Saturday, 17 December 2011

Hearts of Warriors Ch 11 teaser

Okay, here is the teaser for chapter 11. I will try and get the full chapter submitted up to Lit before Christmas. Hope you all enjoy :) Oh and it's not edited so apologies for any mistakes etc :)
Chapter Eleven

Demetri turned from watching the blood gush from his friend’s torn throat. Ordinarily the wound would have been healing by now but the poison lacing Pietro’s body kept the wound raw, allowing the tainted blood to flow unhindered.

Grabbing one of the empty bottles beside the bed, he used his vampiric speed to clean it out in the bathroom sink while Joshua was still outside with the humans. He returned to the bedroom, his gut wrenching painfully as he collected a sample of Pietro’s blood and ensured it was left somewhere safe for retrieval later.

He pulled out his cell phone and hit the first speed dial number. “Stay with me,” he whispered as the call was answered. He wasn’t sure if he was talking to the man on the bed or the person on the other end of the call. All he was sure of was the coldness seeping into his bones as his humanity slowly ebbed away.

“Please carry on without me. This is an emergency call.”

Mara’s sweet voice echoed in his ear as she excused herself from most probably a Council meeting. He listened as her footsteps echoed over the marble floor he could picture as if he were there. The small amount of steps she took told him she’d entered one of the quiet rooms just off the main Council chambers, a place she could speak in complete privacy.

“Talk to me, baby. Tell me what’s wrong.”

A long tortured sound escaped him. “Pietro’s dying. His body is ravaged with poison. His only hope is for me to bleed him out and try and replenish him with untainted blood. I have to use humans and I’m afraid I won’t be able to retain enough reason not to kill them to save him. I need you.”

His wife’s pained gasped sounded in his ear. He was too far away to sense much from their mate bond but he knew she was hurting. She adored Pietro, loved his quirky sense of humour. His death would be a blow to her if he couldn’t save him.

“You listen to me, Demetri Bozic. I don’t want to hear any of that defeatist crap from you. You damned well can maintain control and you will. I’ll be right here with you every step of the way. Do whatever it takes to save Pietro.”

She had her Council voice on, that no nonsense tone she adopted when she was serious about something. It cut through the blackness surrounding him and brought a faint smile to his lips. His woman was something else and she was all his. Her confidence in him helped to clear his head and he gave himself a mental shake.

“Well, you know how I hate to disappoint a lady,” he sighed. “Guess I’ll have to do as I’m ordered.”

“I should be recording this call. Demetri Bozic actually doing something he’s told for once.” Mara’s teasing tone was full of love, so much warmth that reached out to wrap itself around her husband. “I know you doubt yourself sometimes but I have faith in you, baby. I’ll always have faith in you. You can do this. Just let me know what I can do to help.”

Straightening his shoulders he turned back to the bed, saw the flow of blood trickling slowly now. Pietro’s eyes were closed, what was left of his skin that hadn’t rotted, so pale it was almost translucent.

“I’m going to hand the phone off to Joshua in a minute. If he judges the need he’ll place it to my ear. Just talk to me when he does that, ground me and remind me what I’ll lose if I surrender to the darkness.”

“Always, Demetri,” Mara whispered softly maintaining the warmth and love in her tone so he knew he wasn’t alone. She was frightened for Pietro and terrified for her husband. He was so far away with none of his safety lines available to touch him, to hold him close when the monster came calling. A phone link was the best they could do. It had to be enough.

Demetri strode out of the bedroom walking straight into Joshua and the five humans. He reached out instantly with his mind, ensnaring the humans and using his abilities to place them in a light trance. It was the first time he’d attempted to do this in a group environment and he was surprised at how easy it was.

He handed the phone to Joshua. “My wife is on the other end,” he informed him. “If the humans’ lives are in danger tell her I need her and then put the phone to my ear. Don’t speak directly to me; don’t attempt to interfere in anything I’m doing. Just hold the phone out to me.”

He waited for the other vampire to signal his understanding and then ushered them all into the room. He scrutinized the humans carefully, trying to view them as people and not food. There were three males and two females, all healthy looking with pink cheeks and tantalising blood flowing just beneath their skin.

He separated the strongest looking male from the group and led him over to the bed.

“This won’t hurt,” he said in a deep soothing voice watching the man shiver as his compulsion washed over him. He turned his gaze to Pietro, barely able to see the rise and fall of his chest. He was too weak to feed so Demetri would have to orchestrate everything for the moment.

He gently opened the vampire’s mouth forcing his mind to be calm as a piece of rotten flesh from his friend’s chin came away in his hand.

