Authors: D.B. Reynolds,
“There are times when I wish I smoked,”
said as she leaned against the fading warmth of the SUV’s front end.
“I know what you mean,” Kathryn agreed, zipping her jacket. “It looks so satisfying in the movies.
Smoke drifting in the cold air, dramatic pauses to suck in a new lungful of tar and nicotine.”
“Until the stuff kills them, anyway.
They don’t show that in the movies.”
“There is that. I wonder if vamps can smoke. You know any who do?”
thought about it. “I may have met one or two. But Raphael’s people are fairly fanatic about security, and so they tend to be health nuts, working out all the time, and forcing me to work out with them. Kidding,” she added, when Kathryn gave her a sideways look.
“About the forcing, not the working out part.”
“I haven’t met that many of Lucas’s vampires yet,” Kathryn said. “I’ve seen them in battle, though, and they’re certainly serious about that. Maybe they’re health nuts, too. I’d meet more of his people if I traveled with him. He’d like me to, but the FBI prefers that its agents show up for work most days.” She smiled to show it was her turn to be joking, but
sensed there was more to it than that.
commented. “The vampire lords’ life style … it’s all-consuming.”
“And Lucas is used to getting what he wants.”
“They all are. I’ve made it my personal mission to make sure Raphael doesn’t always get his way.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
chuckled. “Not so well, but
fun trying. And it drives him nuts, so the effort is well worth it.” She smiled, thinking about Raphael’s usual reaction to what he considered her stubbornness.
“Good times,” Kathryn agreed, and they both snickered.
“You know, the air’s really fresh out here,”
“Yeah, it is.
“What do you say we sit in the truck instead?”
“Fuck, yeah. Who needs fresh air? I’m freezing.”
laughed and opened the driver’s side door, sliding behind the wheel. She snagged the extra keys from their hiding place and turned on the engine, then made sure the heater was set to human warmth.
Kathryn turned as she settled into the passenger seat. “So … this Mates Club … There are other women like you and me?”
smiled. “I prefer to think of myself as one of a kind, but if you mean mated to vampire lords, then, yes, we are not alone. And we’re not all women, either. The vampire lord up in Canada is female. Her name is Sophia, and yes, she’s still called a vampire
Anyway, her mate is a former Navy SEAL and all around badass named Colin Murphy. We went through some really heavy shit together a few months ago, and survived. He’s a friend.”
“And the rest?”
“There’s Sara, whose story is
to tell, not mine. She’s a survivor, though, and also a friend. I’m actually the one who introduced her to
—he’s Lord of the Northeast. They did the traditional marriage thing not long ago, big wedding, the whole bit.
“You and Raphael aren’t married?”
She shook her head. “We’re mated, which is the vamp way, and enough for us. I don’t know how much Lucas has told you, but it involves—surprise, surprise—an exchange of blood.”
Kathryn shook her head. “Lucas has hinted around about the mating ritual and what it would mean for us, but I can tell he doesn’t want to push too hard, too soon. It sounds a lot like being married.”
“It is, I guess. There are definitely advantages, though. The blood link means Raphael can find me anywhere in the world, pretty much. And the longer we’re together, the stronger the link. That’s why I had to race back to the house this afternoon. Our link is strong enough that he can follow me even in daytime, especially if something traumatic or emotional happens.” She
a laugh. “Like if somebody was shooting at us. I wanted to be there as soon as he woke up, so he could see I was fine. If I do get hurt, though, the blood link lets me heal a lot faster than normal.” She turned to stare out the windshield, thinking about Washington and how close she’d come to dying. “That shit I told you Colin and I went through together? I would have died if it hadn’t been for Raphael and the blood we share.”
grew silent, remembering, and realized how very quiet it was out here. No distant hum of traffic, no planes, no drift of music, no people. There were only her and Kathryn, and two vampires—Lucas’s second bodyguard, a big vampire named Mason, and
, who’d come with Aden. The two of them seemed to have reached agreement on how to guard the shack,
as long as the honchos were convening inside. Mason was currently standing guard at the opposite corner of the house from where
and Kathryn sat in one of the trucks, while
had disappeared around back a few minutes ago.
