flowed over the taste of blood in his mouth. Rowe knew what Dan was talking about. When Thomas had attacked the compound, he’d yearned to hold Dan afterwards, to tell him he loved him so much. This time he would. This time there were no walls between them. Taking the last pull of Dan’s sweet blood, Rowe licked the holes that mended under his tongue. He pressed a kiss to Dan’s skin and held on.
“I promise you, pet. I’ll come back.”
They held on, lying on the floor, until their time ran out.
Grant was laid out on the bed in their rented second story room. The night was sticky hot, sweat already clinging to just about everywhere. Aruba was beautiful, but damn he wished they had some air conditioning. On the terrace overlooking the crowded street, Ghost watched the parade in procession.
This was where Henri had docked. Ghost had another note in his hand to prove it. He glanced down.
Isn’t it beautiful here? I bet you would enjoy the parade too. Hope to see you there.
“I’m starving.” Grant rolled over. “Let’s go down and get something to eat.”
Ghost glanced his way. “You can. I’m staying here.”
“He’s not going to float to your window, Juliet. You have to go down there and find him. It’s part of their game, I imagine.” Grant slipped on his shoes, buttoning up his floral shirt.
“Fine, don’t fuck it up this time. Stay close.”
Ten minutes later, Ghost stood amongst the hundreds of locals and tourists, watching the parade float by. His hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, a loose tank top showed off his tanned muscles, and this time he had on a pair of trainers made for running. If Gabe took off, he’d catch him this time.
“Ready?” He glanced at Grant. Before the guy could respond, a smell floated to Ghost. One he knew all too well.
“Already?” Grant rolled his eyes.
Grabbing Grant’s hand, Ghost took off—weaving in and out of the crowd towards the scent he longed for.
At a corner restaurant, Gabe laughed as a dancer in full colorful dress handed him a flower. She did a twirl for him with a wink and stepped back into the parade. Gabe twirled the yellow flower in his fingers, the scent intoxicating.
“While you’re smiling, I thought there is something you should know.” Henri stuffed a bite of eggplant in his mouth to build the anticipation. He chewed with a smile and Gabe narrowed his eyes.
“What did you do now and don’t say nothing. Last time you said that, I ended up being gambled off as a dinner date to that oil tycoon’s wife who wouldn’t stop brushing on my junk.”
“It was only dinner and I won twenty thousand dollars while you were enjoying your filet mignon. A few strokes to your junk was well worth it.” Henri winked and wiped his mouth.
“Maybe to you,” Gabe huffed. He ate another cheese stuffed shell. “If I wasn’t enjoying this dinner, I would slap you for that stupid smile.”
“Eat quickly then, because I’m sure you’ll slap me momentarily.” Henri flicked his eyes out to the crowd. “Seriously, eat up. I have a feeling.”
Gabe dropped his fork. “Henri, what did you do?”
“Mm, well it was only for fun and because I think you’re being childish about it all.”
“What did you do?” Gabe rose from his chair.
“Ah, done with dinner already? Good.” Henri craned his neck out of the covered patio. “He’s probably left his room by now.”
“Who has? Henri!” Gabe gaped as Henri dropped a few Florins on the table and nodded to the waitress.
Henri inhaled deeply and grinned like the devil. “Oh yes, Kitten is on the prowl.” He grabbed Gabe’s wrist and pulled him along.
“Who is Kitten?” Gabe yelled over the music. They took a beach path to the left.
“Well,” Henri shouted back. “It seems you were wrong about Ghost after all. Did a little checking up,” he gasped for air. “He doesn’t want to kill you, little one.”
Gabriel tried to keep up with Henri, but his legs were cramping. “Ghost! Ghost is Kitten? Hold up, he’s here!”
“I might have left him a breadcrumb or two.” Henri pulled them behind a boat rental kiosk. The little man inside was fast asleep. “It’s been a while since I’ve had any fun. Back in the day, adventure was my middle name, a true pirate.”
“I am not a real pirate,” Gabe hissed. “This is my life and an assassin is after me because you told him where I was. What kind of mentor does that!”
“Keep it down, Gabriel. That poor man is trying to sleep in there.” Henri flicked his hair over his shoulder. “So rude.”
“Me? Rude? Oh no, no.” Gabe shoved a finger at Henri. “You start talking, Captain Hook.”
“Captain Hook? How cute.” Henri batted the finger away. “I made contact with a few of my old chums back in the city. Seems you made quite the impression on Kitten. He doesn’t want to kill you. In fact, he’s traveled thousands of miles to fuck your fancy little bottom.”