“Lean over,” he coaxed the human, his talons elongating as he helped the man line up his throat with Pietro’s mouth. “You’re with a pretty woman, my friend, walking along a beach holding her hand. The sun is glinting in her hair, laughter dancing in her eyes as she’s looking up at you…”

His talon sliced the human’s throat even as the man’s eyes glowed with happiness imagining himself in the environment Demetri had conceived. Hot, fresh blood pumped out splashing into Pietro’s mouth and beginning to leak out of the corners.

“Swallow, Pietro. I know you’re tired. I can feel your pain. But you have to feed so swallow. You said you would do this. You know why you cannot fail. Take what is offered to you.”

Pietro heard a voice from far away. It pulled him away from the edge of darkness he was rushing towards. He didn’t want to go back, knew he would feel the burning agony if he did but the voice speaking to him was insistent, refusing to be denied.

It could only be Demetri. The man was arrogant and stubborn and refused to fail at anything. He’d often wondered if Alexei and Andrei had gotten their own stubbornness from hanging around the Ancient so long or if they were all just such similar personalities they’d naturally banded together.

He swallowed, his throat raw and painful, the hot blood oozing into his body seeking to replenish what was lost. Everywhere ached, there wasn’t one piece of his body which didn’t burn with an agony so unbearable he was ready to give up and return to the waiting darkness.

More blood choked him and he swallowed again, cursing Demetri for tormenting him, hating him for being so demanding. If he was ready to give up then why wouldn’t Demetri? He’d done his job. He’d alerted the others to the danger. Wasn’t he entitled to rest now?

“Lady, your husband needs you,” Joshua breathed softly into the phone before he held it out to Demetri’s ear. He didn’t touch him, tried not to even breathe close to the other vampire.

He had crossed over almost instantly once he’d shed the first human’s blood. Demetri’s eyes were black, his fangs out, and his talons wicked and sharp as they clutched the dying human tightly.

The man had lost a lot of blood, his expression still pleasant though the healthy pallor of his skin was gone. Another few minutes and he’d be past the point of return. They would have to consider Siring him if Demetri didn’t stop.

“Do you remember the first time we met, baby?” Mara asked with a small sigh. “You scared the life out of me in my kitchen. I tried not to show it but I was terrified at the time. Still didn’t stop me admiring you though. You looked so gorgeous, so impossibly beautiful I had to acknowledge it even when I was sure you were going to kill me. I’ve never told you this before. I didn’t want to feed your male ego.”

Demetri laughed, first silently in his mind and then a soft sound into the room. “I was admiring your ass,” he answered as he drifted back to that night, closing his eyes to savour the memory. “You were wiggling it in time to your music and I was thinking of what it would feel like in my hands. I’ve always loved your ass, wife.”

He opened his eyes slowly as she laughed and called him a rude name. The room came into focus and he looked down at the human bleeding out into Pietro’s mouth.

“Thanks, beautiful,” he whispered and then pressed his hand against the man’s neck. He felt Joshua step away as he bent his head and quickly sealed the wound on the human’s throat. The man was weak and could barely stand but he was alive.

Demetri led him over to the wall and helped him sit down. “Sleep now, my friend. We are thankful for your generosity.”

The humans hadn’t come willingly to the party but they deserved some respect for what they were unwittingly doing to save Pietro’s life. He nodded his thanks to Joshua and selected the next healthy male.

Again he planted a scene of beauty into the man’s mind before he made the incision to begin pumping fresh blood into his friend’s mouth. This time Demetri was able to retain enough of himself to watch the transfer, his keen gaze raking over Pietro’s body.

The wound in his neck, being the most recent one, was closing. A small amount of blood was leaking out but most was being retained. He thought he detected some of the shallower cuts beginning to heal too but it was hard to tell at this stage with so much damage still visible.

By the time the third male had donated his blood Demetri was relatively confident he could hold onto his control. Pietro was stronger, healing slowly as the untainted blood bolstered his system. His working eye was open and the pain didn’t appear as severe as before.

“Can you feed?” he asked his friend.

Pietro tested his fangs and they elongated painfully but they worked which was more than he could manage earlier. “Think so…” he managed to wheeze out.

“Joshua, bring one of the females. Help him feed. If it’s too difficult for him call me. I need a moment.”

Demetri took the phone and headed out of the room. He stepped outside into the night, leaning against the side of the cottage. “God, I love you, Mara,” he sighed wearily. “I wish you were here right now. I need to bury myself in your scent, to feel your softness against my body, to remind me that I’m not a monster.”

“The humans are alive, Demetri. You haven’t hurt them. So they’ll be a little tired for a while and need some extra iron. The situation isn’t ideal but it was necessary. That you care about what you’ve had to do is a sure sign that you’re not a monster.”

Mara paused to let her words sink in, soothing her mate as her heart broke for the anguish she could hear in his voice. Most people would miss it but she was so attuned to his emotions she could hear it clearly.

