Authors: D.B. Reynolds,
She’d been a fool to think she could ever leave him.
“I love you,” she whispered, as he plunged between her legs, harder and faster until they tumbled over the edge of ecstasy together, their passion a searing heat that entwined their fates forever.
And God help any creature who thought he could tear them apart.
“I am yours,” Raphael rasped against her ear.
closer, enjoying the heat of her body, the soft press of her breast against his side as they made their way to Lucas’s homestead. Blackness stretched all around them, their vehicle the only one seemingly for miles.
She laughed, and it made him smile. “What is it,
“Kathryn said she and Lucas aren’t mated.”
“No, not yet.”
“Do you know why?”
“As I understand it, Kathryn is what you would call commitment phobic. Lucas is giving her time to adjust.”
“I was commitment phobic. You didn’t give
any time to adjust.”
“True. But then I am not Lucas.”
“You’re certainly not,” she said, burrowing closer and giving him a hard hug. “But you said they aren’t mated
?” she clarified, emphasizing the
“I believe Lucas will push for it sooner, rather than later. The situation we discussed will bring danger to all of us,” he said, his mood turning deadly serious. “There will be no more
not for anyone. Lines will be drawn, sides will be chosen.”
“Will it come to that?”
“No hope for a peaceful resolution?”
“There is always hope, my
, no matter how small. But hope doesn’t win wars. Preparation does.”
They rode in silence, wrapped in the comfort of each other’s presence, in the knowledge that whatever the future brought, they would meet it together. The empty countryside flashed by the darkened windows, until the SUV slowed and made a turn seemingly out into the wilderness itself.
“Where the hell are we going?”
muttered, as dirt kicked up by the SUV’s big tires billowed around the windows in pale clouds. “I’m telling you right now that if this involves sitting on a log and watching a fire burn, I’m waiting in the truck.”
Raphael kissed her temple. “No campfires. We’re nearly there. Look ahead.”
sat up enough that she could see out the front window, and he nearly laughed at the look at her face.
“What the fuck?” she demanded. “A log might be better than that … shack.” She studied it more closely. “Oh my God, is that an outhouse?”
“I don’t think it’s functioning,” he teased. “This, my
, is the homestead, the original domicile on this parcel of land, and the one that permitted Lucas to claim the entire acreage as his own.”
“The homestead,” she repeated flatly. “
next, bonnets and long dresses?”
Raphael grinned. “No bonnets for you. And no long dresses either, not the kind you mean anyway. I like your legs too much.”
“Aw, you say the sweetest things. But really, when you say homestead, you mean like from the Homestead Act?
Because it certainly looks ancient enough.”
Raphael nodded. “It is. That shack, as you call it, was considered an improvement at the time.”
In fact, Raphael mused thoughtfully, once upon a time, the house had been the only structure for miles around, and what now served only as camouflage had been the sole truth of it—an old, poorly built house suitable for tear down and nothing else. But Lucas had long ago upgraded the structure, so that while it still looked old and rundown, it was anything but.
“It has been improved since then, however,” he assured her somewhat absently. “Jared,” he said, turning his attention to his lieutenant who sat in the passenger seat up front. “When is Aden arriving?”
“I’m told he’s no more than a few miles behind us, my lord.”
Raphael frowned. “How many are with him?”
“Only his lieutenant,
That was the agreement, while Lucas has his two, and you have myself and
“Gee, thanks, Jared. If anything happens, I’ll just wring my hands and fret like I always do,”
Raphael raised a single eyebrow in Jared’s direction, but the vampire didn’t bother to respond to
remark, smart enough to know he couldn’t win that particular conversation.
glanced at Raphael. “I still think you should have brought more,” she said.
“Too much weird stuff going on.”
He nodded. “Perhaps, but I don’t anticipate any hostilities tonight.”
snorted dismissively. “Put too many vampires in one room, and there are always hostilities.”
Raphael smiled. “No violence, then. Aden is sworn to Lucas, and they are friends besides.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep my gun close anyway.”
“I wouldn’t dream of asking you to do otherwise,” he assured her, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.
is Lucas ready for us?” he asked.
“Yes, my lord.”
The SUV came to a stop, blowing more sandy brown clouds over the front of their vehicle, obscuring the windshield until Raphael could barely make out the house. Behind the wheel,
scowled and turned neatly, parking the truck head out and to one side of the small porch. They waited until the dust settled, then the two vampires disembarked from the front seat.
moved a little away from the house and stood staring out into the stygian depths of the desert, his eyes glowing in the faint light, while Jared circled around to Raphael’s side of the truck and opened the door.