“Any other law enforcement in the club?”
Kathryn asked, breaking the silence.
shook her head. “The closest is Emma, but she’s a lawyer, and a political one at that. She’s mated to Duncan in D.C. She—”
stopped talking to stare straight ahead.
Kathryn followed her gaze. “What is it?”
didn’t say anything, just opened the truck door and stepped outside, listening hard. “Mason,” she called softly, “do you hear anything?”
He stared at her unblinking, then his head swiveled and his attention focused on the unpaved road leading to the house. His whole body seemed to lean forward intently, and then
stopped watching him because her own senses were telling her that she’d been right all along. A truck was speeding toward the house, and with no lights. It was the dust cloud she’d seen first, caught in a chance flicker of moonlight at just the right angle to be visible for a few seconds. But she could hear the transmission whining with effort now, as the unknown driver pushed it past its limits, either unable or unwilling to shift gears. Another glint of moonlight, this one off metal, and then
was pulling her gun and thanking the instinct that had warned her to load her so-called vampire killer rounds tonight. She didn’t know who was driving that truck, but the special ammo would work as well on a truck as a vampire.
“Kathryn!” she called, as the truck came into view, no more than sixty yards away and closing the distance fast. She felt more than saw Kathryn pull her weapon, felt her take up a shooter’s stance. The truck roared into the cleared area in front of the house. It was a big pickup, its diesel engine rumbling like a freight train. She could make out one person in the cab, the driver, his hands gripping the steering wheel and his unwavering gaze focused straight ahead. There was no hesitation, no lessening of speed as he drew closer, no indication that he doubted what he was about to do.
The sound of a sub-machine gun on full auto thundered in from Mason’s position, and then
and Kathryn were both firing, not knowing what the driver had in mind, only that they had to stop him.
lifted her aim from the truck’s engine compartment and trained it on the driver instead. She saw the windshield crack, saw the driver slump over the wheel as if his strings had been cut. Saw someone big in the corner of her eye, and then a pair of strong arms was grabbing her, and before she knew it, she was inside the house and the door was being slammed with only seconds to spare before an ear shattering explosion rocked the homestead on its ancient foundation.
Raphael stroked her face softly. She wasn’t hurt. He’d know if she’d sustained any physical injury. It was most likely the concussive shock of the explosion, which had rocked Lucas’s fortified house like a child’s toy and stolen her consciousness briefly.
Her eyes opened, green and a little confused.
He watched puzzlement turn to wide-eyed alarm before her gaze cleared and she reached up to touch his cheek.
“Is everyone okay?” she asked. “Mason was outside, and
, and … the house?” She looked around, struggling to sit up.
“Everyone is well,
,” he said as he helped her sit up. “I told you, Lucas’s shack is far more than it seems. He often spends the daylight hours here and has no desire to be interrupted or attacked while he sleeps.”
“It must be a fortress,” she said softly. “Impressive. So what the hell happened?”
“Obviously, the truck was filled with explosives.”
“Will you help me up?”
Raphael stood easily,
held out his hand.
grabbed it, and he pulled her to her feet and into his embrace, whispering against her ear.
“One too many times, my
This has to end.”
She pulled back to frown at him. “The only way to end this is to figure out who’s behind it, and take them out. You big bad bloodsuckers have any ideas on that?”
“One or two.
Lucas?” he said, glancing over his shoulder.
“Replacement vehicles are on the way, Sire. We should remain inside—”
snapped. “We need to recover whatever we can of that damn truck. The driver’s dead, but if we can figure out where the vehicle came from, we can—”
“How do you know the driver’s dead?” a deep voice said from behind her.
one hand on her
before it registered that Raphael never would have permitted a threat to come up behind her. She left her hand there anyway, and Raphael knew it was because it was Aden who’d spoken and she didn’t know him. The knowledge that Raphael and Lucas considered him an erstwhile ally would count in his favor, but even that wouldn’t be enough to make her trust a vampire she didn’t know.
