Authors: D.B. Reynolds,
“I know, right?”
agreed. “That’s what I said to Raphael, too.”
“You want a drink? I’ve got food for you and me. They’d starve us if we didn’t take care of it ourselves.”
“I forget about food sometimes myself. I’d say it’s good for my figure, except I make up for it on the days when I
commented, following her to the small kitchen, which clearly doubled as a wet bar. “You have vodka?”
“We have everything.”
glanced over to the big couch where Raphael and Lucas were already deep in conversation. She could see the faint swirl of red in the amber depths of the drinks they were sipping, and knew they’d added blood. She felt the sharp bite of jealousy. Raphael wasn’t supposed to drink anyone’s blood, but hers.
asked, turning to look at Kathryn. “Oh. Yes, thanks.”
Kathryn handed over her drink and stepped in close. “We need to talk,” she said almost too softly for
glanced up and held her gaze for a moment, then cut a significant glance at the two vampire lords.
she mouthed silently, and Kathryn nodded her agreement.
Just then, a heavy car door punched the air out front, and she heard deep voices.
moved, positioning himself between the door and Raphael, while Jared took a step closer. Raphael didn’t seem to notice. He remained seated while Lucas stood to greet his new guest.
set her drink down and unsnapped the safety strap securing her
in place. Kathryn caught the movement, and her eyes widened, her gaze swinging immediately to Lucas who was walking over to open the door.
“I’m going with you,” she snapped, striding over to stand with her lover. Lucas only smiled and brushed the back of his hand down her cheek.
“There’s no cause for alarm, Katie mine. Aden is a friend.”
eye, then moved several feet to the right, giving herself a better angle on the door and taking all the friendlies out of her line of fire.
Lucas saw what she was doing and snorted a quick laugh. He shook his head and took a step forward, stopping right in front of
who was blocking the door.
“Honestly, big guy.
You know I would never endanger Raphael.”
stared him down for a long heartbeat, then nodded once and stepped away.
expected some smartass remark from Lucas, but apparently he’d been sincere in his assurances to
, so he only nodded his thanks. He opened the front door and walked outside, and the smell of dust and exhaust fumes wafted in. A moment later and Lucas was back, and he wasn’t alone. The newcomer, presumably Aden, was nearly as tall as Raphael, but bulkier, with thickly padded shoulders and arms beneath a leather coat. His black hair and olive complexion made her think his origins were probably Mediterranean. He stepped into the room behind Lucas and paused, his hooded gaze taking in the room and everyone in it before zeroing in on Raphael.
tensed when Raphael stood to meet him, but Raphael continued to look perfectly at ease, and she reminded herself that he was more than capable of defending himself—and everyone else, if it came down to it.
“My lord Raphael,” Lucas said formally, “This is Aden.”
by giving Raphael a slow, respectful bow from the waist. He straightened, then waited a beat, his eyes carefully assessing, before he crossed the room and stretched out his hand in greeting.
Raphael’s impassive expression didn’t change, but he shook Aden’s hand, and
was struck by the unusual tableau.
Two big, beautiful males, almost visibly radiating power, sizing each other up, but with no overtly hostile intent.
Raphael gestured, inviting Aden to sit, and he did so, taking one of the chairs. Lucas and Raphael took opposite ends of the sofa facing Aden, and, as if that was the signal everyone had been waiting for, the tension level in the house plummeted. Even
relaxed somewhat, resuming his former sentry position against the wall.
Waiting for her heartbeat to return to normal,
went back over to the small kitchen and drank a healthy slug of her vodka, feeling it burn all the way down. Kathryn joined her a moment later and pulled a beer out of the fridge.
“Guess I don’t need to worry about playing hostess, huh? No hors d’oeuvres for these guys,” she murmured to
as she twisted off the cap and took a drink.
laughed. “They heard that, you know,” she said, not even trying to speak softly. She’d learned long ago that it was nearly impossible to foil vampire hearing. “Why don’t you and I go outside? If it’s too cold, we’ll climb into one of the trucks and turn the heater on. And I’ll tell you all the secrets of
,” Kathryn repeated. “I like that. Let’s go.”
,” Raphael called before they’d gotten halfway to the door.
“We’ll be right outside,” she called sweetly.
He gave her stern look,
ruined it by giving in to the smile playing around his lips.
couldn’t help herself, she smiled back. He was such a beautiful male, and he was all hers.
“We’ll be careful,” she promised.
“You have your gun,
?” Lucas called cheerfully.
Kathryn rolled her eyes and said, “You know I do, sweet thing.”
He laughed. “Don’t stay too long.”
“We’ll be fine,”
assured them. “Besides, we’re in the middle of nowhere. Anyone tries to hit this
we’ll see him coming a mile away.”
