All the King's Men: The Beginning (9 page)

BOOK: All the King's Men: The Beginning
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By rights, Micah should be in charge of the team right now, not Tristan. Hell, as brilliant as Micah was in the field and in matters of battle, he should be in charge of AKM, not just the team, but his mental state after Katarina's death had prevented his promotion. Time and again, as opportunities to advance within the King's Guard, which eventually became All the King's Men, presented themselves, Micah had been passed over. As those around him moved up in the ranks and took positions he should have filled, Micah remained a grunt, lagging behind because mated
suffering
compromised his mind, as well as his body. During the transition to AKM, Micah had only barely squeaked in as an enforcer, mostly on his reputation and his former relationship with King Bain, who refused to see Micah's skills wasted. Tristan felt nothing but respect for Micah, but respect only went so far when an inferno of misery smoldered from losing a mate, waiting for Jackson to leave so it could rekindle and burn Micah from the inside out this time.

"Micah, just cool off." Tristan pushed Micah away and turned his gaze on the others in the room. "Everybody else, shut up and sit down." The look he gave them must have conveyed his worry about Micah's mental state, because some of their bluster evaporated, and they slowly fell back into their respective spaces as Micah growled and backed toward the wall near Trace, who kept a watchful eye on him.

A few tense moments ticked by, but when no one mouthed off or took a swing at anyone else, Tristan finally sat back down. "Okay, now that we're all better," he arched an eyebrow at Micah, and then at Ari and Io, "we can get started. As you already found out from blabbermouth, Josie's pregnant. We found out a week ago."

Subdued congratulations rose again from everyone except Micah. Well, and Trace, who simply nodded and slipped a matchstick between his lips like it was a toothpick.

"She's due next August, and, depending on how things go, I might need to take time off occasionally to tend to her." It was the male's duty to take care of his female during pregnancy, so Tristan would be given a long leash for the next nine months. "When that happens,
Malek
will be in charge." He shot Micah a glance as if he expected him to protest, but his dark-haired mentor kept his gaze on the floor, frown firmly in place, arms crossed defiantly over his broad chest. The guy was like rock, both solid and apathetic, as if being passed over yet again in the rank and file didn't bother him, but Tristan knew it had to grate Micah's nerves to be notched ever lower in the pecking order. Setting Micah on the sidelines as merely an enforcer and not a leader was like benching the star quarterback, but what else could Tristan do? Micah was in no shape to run himself, let alone a team. "What do you think of Malek being in charge, Micah?" he said warily, feeling the need to get Micah's acceptance directly rather than leave it to chance. It was Tristan's decision to make, but when it came to Micah, sometimes it was better to include the guy in the decisions…or at least make it
seem
like he was being included.

Micah shrugged one shoulder and met his gaze with empty eyes then glanced at Malek with a nod. "Malek's capable." His voice had dropped and grown hoarse as if he'd just shot up on heroin. "He's a solid choice."

Malek and Micah had been best friends once, which was another reason why Tristan wanted Malek in charge if he had to take time off to be with Josie. There was a greater chance Micah wouldn't be a total asshole to Malek, who he showed a certain amount of respect. If anyone else was left in charge, that probably wouldn't be the case.

"Malek? You good with that?" Tristan turned his gaze to his new second-in-command.

Malek nodded acceptance. "You can count on me."

Yes, Tristan could count on Malek. Despite the fact that he had lost his mate, Carmen, around the same time Micah had lost Katarina, he still had his wits about him. For whatever reason, Malek had dealt better with his loss. The guy was still a bundle of dysfunction on a lot of levels, and he seemed to be as apathetic as Micah when it came to relationships, because he hadn't been with a woman since Carmen died, but at least he kept his head about him when it came to work.

"Good. That's settled." Tristan scrawled his signature on the form that secured Malek as his replacement and set it aside to hand over to administration later. "Okay. Next order of business. Two drecks turned up dead this morning. Human law enforcement found them, but once they hit our database, flags went up. We sent a team of day walkers over to grab them and wipe out the records." Tristan opened another file. "Names were Orvis and Regis. Cobalt dealers. They ran Azure, that night club on the North Side."