“Is it working? Is Pietro going to be all right?”

Demetri rubbed a hand over his face taking a deep breath before answering. “He’s stronger; there is some evidence of healing, the most recent cut and the shallower ones. I don’t know about the deeper wounds though. I guess we’ll find out when I feed him my Ancient blood. I think there will be some scarring and I don’t know about his eye. There’s also his mental state to consider. He’s been in a world of agony for days, Mara. It could make him cross over.”

That was his major concern at the moment, that they could heal most of the physical damage only to lose Pietro to insanity.

“He’s strong, baby, mentally strong as well as physically. He won’t give up easily. He loves life too much and he’s always been that little bit more human than most of you. If anyone can get through this Pietro can. Have a little faith.”

He groaned and smiled, staring into the darkness. “Have I told you lately that I love you?”

Mara laughed loudly. “About five minutes ago but please feel free to tell me as often as you want. I love you too, Demetri. Now how about you get off this phone and get Pietro well enough to come home? Our bed is lonely without you in it. I want my husband back as soon as possible.”

The sultry drop in her tone was enough to have him groaning again but not for the same reason as the last one. “Keep our bed warm, beautiful. I’ll be home soon and then I’m going to keep you captive there for at least a week. So if you have any Council meetings planned…cancel them!”

“Yes, dear!” she laughed pouring false meekness into her tone to have him laughing too.

Demetri ended the call and headed back inside, feeling so much better after talking to his wife. She always knew the right tone, the correct line to take to ease his worries and bolster his resolve. If she thought he was joking about cancelling her meetings she was in for a rude shock and he was looking forward to getting home and showing her just how serious he was.

When he walked back into the bedroom Joshua was just resting the last woman beside her friends and urging her to sleep. The signs of healing on Pietro’s body were most noticeable, his breathing a lot stronger. Demetri breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the right eye beginning to regenerate.

“How’s the pain?”

“Manageable,” Pietro answered his voice still very weak. “I don’t want to try moving in case I misalign any broken bones. My shoulder?”

“I set it for you before the last feeding,” Joshua answered coming to stand beside Demetri. “The untainted blood appears to be working but it’s limited. You need vampire blood now to really kick start the regeneration process. I have to warn you the healing process is long and you will be susceptible to slow healing from new wounds for a while. The previous case of this, the vampire took a month to fully recover and he was in no way as bad as you.”

“A month!” Pietro ground out, shocked at the thought he’d be weak for so long. A month was an eternity for a vampire to be injured.

“What’s a month compared to death?” Demetri snorted rolling his eyes. He couldn’t fully hide his relief that they’d pulled his friend back from the brink of death. He wasn’t usually so lax in front of strangers but Joshua had proved himself today.

“I said a month for our vamp. It’s likely to be longer for you, Pietro,” the blond was saying with a frown on his face. In all honesty he was guessing at how long it would take the vampire to recover, if he ever fully recovered from his injuries.

“Why didn’t we know about this first instance?” Demetri couldn’t help slipping into his Ancient role. If vampire poisoning had happened before the Council should have been advised at the time.

Joshua picked up instantly on what he meant. It was hard not to smile at the arrogance of the Ancient. “You forget we don’t follow your Council over here, Demetri. They may think we do but we’re not responsible for their misapprehension. When was the last time any of your Council crossed the ocean? I don’t think I can recall an instance in my living memory.”

Demetri couldn’t recall one either. Maybe Joshua actually had a point. How could you lead people when you couldn’t even be bothered to visit them once in a while? It would be something to discuss with the other Ancients when he returned home.

“Anyway,” Joshua continued. “We had no idea what was wrong with our vamp. He was newly Sired. Our coven leader assumed it was a reaction to the Siring and we had no reason to think otherwise. If I’d known I would have called Caleb.”

Pietro was still unhappy, barely listening to the conversation going on over his head. His mind was clearer now. He was able to compartmentalise the pain and push it back until it wasn’t all he could think about. He couldn’t be out of action for a month, possibly longer. The woman was out there somewhere. She was hunting the children he had no doubt about that. He had to be back on his feet so he could track her down and neutralise the threat.

“Stop fidgeting or your bones won’t heal properly,” Demetri growled, irritation dancing across his face. “I know what you’re thinking and you can just stop it now. I’ll need to check with Rafe but probably the best place for you to recuperate will be with the pack.”

He motioned Joshua to begin feeding Pietro. At least with his fangs sunk in the other man’s wrist his friend wouldn’t be able to argue with him.

“The pack has its various protections in place and the children are there so you’ll be protecting them while you heal. That should soothe your wounded pride. You know the twins are going to insist on it once they find out what’s happened.”