“Because I killed him,” she said flatly, answering Aden’s question. “And if my bullets didn’t do it, then that explosion surely did. Raphael, I need to get out there before any more evidence is destroyed.”
“My lord,” Aden said, addressing Raphael. “I’m not certain the females should be involved in this.” He lowered his gaze to regard
coolly. “I’ve spoken to Mason, and it was the two women who drew first, possibly in something of a panic upon realizing their own danger. I also find it curious that Ms. Leighton somehow knew the truck was coming before either of the vampires on guard. Perhaps we should check it ourselves first, rather than permit her—”
He didn’t get any further than that.
went ballistic. She pulled her weapon, her movement faster than a human should have been capable of. But Raphael was faster yet. He grabbed her from behind, wrapping her in his arms and holding her hand in place before the gun cleared her holster.
,” he whispered against her ear.
But there was nothing gentle about the rage burning in his chest, making his blood seem to boil in his veins. He was furious at the insult to
, to her honor, and his blood link with her only made it worse. His fury leaked through to
, combined with her own rage, and then pulsed back at him the same way, creating a closed circuit of his anger, stoking it higher and higher until it was a living, breathing thing. Until every other vampire in the room froze, wondering if they would survive the next few minutes.
“Jared, clear the room,” Raphael ordered.
“My lord,” Jared murmured, and hustled over to the front door where Nicholas was already inputting a code on the keypad, releasing the security shutters. The steel plates retracted with a heavy grinding noise that made him suspect at least one of them had been damaged in the explosion. But no one commented on it. They simply waited in silence until Jared was able to pull the door open, and then one by one the lesser vampires vacated the room.
Jared was the last to go, meeting Raphael’s eyes with a nod, before pulling the door closed behind him, leaving only Aden, Raphael and Lucas, along with Kathryn—who’d refused to leave—and
. Raphael hadn’t moved an inch while he waited. His arms still encircled
, holding her tightly, preventing her from taking any action, still worried about what her anger might drive her to do. Or perhaps it was his own anger that worried him and
both, because she freed a hand enough to rest it on his where it gripped her upper arm, and he felt a rush of warmth through their shared link.
There was no warmth when he spoke to Aden, however.
“I am hundreds of years older than you are,” he said in a voice that frosted the air around them. “I come from a time when women were chattel to be traded away for economic or social gain. But even I am not so backward that I continue to discount the integrity of women, not to mention their courage and intelligence. Lucas has told me you have issues with females. That is
foolish prejudice. But when you let that prejudice interfere with serious affairs, with matters of life and
is ignorance and stupidity. My mate is worth a thousand of you. If she were a vampire, you would be calling her Lord of the South. Remember that before you think to insult her again, or the next time I’ll let her go ahead and kill you.”
Aden’s eyes had come alive as he listened to Raphael, as his avid gaze shifted to stare at
. “So, the rumors are true,” he said softly. “It was you who killed
froze, her heart pounding against Raphael’s arm where he still held her fast. She tightened her grip on his hand, and he knew what she was asking. She wanted to claim her kill. She was justifiably proud of having gotten rid of the depraved and murderous
, but Raphael had repeatedly told her to keep it quiet, that it was dangerous for anyone to know. And that was still true. But if Aden thought to join Raphael’s Council—and it was
Council, no matter its official designation anymore—then Aden needed to know with whom he was dealing. And he needed to know that he
with Raphael’s mate.
Raphael’s arms around
gentled slightly. “It is true,” he said finally, making certain that
could hear the pride in his voice, something he’d never let her hear before, though he’d always felt it. He’d been so damn proud that she’d not only triumphed over
designs against her, but that she’d made him pay the ultimate price. Raphael only wished he could have been there, could have seen the shock in
eyes at the realization he’d been bested not simply by a human, but by a woman.
Aden bowed his head slightly, a sign of both acknowledgment and respect. “I meant no offense, my lord.”