"I saw John Apostle there a week ago," Micah said.

Everybody appeared shocked that Micah had spoken, and honestly, Tristan was, too. Lately, Micah had been more the type to sit and brood silently than offer input. Tristan leaned back in his chair and faced Micah. "John Apostle?" They could never get proof that Apostle was up to no good, even though everyone knew he was. That bastard covered his tracks better than a fairy in the woods. If Apostle had been at Azure, it was a good bet he hadn't been there to drink and dance, especially with Orvis and Regis showing up dead a week later.

"Do you know what he was doing there?"

Micah shook his head, arms still crossed, expression indifferent. "No."

"Did you hear what he talked to them about?"

Micah sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as if he was only just barely holding his tongue from another smart-assed outburst. "I wasn't close enough." He looked like he was only marginally holding himself together, so Tristan decided not to push for more. Micah waved toward the file on Tristan's desk. "But I can guess now that Beavis and Butt-Head showed up dead."

Malek sat forward in his chair. "Apostle has a reputation for being especially hard to work for. Brutal, unforgiving, a real prick. And we've seen this before. He pays his dealers a visit, and a few days to a few weeks later, the dealers he visited wind up dead. Maybe Orvis and Regis had fucked up on a sale, or maybe they owed Apostle money, and this was his way of sending a message to the others."

"Could be," Tristan said, "but we don't even know for sure if it was Apostle who killed them. With all due respect to Micah," he said as he nodded toward Micah, "Apostle being there last week could just be a coincidence." He paused, preparing for the pending outburst. "Since they were drecks, we need to investigate. And it's our turn in the rotation."

Groans rose from everyone except Micah and Trace. This was the one part of the job no one liked, but since AKM was responsible for maintaining the truce between the two races, it was their job to investigate any dreck deaths of a questionable nature, and the teams rotated the duty on a weekly schedule.

"I'll take it," Micah and Malek both said at the same time. They looked at each other. Micah's brow crinkled over his nose as he frowned, and Malek's jaw clenched.

"Good," Tristan said before either could back out. "Both of you. Take it. I'll email you the files after the meeting." He handed the file to Malek. "Work it up. See what you can find."

Tristan knew it was a shit detail without a lot of hope of turning up much, but if there was anything to find, Micah and Malek would find it. They worked well together, despite Micah's chronically foul temperament and his reluctance to work with anyone. He preferred solo patrol, and Tristan usually allowed it, but not this time.

"Last order of business," Tristan said before dismissing everyone. "King Bain's Christmas party."

Everyone quieted, and Ari grinned. His father had probably already told him that their team had been drawn in this year's lottery.

Tristan smiled. It was nice to give them good news once in a while. "Our team is invited this year."

Not every team was able to attend the king's holiday party, which was a grand affair that included dignitaries, his liaisons, VIPs, and a cavalcade of who's who in their world. Since AKM had to continue operating, Bain held a lottery to determine which teams were able to attend. For those who couldn't, he sent in a catered meal and enough generic gifts that everyone received one.

Ari and Io high-fived, and Tristan could almost see Io's mind reeling over all the fresh female meat he could seduce.

Tristan would nip that in the bud right now. "Io, you're to conduct yourself in a manner fit for royalty, do you hear me? I don't want the king or anyone else coming back to me this year complaining about your behavior with any of the females in attendance the way they did the last time we attended one of the king's holiday parties." Tristan raised an expectant brow at him.

Io mock saluted, but the self-ingratiating grin splattered on his face said he was looking forward to having a more exclusive bounty of females to choose from. God, but Io was a womanizing SOB. And Ari wasn't much better, easily the best looking guy on the team. Females both vampire and human flocked to them everywhere they went, but at least Ari was more of a gentleman. He remained cordial, never appearing as into them as Io was. But to say Io was into women was like saying bees were into honey. Io was indiscriminate, stealing hearts everywhere he went and leaving them crushed an hour later. It didn't matter where he was when he found a woman he wanted. He dragged her into the nearest restroom or back alley and, with unceremonious disrespect, fucked her against the wall or the stall's door, and left her there with a smile on her face as he returned to whatever he was doing before. Sometimes he even wiped his memory from them so they wouldn't get
leachy
, as he called it. Io wasn't into hangers-on. Love 'em and leave 'em fast was his motto. Get in, get out, and get on to the next. If there was one male on his team that Tristan thought would never take a mate, it was Io. He just wasn't the type, and Tristan couldn't see it happening. He was too interested in the next conquest…and the next after that.