* * * *
Raphael waited until the door had closed behind the two women, before returning his attention to the night’s business, which was Aden.
“I don’t mean to interfere, my lords,” Aden said, leaning forward urgently. “But additional caution
warranted. There are vampires out there who are plotting to do more than simply install a new Lord of the Midwest.”
Raphael eyed Aden for a long moment before answering. “What do you know of it?”
Aden glanced across at Lucas and said a single name.
Lucas shot him a look of disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”
“Lucas, you know me. I don’t kid about such things.”
“Fuck me. What’s that bitch up to?”
“Magda blames Kathryn for her disgrace,” Lucas’s lieutenant, Nicholas, interjected urgently as he circled the couch and took the other chair. “Maybe
right about Kathryn being the target this afternoon.”
“I thought you and Magda were close,” Raphael commented.
“We were,” Lucas agreed. “Unfortunately, during the conflict with Klemens, she put her ego ahead of the safety of this household, and I reassigned her.”
“When I spoke with her very recently,” Aden said, “she had a real hard-on for you, Lucas. A woman scorned, unless I miss my mark.”
Lucas rolled his eyes. “She was jealous of Kathryn.”
“Well, she’s got it in her head that she can replace you as Lord of the Plains.”
Raphael grunted softly in disagreement. “I’ve met Magda. She wouldn’t make it a day without challenge, and she wouldn’t survive
“No, she doesn’t have the juice,” Lucas agreed thoughtfully. “Doesn’t mean she’ll admit it, or that she won’t give it a try. Magda’s always had an inflated sense of self-worth. Is she acting alone?” he asked Aden.
“There were others with her, though none with real power. I wouldn’t hesitate to meet any of them in challenge, singly or, for that matter, altogether. And that includes Magda. You could leave this to me, my lords. I could eliminate all of them easily and count it as part of the competition.”
Raphael shook his head. “Kathryn may have been the target, but my
could have been killed. Whether they intended to or not, they’ve challenged
and I will not let it stand. In any event, I doubt they’ll wait until Chicago. They seem determined to eliminate one or both of us before then.”
Lucas asked. “Me, okay, I get it. Magda’s pissed and not thinking straight. She thinks if I’m dead, she’ll be able to hold my territory. But why would she risk challenging Raphael?”
“Because she’s stupid and vindictive,” Aden growled. “You never should have fucked her. I warned you she was trouble.”
“You think all women are trouble,” Lucas replied. “Besides, it’s been decades since I took her to bed. And you’re wrong, she’s not stupid. I kept her on precisely because she’s damn smart.”
“Smart’s even worse. She thinks she can outwit you. She may be right,” he muttered.
“Thanks for that, asshole.”
“Gentlemen,” Raphael said with forced patience. “Whoever is behind these attacks will be dealt with, whether it’s Magda or someone else. But we have other business to discuss tonight.”
“Of course, my lord,” Aden said.
“Lucas believes you can take and hold the Midwest, Aden. What do you think?”
“The territory is mine, my lord. The challenge is simply a formality. I know my competition, and I will prevail.”
“Assuming you’re correct, and the territory becomes yours, Klemens ran a corrupt empire,” Raphael said. “Most, if not all, of his income came from illegal sources, which forced him to do business with untrustworthy humans of criminal repute. That made him weak, and I cannot afford to have a weak lord ruling the Midwest.”
He watched Aden closely, waiting to see how the other vampire would react to the implied threat.
To see if Aden understood that he was being offered a place in an alliance—an alliance very much controlled by Raphael—and if he would agree to be a part of it.
Or if he was stupid enough to challenge Raphael,
meant he would die here tonight.
“You don’t know me, my lord,” Aden said solemnly. “You don’t know my history. But I’ll tell you this much. I don’t consort with criminals, or with anyone whose purpose in life is to take advantage of others.”
Raphael nodded. “I had heard as much, but I needed to hear
say it. And don’t worry about Magda. Lucas and I can handle her.”
“Piece of cake,” Lucas chimed in. “She hasn’t broken the bond between us for some reason.
Probably coasting on my protection for now.
But it means I can find her.”
“And she will lead us to the others before she dies. It will make your path smoother,” Raphael told Aden. “There will be no need for you to expend your energy on what my
would call low-hanging fruit.”
“An apt description, my lord.
I would be happy to assist in Magda’s demise, however. I always enjoy a good hunt, and vampires are much wilier prey than humans.”
“The hunt is mine,” Lucas said. “Or ours,” he amended, catching Raphael’s chilling glance. “Now, I say we enjoy this very fine Irish—”
All three vampires were suddenly on their feet and heading for the door as the sound of gunfire cut through the night.