“What! Oh hell no, he’s crazy.” Gabriel shivered. Pornographic images dancing in his head, he fought to regain control of his mouth before he started babbling—the thought of Ghost touching him, wanting him that badly made his cock stiffer than a flag pole. “I do not fuck killers. I don’t fuck anyone actually.”
“Blimey.” Henri covered his mouth with a chuckle, already scenting Gabe’s arousal. “Couldn’t help myself there, all this talk of pirates and what not.” He caught Gabe’s angry look and raised a brow. “You mean you’re a virtuous maiden? Couldn’t be,” he mocked dramatically.
“Pretty sure I’d know if someone had been back there before.”
“Not the other way around then?” Henri smiled. “I can see you as a bottom even though something tells me you’ll grow a bit after the turn, might change your mind about the top bunk.”
“Oh my God, would you shut up. Does it matter? I don’t think that’s what you should be concerned about. You’re telling me he came all the way here to rape me?”
“No, he came all the way here…” Henri sighed wistfully. “To mate you.”
“Oh, huh uh, done with this fucked-up game starting now.” Gabe moved out from behind the kiosk, but was snatched back.
“No one said you had to get caught, just that you should enjoy the game,” Henri whispered. “What else do you have to do? You have me, my connections, money, and a place to sleep. Let go of all your restrictions and loosen up, little one. I know how you’re drawn to him, I can smell it. Only you aren’t used to being wanted. That is the part that scares you the most. That someone wants you for something other than your skills.”
“Oh and he wants me for love?” Gabe grunted.
“I said mate, not bed warmer, little one.”
“I don’t know him, Henri. He’s a killer, the bad guy.”
“But, Gabriel, he’s your killer.” Henri laughed quietly in his ear. “Play the game. Find out who he really is. Let him show you how much he really wants you.”
“That is so fucked up,” Gabe whispered.
“Welcome to a life of vampires. I’m Henri. I’ll be your guide. Please note nothing you think you know is ever what it really is. Fucked up will be your new mantra. I’m sorry I’m out of t-shirts, but please accept this complimentary laugh in your face.”
“Henri,” Gabe hissed.
“Come on Mouse, play with Kitten. Let’s make a run for it, see the world and live on the edge. Everything else is just boring.”
Gabe thought about it. His eyes found the water’s edge, the stars sparkling in the Caribbean sky. Like Henri had said, the world did call to him. Everything he had never seen, all the fun he had been denied growing up was out there waiting for him. For some reason, he knew Ghost would come after them. The thought aroused him, somehow made him feel safe. He realized he was smiling.
“What did you mean about breadcrumbs?”
Henri grinned. “Here you are Mouse.” He pulled a postcard of Aruba out of his jacket with a pen.
“What do I write?” Gabe’s hand trembled with the pen.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Wherever your heart desires,” Henri replied.
“But what about the boat?”
“Don’t worry about that. There will be others.”
“Okay, how about...” Gabe bit his lip.
“Dearest Kitten,” Henri instructed.
While Gabe wrote on the postcard, Henri stepped out onto the beach. A man was polishing his puddle jumper a few yards down. “Ahoy there!” He waved. The man waved back. “My friend and I were wondering if…”
Ghost was on the hunt, his nose following the heavy scent trail that seemed to grow stronger towards a lone beach path. He stopped in front of a kiosk with a sleeping man. Fluttering on the man’s chest was a postcard of Aruba. Gabriel’s smell filled the air and Ghost shivered. He snatched up the post card before turning to the beach. In the distance, the rumble of a small plane caught his attention and he just knew who was in it.
His heart beat loudly in his chest as Grant slowed to a stop behind him. “Damn you run fast, even for a vamp. Shit, is that another one?”
Ghost lifted the card to his nose. Like his mate had rubbed against it, exotic orchid traveled through his body. He rumbled against the card before he caught Grant’s face. “What!” He barked.
“Nothing.” Grant held up his hands. “Nothing at all.”
“That’s what I thought,” Ghost growled. He flipped the card over and smiled. The handwriting was different, shaky and cursive. Henri hadn’t written this, Gabriel had.
Wear something warm. It’s gonna be cold in St. Petersburg. I can’t wait to see you.
Ghost pocketed the card with an aroused growl. “You wanna play, mi Amor? I’ll find you.”
“Who are you talking to you?” Grant looked around.
“My mate.” Ghost waved a hand at the plane long gone. “Let’s get out of here.”
“But we just got here.”
“I will leave you here, you big baby.”