Note to self. Remind Io who the king's daughter is so he doesn't mistake her for a guest and paw her in the coat closet.

"I mean it, Io. Don't embarrass me or the team."

Io grinned at Ari again, but nodded. "I'll be good." He leaned toward Ari and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, "
Real
good. Right, buddy?"

Ari sighed and rolled his eyes, but didn't meet Io's gaze. "As always."

Great. Tristan would have to keep an eye on Io at the party. He couldn't afford losing the guy if he happened to seduce the wrong female, and there would be plenty of wrong females at Bain's party.

"Well, anyway, the date for the party is Christmas Eve. Dress code—do I really need to remind everyone to wear a suit and tie? Maybe even a tuxedo if you want to really impress the king." He glanced around the room, his gaze landing on Trace. Did that guy even own a tie? "But in years past, people have shown up in nice sweaters and slacks, too. Just make sure you don't show up looking like a gangbanger or a thug." Trace was the only one Tristan was worried about. Tristan had never seen Trace wear anything but cargo pants, jeans, and T-shirts that showed off his impressive chest and arms. And maybe an occasional beat-up sweatshirt with a tattered collar and a bleach stain or two. Trace didn't exactly scream fashion diva…or even fashion literate. He seemed more into practical comfort and functionality. Even so, Trace didn't flinch when Tristan announced the dress code for the party. Hmph. Maybe Trace would shock the shit out of him and show up in a tux with tails and a top hat. Wouldn't that be something?

"Any questions?" Tristan said.

Silence answered him.

"Good. Let's go. Malek? Micah? Get on that and let me know what you find." He nodded toward the file in Malek's hand. "Io, see what you can dig up on Azure. If they had security cameras, I want to see whatever you can get me from the last week. Hack into CPD and see what they got at the scene." He considered what Malek had mentioned earlier. "And get me Azure's financial records. And look into Orvis's and Regis's personal records, too. See if you can find anything that looks suspect." Doubtful. Drecks were good at covering up their illicit activity, but once in a while, AKM struck gold, which made the effort worthwhile. "Trace, you and Ari canvas the area around Azure. Ask around. See if you can pick up anything that could help." Again, it was doubtful they would turn up anything more than speculation, but they had to perform their due diligence. "That's it." He slapped his palms on his desk. "Oh. One more thing. We've got a new team member joining us after Christmas. Severin Bannon. He's a day walker who worked for Vampire Dreck Affairs in Atlanta and has an impressive background in the human military. SEAL. Green Beret. The guy's a real machine. I'll send his file to you all shortly."

Ari bobbed his head in agreement. "He's impressive. Big guy. Io and I met him before the meeting."

Micah smirked as if he knew a secret, but he kept his mouth shut.

"Be ready to put him through the paces," Tristan said. "He'll get a turn with all of you."

Micah actually smiled, his gaze still on Ari.

"Something funny, Micah?" Tristan said.

Micah's gaze slid to his. "Nope. Just looking forward to meeting him."

"You?" Ari frowned up at him.

"You got a problem with that, Ari?" Micah's eyes were full of mischief. "Me and Severin?"

Ari scowled back at him and shook his head. "Fuck off, dick spill. I'm not going to play your stupid mind games." Ari dismissed Micah with a wave of his hand and pushed himself out of his chair.

Micah chuckled wryly then turned for the door as if he knew the meeting was over. Clearly, whatever was going on between him and Ari would remain his secret, which was fine by Tristan.

Furniture rustled, and the members of his team filed out, leaving Tristan alone. He smiled at his phone, which rested on the upper left corner of his brown desk blotter, and picked it up. He sent Josie a text.

"I love you."

A few seconds later, his phone vibrated and he read her reply.

"I love you, too. You're going to make a great daddy."

BOOK: All the King's Men: The Beginning
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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