All the King's Men: The Beginning (4 page)

BOOK: All the King's Men: The Beginning
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Micah glared over his shoulder at Trace and flung himself out of his grasp. "Don't touch me."

Trace held his hands up as if to indicate he wasn't a threat, and then backed away.

Micah then turned on Tristan. "You don't need me here holding your hand to run your goddamn team meeting."

"You're part of the team, Micah," Tristan said. "At least for now."

Micah scoffed. "Yeah, go ahead. Kick me out. That'll be just fucking perfect."

"I don't want to kick you out, Micah, but you're starting to make me think I've got no choice."

"Whatever. You don't have the balls."

"Micah, just sit your ass down and shut the fuck up." Tristan had to have the most dysfunctional team in all of AKM's history, and Micah was a huge reason why. When Micah entered the room, tensions spiked so high that it felt like mousetraps were set an inch apart around the floor. When one went off, it started a chain reaction until chaos ensued, as tonight's outburst proved. This had been just one in a long line of Micah-fueled eruptions to take place over the past few months. Then again, this was what happened when you pulled together six alpha vampires carrying enough emotional baggage to cause even the Buddha to have a nervous breakdown.

Once everyone had settled back down, Tristan took a deep breath and gave the quick and dirty, sixty-second version of tonight's meeting, then dismissed everyone but Micah.

"I can't take much more of this insubordination, Micah," Tristan said when they were alone. "You're my best enforcer, but you're a live wire right now. What's going on with you and Jackson? Is everything all right?" Theirs was such a complicated relationship that nobody—and not even Micah from the looks of it—could fully understand or make sense of it.

Micah huffed out a derisive puff of breath and looked away. "Who are you? Dr. Phil?"

"Micah—"

"Look, I'm here. Isn't that enough? So get off my ass." He stood, marched to the door, flung it open, and with a last glare over his shoulder, stormed out.

Damn. Micah and Jackson had clearly argued again. Tristan had a bad feeling about this. If Micah lost another mate—if that's what Jackson really was, because they didn't have a normal mated relationship—a body bag wouldn't be far behind. Maybe a bunch of body bags. He remembered how Micah was after losing Katarina. Lost, violent, a threat to himself and others. It had taken decades for Micah to recover enough from Katarina's death to be able to function even halfway like his old self.

Jackson had given Micah new life, new happiness. But all that would crumble to shit if Jackson took off on him. And then who knew how far Micah would fall? Pretty damn far if history was any indication.

Tristan hung his head. He didn't want to lose his friend again, because this time, the loss might well be permanent. Tristan might end up being the one to implant the bullet in Micah's temple, but that was the reality of his job. Sometimes hard decisions had to be made to save the greater population from harm. And if Micah lost Jackson, he would become the greatest kind of harm their kind had ever seen.

 

 

Chapter 2

King Bain fingered the medallion that hung around his neck as he scanned the archives that had been passed down from his father. The medallion, which was his family's royal crest, had been in his bloodline since his ancestor, Cato, claimed the throne after ousting the barbaric Dacian clan from rule. Made from bronze, the medallion was embellished with ancient glyphs and displayed two swords crossed over a full moon. He wore the round amulet whenever he met with dignitaries, oversaw proceedings in his court, or otherwise conducted royal business.

Today he was meeting with Premier Royce, the leader of the drecks and a descendant of Argon, who the lore spoke of as being a onetime ally with King Cato. Bain struggled to believe that his forefather had ever been friends with the drecks, but who was he to dispute the archives, which held more than a few surprises within their pages. He brushed his fingertips over his family tree, which was included in the royal book of records he kept secured on a marble pedestal in his study. He eyed the names of his ancestors and extended family, feeling an ache over the secrets they held, but which he was not at liberty to reveal until the time was right, if it ever would be.

With a sigh, he gently closed the tome, placed the Plexiglas cover back on the pedestal, locked the case, and turned his thoughts back to Royce.