“Of course you did,” Raphael scoffed. “But your offense was against Cynthia, not me. And make no
you won’t be given a chance to do it again.”
Aden dipped his head a second time. “My apologies, Ms. Leighton,” he said politely enough, but he continued to stare at
, studying her curiously. Raphael frowned and exerted a tiny bit of his will, compelling the other vampire’s sight upward, away from
, until it collided with Raphael’s own cold gaze. He held it there just long enough to make his point, long enough that Aden was forced to acknowledge Raphael’s unbreakable control.
Raphael released him. “Do you still believe this is Magda’s doing?” he asked casually, as if they hadn’t just clashed in a test of wills.
“I do, my lord,” Aden responded, demonstrating his willingness to accept Raphael’s lead and move on to urgent matters. “Lucas knows her better, but this latest attack—all of the attacks thus far—are consistent with what I know of her. She prefers to act from the shadows, sending others to do her work.”
“I bet that driver was human,”
commented, proving that while she was still angry, she was more interested in pursuing the source of the attacks than in killing Aden.
For now, anyway.
Raphael gave her a final hug and then released her.
“Why do you say that?” Aden asked, and Raphael could hear nothing but sincere curiosity in his voice.
apparently had some lingering doubt about that sincerity, because she waited a moment before answering.
“Observation,” she said finally. “He had the headlights on at the end—when he was really speeding up—and you guys never need them. For another, he was scared to death, gripping that steering wheel for dear life and staring straight ahead, as if he was under a compulsion, unable to break away even if he’d wanted to. And, frankly, he died too easily. I’m certain it was the gunfire that killed him, not the explosion. And I don’t think a vamp would have died from even my special ammo at that distance.”
Aden asked curiously.
“147 grain Hydra-
informed him. “Small
going in, really big hole coming out. I call them my vamp killer rounds,” she added, and Raphael could hear the quiet warning in her voice, before she added, “But you guys are tough. At that distance and with the truck moving so fast … I don’t think it would have killed a vampire.”
Perhaps,” Aden allowed.
“I’ll tell you what, if the sun comes up and there’s no bloody bits lying about?
If there’s nothing but ash?”
said with a shrug. “Then we’ll know for sure.” She turned to Raphael. “In the meantime, I know time is short until sunrise, but Kathryn and I—” She glanced over and caught Kathryn’s nod of agreement. “—need to check out the scene before we leave. The driver’s body—what’s left of it—will attract animals, and they could drag away evidence. It’d be ideal to store the body somewhere, but I’m not eager to tote it around, and I doubt Lucas wants to store it in here.”
Lucas made a noise of disgust that made his position clear.
“I’d like to do as much as we can before Kathryn has to get back to the city,”
continued. “And then I can come back by daylight and do a more thorough search.”
Raphael didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t happy about her coming out here without him, and he didn’t try to hide it.
“I’ll be careful,” she promised, clearly understanding the source of his concern. “And I’ll have Robbie with me. You know his instincts are even better than mine when it comes to sensing danger. And it’s not like anyone can sneak up on us out here in the middle of nowhere.”
He studied her a few minutes longer,
nodded reluctantly. She smiled, rising up on her toes to kiss him lightly. “Don’t worry,” she whispered directly into his ear. “I’ll tuck you into bed first.”
If they’d been alone, she’d have been naked and on her back already. But since they weren’t, he satisfied himself with a warning glare, which only made her laugh. Clearly, she was in terror of his retribution.
“One thing puzzles me,”
said, stepping back to include Lucas and Kathryn in the conversation. “You said Magda worked closely with you, Lucas. So why would she aim a bomb at what she knew was a fortified building?”
“She didn’t know,” Lucas said simply. “Most of my vamps have never been out here, and of the ones who have, only Mason and Nick are aware of the extra security measures. There’s an underground bunkhouse out back where my guards sleep, so there’s no need for them to come in the house. And Magda never liked the place. Said it was too primitive. She hasn’t been out here since we put the furnishings in, which was well before we added the enhanced security.”