Raphael stepped out,
, resting a hand low on her back as they walked toward the shabby-looking porch. The front door opened before they got there, splashing yellow light into the darkness, and making Jared swear as he turned his back before it could ruin his night vision. Sensing Lucas’s intent before the door ever opened, Raphael had lowered his eyes against the sudden light, and now lifted them in time to see Lucas coming toward him, his expression unusually grim.
“Sire,” Lucas said formally. Very few vampires knew of the blood tie between Raphael and Lucas. He only spoke of it now because the vampires present were the inner circle of their security, the warriors they trusted more than any other.
“I’m told the life of your mate was put in danger this afternoon. I apologize.”
believes your Kathryn was the target.”
“Does she?” He glanced back at the house with a scowl, though Kathryn was nowhere to be seen. “Kathryn was rather vague as to the details,” he said finally. “I’m beginning to think that was intentional.”
“Lucas,” Raphael said. “It’s dusty out here.”
“Is it?” Lucas asked, his usual grin returning.
huffed impatiently, and Lucas laughed as he started to reach for her hand. Raphael growled softly in warning, but
deftly avoided the grab and moved back, sliding her hand into the crook of Raphael’s arm instead.
“Lead the way,” she told Lucas, her voice pleasant enough, though her eyes were narrowed in irritation.
Lucas went to link his arm with Raphael’s other side, but stopped midway when Raphael swung his head around and gave him a challenging glare.
“Shit,” Lucas swore, going straight for the open door. “You guys are too fucking serious. I need a drink.”
“Alcohol doesn’t work on you,”
“It does if I drink enough of it, sweetheart. Come on in.”
gazed after him as he disappeared inside, then she looked up at Raphael. “He doesn’t seem to be taking
security business very seriously.”
“The only time Lucas is unmistakably serious is when he’s on the field of battle. But that doesn’t mean he’s not paying attention the rest of the time.”
She gave him a doubtful look. “I’ll take your word on that, since I’m assuming tonight’s not going to end in a battle.”
Raphael started to agree with her, but the distant hum of an approaching engine made him pause, even as
came to his side and said, “Inside, my lord, if you please.”
Raphael nodded and urged
toward the house’s open door. “There’s a vehicle coming,” he told her, assuming she hadn’t heard.
“Aden?” she asked.
who answered, saying, “Probably, but we shouldn’t take that chance. Not even with your gun at hand.”
It was an obvious reference to Jared’s earlier, and unintentional, slight of
skill, and she beamed at
. The two of them got along famously for some reason. Raphael couldn’t explain it, since
didn’t bother with very many people, but it comforted him to know that the big Japanese vampire and his brother would be there to protect
if the worst happened.
If his enemies succeeded, and Raphael was no longer there to do it himself.
* * * *
glanced back, trying to sneak a glance at the new arrival, but before she could see anything,
followed them inside and closed the door, taking up a position with his back against the wall. Jared had moved farther into the room and assumed a watchful stance near the fireplace where flames were already licking hungrily over fragrant logs.
It wasn’t long before even her human ears could pick up the noise of the approaching vehicle, but now that they were inside, no one seemed overly concerned. Raphael had abandoned her in favor of joining Lucas near the fireplace, where they were pouring drinks from a carafe of something that looked and smelled like whiskey.
She used the time to take a good look around the fucking
Obviously Raphael had been having a little fun at her expense, because the interior of the house was completely at odds with its outward appearance. It was on the small side, you couldn’t hide that, but what there was had been put to good use. The living room was spacious, probably close to half of the total footage, and beautifully decorated. The furniture—a big leather sofa and two matching chairs placed around a rustic coffee table with a natural rock base—was clearly intended to be used, and the fireplace had a gorgeous stone hearth. What looked like typical family pictures hung on one wall, and many of the knickknacks looked personal. This was different from what she’d typically encountered in her experience with vampires, most of
tended to avoid personal mementos. It wasn’t that they wanted to forget, it was just that it was difficult to maintain the bits and pieces of a life when it lasted hundreds of years. It didn’t surprise her that it would be Lucas who went against the trend. He seemed to relish the role of rebel.
turned as Kathryn made her way across the hardwood floor, boot heels tapping sharply. “I had to deal with a last minute phone call from the office. I’d hoped to manage a few days off the grid, but it’s not to be.”
assured her. “This is a really nice place.”
“It doesn’t look like much from the outside, though, does it?” Kathryn said, laughing. “The first time Lucas brought me here, all I could think of was whether or not it had indoor plumbing.”