According to history, their two families had once been allies. Even close friends. That had been a long time ago, though. Bain was six generations removed from King Cato, while Premier Royce was the ninth generation of Argon's line. Cato and Argon had been in power when the first war broke out between their races, and Bain had learned the whole sordid history—at least as much as had been preserved in the archives—soon after coming into power after his father's death in the Middle Ages. And what a tragic, ugly history it was, if the recorded lore was true.

Bain closed his eyes. That wasn't the only hard truth he had to bear from the royal archives, but he feared the time would never come for him to reveal the rest, especially where his mentor, Micah Black, was concerned. Micah had trained him when he was a child, and he was the mightiest warrior Bain had ever known. But Micah had been lost to mated
suffering
for a millennium. Until he came back to his senses, his rightful place—which Bain's father, Bain the First, had always hoped to see realized—would have to remain a secret.

"Premier Royce has arrived and is waiting for you."

Bain turned to find his secretary waiting just inside the door of his office. "Thank you." He adjusted his tailored suit—because, for one, the king didn't buy off-the-rack, and for another, it was hard to find clothes to fit a seven-foot-tall behemoth built like a linebacker—and followed his secretary down the hall to his conference center.

"Premier Royce, always a pleasure," he said, hand outstretched. If what the archives said was true, Bain imagined that their ancestors never had to fake such pleasant salutations.

"Likewise, King Bain. You look well." Royce shook his hand as he shifted to blue. "You don't mind…?"

Bain waved him off. "Of course not. Make yourself comfortable."

In their natural state, drecks appeared blue. Blue skin, blue eyes, blue nails. Even their hair was bluish-black. In their dreck state, they wore their hair long, and their faces appeared more elongated. Some might describe their features as gaunt, or perhaps taut. Drecks preferred to remain hidden in human form, though, and could shift into any persona they liked, although once they chose a human image, they usually stuck with it.

"How's Queen Cara?" Royce said as he took a glass of wine offered by Bain's secretary.

Bain always kept a stash of aged red wine on hand for Royce, who had a taste for it.

"She's well," Bain said, selecting water instead. "And how is Lady Jora?"

Royce nodded as he sipped his wine. "Better than ever." He regarded the glass. "Delicious, as always," he said. "I do so enjoy our meetings a little bit more because you serve me such rare vintages."

Bain gestured toward a seat. "I'm nothing if not hospitable. Please, have a seat."

He and Royce met once every month to keep an open line of communication between their races, but Bain felt their meetings were little more than a front. Especially as of late. His instincts told him Royce was hiding something.

"Have you made any headway on finding the source of cobalt manufacturing or distribution?" Bain said after a few more pleasantries and small talk.

Cobalt had first appeared in the 1980s as a human recreational drug, but had quickly found its way into the vampire population for its ability to provide an intense high that vampires couldn't get from other human drugs. Not even alcohol could keep a vampire drunk for long, and hangovers lasted all of an hour in all but the most extreme cases. For vampires who longed for a dip into the wild side, cobalt provided the right avenue of self-destruction, and while the dreck-made drug had remained small-time for the better part of the three decades since it was first introduced, the last year had seen an incredible surge in use. Almost as if vampires were purposely being sought in droves by cobalt dealers.

God forbid if cobalt ever found its way into the royal family. Bain didn't think he would be able to deal with that. Certainly his son and daughter would have the sense not to degrade the family name that way. He had an image to protect—a picture of control and power he had to keep in place for his people. He couldn't afford to be seen as weak or to have the royal line tainted with such corruption.

"No, not yet," Royce said. "My people are still following up on leads."

"Your people have been following up on leads for months, Royce. Meanwhile, my people are dying."

Cobalt overdose was becoming more prolific. And overdoses ended in death in almost half the cases. His enforcement agency, All the King's Men, had been hauling in dealers for months, but it seemed like for every one they brought in, two more took his place. Vampire Dreck Affairs in Atlanta had raided a manufacturing facility going on a year ago that had been a bloodbath. Those drecks had been well funded and heavily armed, and many agents and enforcers had been killed. Still, for all their raids and arrests, they were no closer to having answers than they had been a year ago. The vampire community wasn't in an epidemic—at least, not yet. However, if they didn't get answers soon, it was hard telling how bad the situation could get.