Grant rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, leave me here.”
“I’ll do it.” Ghost strode up the trail, yelling at Grant all the way back to the room.
Everyone was starting to gather in the courtyard. Micah talking softly to Cade, assuring his anxious mate Isaac would be just fine. Dan held onto Rowe behind the SUV for as long as he could. He was trying to hold himself together for the prince’s sake. Chloe, ever the tough one, kept her face tear free while her husband held their child in his arms—gently rocking the already sleeping girl back and forth until it was time to go. Blaze sat on the steps with Nova, the two making small talk about their favorite movies.
One person was missing from the sendoff—one blue haired vampire that had one last thing to do. He waited downstairs until he saw Maggie shut the door softly to Cade and Micah’s rooms, until she took George’s hand down the hall—the two going into the rooms across the way. It was then he made his move. Soundlessly slipping into the Original’s quarters and shutting the door behind him.
Knox knew what he was doing was so wrong, but he couldn’t help himself. Just one peek, he thought. Something to go on, to know he was safe. He knew the time would come that he couldn't do it anymore. That the child would get attached and they couldn’t…they just couldn’t have that kind of relationship. He couldn’t be the uncle, the friend, the nurturing type. He wasn’t a pervert, but he couldn’t help the need to make sure Isaac was safe, breathing, smiling. It made him ill.
The sweet scent of baby greeted Knox as he neared Isaac’s room. He could hear the soft intakes of breath, followed by a little gurgle going out. He could hear the slight crackle of the baby monitor, meaning Maggie was listening. A little mobile glimmered with reflective circles above Isaac’s crib. Knox stopped to stare at the child who was rapidly growing every day.
He was almost a year old now. What would happen when he started to walk and talk? Would he know about Knox, that they were mates? No, Knox shook his head. He wouldn’t let it happen. Then why was he already standing over the baby in question, reaching down to run a hand over the soft hair that covered his head. Why was his other hand taking part, slowly lifting the child from the crib to his chest?
He was so warm and small, smaller than Nanette was at this age. Isaac’s fist grabbed Knox’s shirt in his sleep, holding on tight in a grip that only a baby had. Knox found himself rocking back and forth.
“What am I going to do?” He whispered.
“You’re going to have to wait.” Knox whipped around to find Maggie standing there with a smug grin. “I knew you were hiding something. Always acting like Isaac is smog to your air. Nobody hates babies, not even you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I thought I heard him crying and…”
“So you picked him up and started rocking him when you found out he wasn’t?”
Knox started to put Isaac back in his crib. “Maggie, come on. Don’t do this.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” She chuckled. “When I put him down he cries like the devil alive. Strange he didn’t wake up when you pulled him from the crib. He always does that. Then again, you’re his mate so he probably….”
“Maggie!” Knox barked.
“Just stating the facts and don’t yell. Sleeping baby, remember?”
Laying Isaac down in the crib, Knox stood up. Little hands reached up for him, a frown twisting Isaac’s face in his sleep.
“He’ll be fine, Knox. They’re probably wondering where you are.”
“You can’t tell anybody.” He turned to her. “I’m serious, Maggie. No one can know.”
“Tell me why and I won’t say a word.”
“Because I can’t live out the next eighteen years under scrutiny, that’s why. I can’t have Cade and Micah looking at me like I’m some pervert and gunning for my ass over their child. I can’t corrupt this little thing when I know what I like. I can’t let him be a part of me when he…”
“If you say deserves much better, I am going to slap you silly. Knoxtian, you are a good man. Maybe your tastes are unique. Maybe you aren’t as heartfelt about your emotions as the others, but you are worthy of that boy. Don’t tell yourself otherwise.”
His face blank like a sheet of paper, Knox pushed past Maggie. “No, I’m not. I’m not some disillusioned prick. I know who I am. I know who that kid is going to be and don’t say a word. I mean it.”
Maggie shook her head. “One day, Knox, you won’t be able to fight it. Maybe not in a few years, but eventually, he’s going to be a man too.”
“Whatever,” Knox grunted.
“All I’m saying, honey, is please don’t throw away a good thing. I see how you look at the others, a little longing behind all the bravado. I know you want it too. Not in the same way, but you want it.”
“I have to go.” Knox’s hands shook as he fisted them to his sides—not with anger, but with the need to hold Isaac again, to know he was still breathing.
Maggie sighed. “I won’t say anything. Please be safe tonight.”
