Authors: D.B. Reynolds,
snorted wordlessly, as Raphael gave Lucas a pitying look. “You have a lot to learn, my friend.”
“Probably,” Lucas replied undaunted, “but let’s talk about Chicago.”
“Let’s talk about enemies first, Lucas,” Jared interjected. “How many people knew about Raphael’s arrival, and why would anyone bother to put a tail on us?”
Lucas sobered immediately. “I wish I knew the why of it, but the how isn’t that difficult. With both the Council meeting and the territorial competition being held at the same time in Chicago,
obvious Raphael would be coming this way, along with everyone else. And I made no secret of the fact that Klemens’s role in the assassination attempt on Raphael was a big part of what motivated me to take him out. In most eyes, that means the two of us are at least allies. From there, it’s a small step to think that Raphael might stop to meet with me so we could consult on Klemens’s replacement before the big confab.
Which is exactly what we’re doing.
“But, if they already knew we were coming here,” Jared persisted, “then, why tail us? What do they gain from that?”
“An opportunity,” Kathryn said from across the room, proving that the two women were paying more attention than Lucas had credited. “Maybe they knew you all were coming, but underestimated how much security you’d have with you. If your group had been smaller, if you’d been traveling in a single vehicle, for example, an RPG could have taken you all out.”
“Remind me never to piss you off,
” Lucas joked.
“Too late for that,” she replied in kind.
“Kathryn has a point,”
chimed in, meeting Raphael’s gaze. “And I’ve said this before. You’re blinded by your own power. You’re so used to being the
guys in the fight that you ignore the damage even a weak opponent can do with the right weapon.”
Kathryn nodded. “I’m not saying whoever followed you had an RPG. I’m just saying they’re available if you have the right connections, and it doesn’t take a genius to fire one.”
“So who hates you, Lucas?” Jared asked.
“The list is long and varied,”
Lucas gave the big vampire a surprised look. “Did my ears deceive me? Was that a joke,
Lucas laughed. “I’ve always known that beneath that stony exterior you love me.”
“Will you be serious, Lucas?” Kathryn said.
He sighed. “I don’t know why you’re all assuming they hate
After all, they followed Raphael. Maybe it’s all tied up with the competition for control of the Midwest. I’ve been open in my support for Aden. If someone put two and two together, they might figure Raphael would throw his support to Aden, too. Maybe someone who wants the territory decided to even the odds before the challenge begins.”
“I thought it didn’t matter whose support the contestants had. I thought this was a survival of the fittest sort of contest,”
said, giving Raphael a questioning look.
“Strictly speaking, my
, that’s true. But it is not unheard of for one or more of the Council members to … clear the field, you might say, for a favored candidate.”
“Have you ever done that?”
“I have not, and I must point out,” he said, turning to Lucas, “that there is no assurance Aden will win. There are several strong candidates in contention.”
“I know Aden, my lord. He’s going to be the one left standing.”
“Do you trust him?”
“He’s mine,” Lucas said simply. “I didn’t make him, but I took his oath more than a hundred years ago, and he’s never let me down.”
“But can he rule? You know the situation, Lucas. You know what we’re facing. We cannot afford someone who is unable to hold his territory.”
Every investigative instinct
possessed sat up and quivered.
he’d said. What situation?
“Aden’s been running St. Louis for me for a very long time,” Lucas was saying, in answer to Raphael’s question. “He was sitting right there on Klemens’s western border, dealing with almost constant incursions, and he never lost a square yard of territory to that bastard. He’s powerful as hell, and he’s smart enough when he isn’t being an ass. He doesn’t have the most outgoing personality in the world, but we share a certain history. There, but for the grace of a mother’s love and all that. In the final analysis, though, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years, and I trust him.”
“But …” Raphael said, and his expression said there definitely
“Boy’s got a problem with women,” Lucas admitted. “Doesn’t mind fucking ’
—” He shot the two women a guilty look, and said, “Sorry, ladies.”
“We’re both familiar with the word,” Kathryn said dryly. “But how is it possible that
hung out with someone who doesn’t like women?”
Lucas grinned and flashed
lascivious wink. “I told you, he doesn’t mind
them, and there was never a shortage of volunteers for the job. But other than that … he thinks they’re beneath him, and that that’s where they belong.”
“Hmmm,” Kathryn said thoughtfully. “Sounds like bad mommy syndrome. I guess we should be glad he’s only a vampire instead of a serial killer.” She
a beat. “Oh wait, they’re the same thing.”
started laughing, and Kathryn joined in, the two of them high-fiving. They looked over at their respective vampire lovers, wanting to share the joke, and found the two of them staring back blank-faced.
Which only made the two women laugh harder.
“An FBI agent, Lucas?
Raphael said grimly.
“Oh, right,” Lucas drawled. “Because yours stays home and bakes cookies all night.”
looked up from wiping tears from her eyes. “Hey! I can bake cookies.”
That only earned her a disbelieving scowl from Raphael, which threatened to set her off again. He shook his head and turned back to Lucas.
“Where is Aden now?”
“In St. Louis, but he can be here tomorrow.”
I’ll meet him as favor to you.”
“Thank you, Sire,” Lucas said, leaping gracefully to his feet. “In the meantime, this house is yours. Kathryn and I will stay at the homestead, and I’ll tell Aden to meet us out there tomorrow. It’s more discreet.”