Royce sighed sympathetically. "I know, Bain, and I'm truly sorry. We're doing all we can, but whoever is making and distributing cobalt has done a good job to hide their tracks."

Bain's eyes narrowed. He wished he could see inside Royce's mind, but part of their truce was that he wouldn't dig inside his thoughts during their meetings. If he did, Royce would feel him. Bain couldn't hide the niggling, worming sensation those being probed felt. The only beings vampires could go mind running in without being detected were humans. Of course, there were exceptions, but more often than not, that was the rule.

If only Micah were here. Micah was the only vampire Bain knew who was capable of thought patrol without being detected. Micah heard everything in every mind in a room without even trying. How he shut that shit off so he didn't go crazy was a mystery, but it sure was a nice gift to have at times like this, when Bain wanted desperately to probe Royce's private thoughts for signs of betrayal.

"What strides have you made?" Royce asked. "Have your enforcers turned up anything?"

Bain shook his head. "They arrest dealers almost every night, but so far my men have turned up only dead ends. And since we're not allowed to hold them for more than a few days…" He eyed Royce and shrugged, making it clear he needed Royce to reconsider the terms of the truce.

All the King's Men had been created after the last war between their races to uphold the truce and maintain the peace. Since vampires were inherently stronger than drecks, Bain had made it a stipulation of the peace negotiations that an enforcement agency would be created, and that drecks caught breaking the law or engaging in potentially aggressive behavior, or behavior that could lead to a violation of the truce, would be subjected to arrest and containment within the king's agency. Royce, who had just taken power of the drecks after his predecessor was killed, agreed to the AKM agency on one condition. That any drecks arrested could not be contained for more than thirty days—and thirty days was only for the most heinous acts—and would be turned over to the drecks for prosecution.

The deal had been a hollow victory, but one Bain could digest with the knowledge that his warriors would be the primary peacekeepers between the two races.

Unfortunately, drug dealing wasn't considered a heinous act, and he was forced to turn the dealers he caught over to the drecks within a week of arresting them. And since dreck laws were more lenient than vampire laws, they had started to see repeat offenders. A lot of them. The same dealers being arrested two or even three times in less than a year.

"Perhaps we need to revisit incarceration and punishment for dealers," Bain said, watching Royce's reaction closely.

"What do you mean?"

Bain told him of the repeat arrests. "Obviously, your punishments aren't getting the job done, Royce. The same drecks are being arrested time and again. Perhaps you're allowing these criminals to be released too quickly." All this diplomatic beating around the bush made Bain's skin crawl.

Royce smiled, but the polite display looked forced. "You handle vampire affairs your way, Bain, and I'll handle dreck affairs mine."

"No offense," Bain held his hands up as if to convey he wasn't trying to step on toes. These political dances with Royce could be so sensitive. He had to tiptoe around hot topics as if he were Fred Astaire.

"None taken." Royce's false smile smoothed into a placated grin.

"I'm only suggesting that if we're going to work together to catch whoever's manufacturing cobalt, as we've agreed, that more cooperation surrounding the length of incarceration of dealers could be beneficial." More tap dancing.

"Noted," Royce said dismissively. "I'll consider it." He paused. "Now, I'd like to talk about the excessive force one of your enforcers used to take down a dreck who stole a human female's purse."

It looked like the cobalt discussion was tabled. For now. Bain would continue pushing the topic in future meetings, and if Royce continued to give him the same mealymouthed answers and noncommittal horseshit much longer, he would take matters into his own hands, even if it meant risking peace. He put on a steely smile as his head began to ache. This was going to be a long night.

 

 

Chapter 3

Tristan unlocked the door to his suite at AKM where he spent most of his time with Josie. Several members of AKM stayed at the facility at least part of the time, mostly team leaders and medical personnel who had to remain on call. Basically, anyone who needed to be able to respond quickly when an emergency arose had a housing unit on site.

BOOK: All the King's Men: The Beginning
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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