It was the first time anyone had wished him well before he went out. He’d always strayed from the others. Even Rowe didn’t know all of him. He’d never given anyone a reason to say such things. His heart beat in his chest, a tiny peak of wonder brewing.
“I will, er…thanks.”
“Good.” She laughed, shutting the door and starting down the hall. “We wouldn’t Isaac to never know his Knoxy-poo.”
“Maggie!” He hissed, his face blushing crimson. “Crazy little female,” he muttered, stomping back off upstairs. “Knoxy-poo? Oh hell to the fuck no.”
Minutes later he pushed open the front door, all eyes falling on him instantly.
Rowe could tell Knox was in a mood. Something about him was off, a slight sheen of sweat covering his face—a sign the big guy was not to be fucked with at the moment. Eyes drifted back to mates, to loved ones, and Knox was left to stew in whatever was bugging him. Focusing back on Dan, Rowe rubbed his thumb over his pet’s bottom lip—petal soft to his touch.
“It’s time, love.”
Three words melted Dan to the core. He couldn’t be selfish this time. This was what his life was going to be and he had to accept it. They couldn’t always be with each other or there for each other. He was going to have to let Rowe go off, risk his life because it was his duty. It was time to let Rowe make something of himself, to show he wasn’t afraid and was willing to protect his people anyway he could. Tonight was important in that aspect among many, but Dan couldn’t help the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Okay,” he whispered.
Equally distressed over leaving his mate, Rowe pulled Dan close one last time. “I’ll be back before you know it. We have all the manpower needed to take out a small city. They will be no match for us, pet. You go up there and relax, watch some telly, take a bath, whatever you like. Try to stay calm.”
“Okay, Dan repeated, tears forming in his eyes.
Knox whistled to the others. The vehicles lined up and ready to go. He disappeared behind the driver’s seat and slammed the door. This was really it.
With a tilt of Dan’s head, Rowe kissed his mate, tasting the tears on his lips. He sent all the strength and love he could muster into Dan, filling him to the brim with all the good things they shared. When their lips parted, Rowe took a step back. If he didn’t, he would never leave Dan’s side.
“Okay, go. You just have to go before…” Dan wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
“Say it.” Rowe smiled with a twinkle in his eyes.
Thinking of earlier, Dan laughed through the tears. Hot sex, rolling around on the ground in their rooms, and a simple I love you to seal their bond.
“Love you.” Dan sniffled.
Rowe walked to the SUV, turning around to get one last look at Dan before he got in. “Always and Forever, I’ll love you,” he called, not giving a shit who was watching.
Dan lifted a hand and bit his lip to keep from crying anymore. Watching Rowe get in the vehicle ripped him to pieces, but he had to be strong. “Always,” he whispered.
The others piled in—five SUVs taking them out the gates to meet the others in the city. Dan took one look at Chloe as soon as the fleet of engines was out of sight and lost it. Her arms wrapped around him, holding him until he couldn’t cry anymore.
Anton dragged a finger over the boy’s chin with a grin. “Everything is going perfectly, my sweet,” he said to his mate over the phone.
The human groaned on the table. A needle in his arm directed blood into a bag hanging above. He had no idea what was happening. Far under Anton’s spell, he had no idea that his two best friends were lying on tables next to him. He had no idea they were surrounded by vampires or that they were the latest in a string of humans to visit the lab. Visit being a nice term for never coming back.
On the other end of the phone, Thierry smiled. “When are you coming home? I’m done for di evening and I miss you terribly.”
“Hmm,” Anton purred. “I miss you too. I will be home soon enough. The next batch is almost ready to chill for the night. I won’t be much longer.”
“Good. I’ll have something waiting for you when you return. You must be hungry.” Thierry kicked his feet up on the desk, leaning back into his chair. “Very hungry.”
Anton shuddered. “Yes, I am.”
“See you soon. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Anton sighed. Even though his tastes were dark, even for a vampire, he still felt warm and loved inside when Thierry said such things. “Bye, my love.”
Anton slipped his phone into his jacket pocket, running a hand down Jacob’s naked leg. “Too bad I need you for a little longer. You are so yummy. I could just eat you up.”
A man in a white coat chuckled near him until Anton shot him a look. “Anton, we’re ready to lock the batch down for the night.”
“Very good news.” Anton glided over to the large double doors, tapping his foot for the staff to clear out of his way.
A keypad in the wall blinked over and over. He punched in a ten digit code and the light flashed green. “Put it in and make it quick.” With a snap of his fingers, his guards turned their guns on the staff who carried the trays of Rush into the cooler. He didn’t want them messing with it or stealing a few vials for later.