“That’s acceptable,” Raphael said. “But, Lucas,” he added, his voice going cold and deadly, “once that’s done, we’re going to find out who was after us and why.
Because, if there’s to be a hunt, I intend to be the hunter, not the hunted.”
waited while Raphael sealed the elevator door behind them, then turned and eyed the well-appointed bedroom.
“This isn’t Lucas’s and Kathryn’s
“No,” Raphael replied, dropping his leather jacket on the back of a chair. “This is a guest room. Would it matter?”
“Yes,” she said emphatically. “I don’t like sleeping in someone else’s bedroom.”
“You slept in mine.”
“Back in the day,” she clarified, moving restlessly around the room.
He laughed. “It wasn’t that long ago.”
“Just feels like it,” she said absently.
“Should I be insulted or flattered?”
“Take your pick.”
“Cynthia,” Raphael said. He didn’t use her full name very often. She looked at him. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
She studied him a long moment, then said, “What’s the
, Raphael? When you were talking to Lucas,” she clarified, when he gave her a puzzled frown. “You said something about how he understood
Well, I want to understand it, too. What is it?”
watched him intently, holding her breath as she waited to see what his next words would be. Would he answer her question? Or would he deflect it with casual humor, or even sex?
He picked up his jacket from the chair and hung it in the closet, then sat down. Her lungs squeezed hard enough to become a physical pain in her chest when he lifted his black-eyed gaze and said, “Sit with me,
“I can stand.”
She eyed him doubtfully, her lips flattened against the emotions clogging her throat. But he’d said “please,” which he rarely did, so she walked over. She intended to sit on the opposite chair, but Raphael had other plans. He snagged her hand and tumbled her onto his lap, holding her there when she would have gotten up.
“Raphael. I’m serious.”
“I know that. I’m ensuring that you can’t get away until I finish speaking.”
“Is it that bad?” she whispered, her chest so tight she could barely draw breath for the words.
“It is very serious, and, yes, it is bad, though I suspect not the way you mean it.”
“Just tell me,” she demanded, unable to stand the stress.
“You are aware that I’ve been gathering allies lately, beginning with
, although, of course, my relationship with Lucas is far older.”
“I’ve had my suspicions.”
“So have others, although no one but a select few
my true motives. My enemies assume I’m trying to take over all of North America, that I’m setting puppets on the thrones of the other territories so that I may rule through them.”
“I don’t believe that. It’s something else, but I don’t know what.”
“This is the most critical of secrets, my
. It cannot be shared with anyone.”
“So, why tell me now?”
“Because I nearly lost you to a
and nothing—no secret, no person—is more important to me than you.”
The tears rolled down her cheeks.
Tears of relief that he wasn’t going to lie to her, and of love at the raw emotion in his words.
She leaned against his broad chest, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Don’t cry,” he murmured, holding her close. “Listen, and tell me what you think.”
She nodded wordlessly.
“The threat is not on this continent, but in Europe. There are many very old vampires there, vampires who were alive long before I was turned, and who’ve survived by being both wily and powerful. They rule territories in Europe, as we do here. But the territories are small and crowded because these old vampires made too many children in years past, when a vampire was judged by such things.
“This overpopulation has created a large number of strong and ambitious younger vampires who have nowhere to go. They no longer wish to serve under the yoke of their masters, but there are not enough open territories—or at least not enough with lords who can be handily defeated—and no unsettled lands for them to move into.”
“They want to come here,”
said, stunned with the realization as she sat up and stared at him.
He nodded. “They look at North America and see eight vampire lords ruling a vast amount of territory. They assume that makes us weak, that no one vampire is strong enough to rule so much, and they think to replace us with their own number. Not one vampire for a territory, but several. Not eight vampire lords for all of North America, but twenty-five or thirty.”
“And what about you?
What about the others? Do they really think they can take you all on and win?”
“I am not privy to their strategy or thoughts, only their ultimate goal.”
“So what are we going to do about it?” she demanded.
Raphael smiled and hugged her close.
Our first order of business is to continue as we have, to ensure the ascension of vampires we can trust, who will fight with us, and who are capable of consolidating and defending their territories should it come to a war.
Which is why the selection of Aden is so important.
“But you don’t know him.”
“I know Lucas, and while he may seem like someone who doesn’t take life seriously, the reality is quite different. When it comes to survival, Lucas is deadly serious. He also happens to be an excellent judge of others. He tells me it’s a side effect of his being a people person,” he added, grimacing in such distaste that
had to laugh despite the seriousness of the subject.
“The talent probably lies in the opposite direction,” she assured him. “He’s a con artist, which means he has to understand his victims. It’s the same skill, just applied differently.”
“Did I ever tell you how Lucas and I met?”
frowned at what seemed like a non sequitur. “No,” she said.
“He thought to pick my pocket, or more likely to steal my purse. Either way, his so-called people skills failed him quite spectacularly.”
“I’m surprised you let him live.”
Raphael shrugged. “I saw something in him, something I thought I could use.”
“Were you right?”
It was Raphael’s turn to laugh. “Oh, yes. He was a challenge, but ultimately well worth the effort.”
“If you say so.
Kathryn seems to like him anyway.”
“Speaking of Kathryn, remember, you cannot share any of this with her. If Lucas chooses to confide in her, that is his choice, but we cannot afford to let our enemies know that
know they’re coming. This is not a topic for your Mates Club.”
“You know about that?”
,” he said, patting her ass affectionately, “I know about everything. You should understand that by now.”