“That’s the last of it. We’re done.” One of the lab rats looked at the ground.
“Obviously.” Anton rolled his eyes. “Bring them their dinner and lock them up for the night.”
“Yes, sir.” A guard ushered the fifteen staff members into a large cell on the other side of the room, leaving the human boys locked to the tables in the lab. They wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight.
Thick titanium bars—fit for a vampire—encompassed the staff as they filed into the cell. A hiss signaled the doors locking into place before they all sighed with relief. At least on this side, they were safe from Anton and the guards. Human researchers and scientists forced to take the turn then held captive by the need for blood. This was the part where they were fed, sated until the next few days came around.
A door slid open in the wall and all the staff zeroed in on a human woman being pushed inside the cell. She had a second to look up before she screamed in terror.
Anton pushed open the back door to the lab, smiling as he listened to the hungry growls and screams at his back. His guards flanked him—the small group taking the stairs up to the ground level at the back of the rose garden. A few beeps and vibrations went off one after the other. Anton paused to look at his guards with a curiosity.
“Busy night?” He folded his arms with irritation.
“Uh boss?” One guard looked up from his cell.
“What is it?”
“We got a problem.”
Rowe ran at full speed across the marble floor—the exit outside to the main building of the Botanical Gardens right ahead. He slid to a stop, pushing on the bar with a loud slam. Behind him were at least a dozen assassins. But between the prince and the enemy were two guardians and whole lot of firepower.
King let his machine gun fly, pumping bullets into the assassins to slow them down until the other guards got to the scene. Cade whirled with his blade. An arm landed on the ground across the room. Blood poured from an enemy guard, but he wasn’t pausing to complain.
“Fucking pretty boy,” the assassin roared. “Eat shit.” He pulled a gun from his belt and cocked it at Cade.
“In your dreams, dumb ass,” King called. His gun aimed before he let it rip. The one-armed guard went down. This time he had no face left in which to speak.
“Keep it coming!” Cade yelled over the gunfire. “Rowe, go for it! We got this.”
Rowe didn’t stick around to thank his brothers. He opened the door into the fresh night air and inhaled deeply, roses, hundreds of them—the scent obnoxious to his sensitive nose, but intoxicating all the same. A triangle layout with a dozen cross paths gave him a second to pause. Then he saw Yuri and Micah running from one corner of the garden to head off the other team up ahead.
He had to get to the entrance of the lab. It had to be here somewhere. A long snarl from his lips, Rowe tapped his ear piece. “I need a location, damn it!”
Dancing around a gazebo with a gnarly looking assassin, Yuri lunged with his blade. “Not really available to look, sweetheart!” He called into the air, knowing Rowe had heard him.
Micah grinned. He wielded two blades—a spin from each hand left two enemies backing up and going for their guns. “Give me a second here and I’ll check things out.”
“For fuck’s sake! It’s got to be here somewhere.” Then he heard it. Somewhere to the back, a hiss sounded. Not a vampire made sound, definitely mechanical in nature, Rowe ran to the last of the iron work gate. A bullet whizzed past his head and he rolled into one of the bushes. Sure his gun was ready to go. He took a peek and fired back. “Got a group coming my way, need back-up.”
“On it,” Knox replied over the airwaves.
Boots sopped through bits and pieces of their latest victory, Knox nodded to Blaze, whistled to his assigned guards before taking off. He could feel the others nearby—every one of them honing in on the rose garden and the mad laboratory underneath. When they met in the middle, who knew what kind of battle would ensue. Judging by the amount of vampires on the premises after closing time though? Knox was betting on one hell of a fight.
Apparently psychic, his group came upon the rose garden, the mass amount of bodies flying, the violence going down. He shared a look with Blaze—both of them ready to do some damage.
“We go for Rowe. Slice and dice your way through and don’t stop,” Knox instructed. In agreement with the others, Knox and Blaze headed into the chaos.
Close to the tree line, Rowe stood up. He heard voices near him, felt others that weren’t part of the battle. The rose bushes weren’t much for cover anyways and he booked it into the small patch of woods behind him.
“I don’t think so,” a voice called out. Rowe turned with his gun, but it was too late. A bullet embedded into his shoulder, one to his chest—hitting his lung. He gasped for air, the hole in his lung trying it’s best to knit together, but more bullets were heading for him.
He fell to his knees, scrambling for shelter as he wheezed in and out. “Help,” he coughed into his mic. “Help…” Another bullet hit him in the back of the leg and his eyes went red.TO BE CONTINUED.....