Pietro wanted to argue but the rich blood flowing through his body was too intoxicating. Joshua was old enough to have quite potent blood and he could feel his healing beginning to pick up a pace. Strength was flowing into his body and he thought he could detect a little bit of light from his right eye.

Too soon the vampire was moving away from him and he fought to contain his disappointment. He listened as Demetri and Joshua discussed plans for the humans and then he closed his eyes as they picked them up and took them outside.

A few minutes later Demetri returned and sat down on the side of the bed. “Joshua is taking care of the humans. It will take him a while so it’s just you and me. Are you strong enough to take more blood? I was thinking afterwards we could get you cleaned up and moved to one of the other rooms. Joshua will bring clothes back for you.”

Pietro opened his eyes to look up at him a soft smile curving his lips. “I think this is going to be the one and only time I thank you for being a stubborn bastard, Demetri.” He made it sound like a joke but underneath the teasing his true emotions bled through.

In answer his friend brushed his hair away from his shoulder and raised Pietro’s head up enough to reach his neck. “Shut the fuck up and feed,” he growled.

Stunned Pietro could only stare at the thick vein pulsing with what had to be some of the richest, most powerful blood in the world. That Demetri offered the vein in his neck was an honour unparalleled.  A vampire would only offer such trust to a family member or their lover. Demetri was baring his neck to him, trusting him implicitly.

“I can never repay you,” Pietro whispered tears gathering in his eyes as he sank his fangs into the rich vein and felt the power of an Ancient overwhelm him.

Demetri cradled Pietro’s head gently, blinking the moisture out of his eyes as he gave his essence to help his friend heal. He stroked his fingers through the matted hair as he felt the warmth of Pietro’s tears against his skin, soothing him with a gentleness he normally reserved for the two women in his life, Mara and Annie.

“You already have, Pietro. You fought and you survived. You stopped me from having to learn if I’m more monster than man. You laid your life on the line to protect those I love. This little thing I do now is small in comparison. You owe me no debt.”

He kept stroking his hair, kept soothing him as Pietro wept through his feeding reliving the horror he’d just been through, a horror which would probably haunt him for the rest of his life. Demetri couldn’t take the horror away but he could offer basic comfort until maybe Annie or one of the pack healers could work to help repair the mental damage to his friend’s soul.

Pietro fell asleep after his feeding. Demetri was loath to leave him in the filthy bed but he needed his hands free for the moment. He left the blood-soaked room with the sickening stench of rot still in his nostrils. In the main bathroom he turned on the shower careful not to have it too hot. He filled the bath too.

He quickly examined the cottage trying to find any hint of the poison used but coming up empty. The room downstairs where Pietro had obviously been imprisoned was just as bad scent wise as the bedroom, the bloodstained chains having his fury building again and he had to work to stifle it down.

Heading back to the bedroom after a desultory glance at the dead vampire in the basement, he was already mentally working out how to clean up the mess. He considered calling Caleb but figured Mara would take care of that. The entire cottage would need sanitised once they left and there was still the unknown woman out there somewhere and Michael.

The pungent aroma of the bedroom assaulted his nostrils once more and he stifled down a groan and quickly crossed to the bed. The change in Pietro was staggering. His skin was no longer black though still covered in angry red scars. It was pink and so fragile looking Demetri was afraid to touch him for fear of hurting him.

“Wake, my friend,” he urged softly. “I can’t leave you lying in this shit any longer. It’s disgusting.”

Pietro’s eyes opened instantly and Demetri blinked in surprise as he stared down at him. “Well, that’s going to get the ladies attention,” he smiled, feeling the first real amusement since he’d arrived in Scotland.

“What?” Pietro’s voice was still weak but getting stronger the longer the untainted blood had to work.

“Your regenerated eye…it’s black like Mac’s.”

Pietro frowned, closed his eyes and then opened them again. His expression asked a silent question and his friend’s smile just deepened.

“You’re not shitting me?” Brown was his dominant eye colour though they were flecked with green to create the hazel hue. Or they had been until he’d lost his right one. “My eyes are different colours? Fuck!”

Demetri reached down and very carefully helped his friend from the bed ignoring the blood and dead skin coating his clothes as he touched him. “It’s quite striking. I’m sure the ladies will love it,” he quipped distracting the other man from his pain.

He could have carried him to the bathroom easily but Pietro needed to feel as if he was in control. It had been taken away from him by his abductors and he wasn’t the kind of male who ceded control to others willingly. So he supported his friend into the bathroom teasing him about his new eye the entire way. 

“Shower first to get all this shit off and then a soak in the bath,” he told him opening the shower door.

He stayed close watching to see if Pietro was strong enough to shower unaided. When it became apparent he wasn’t, Demetri stripped off his shirt, boots and belt and entered the cubicle with him clad only in jeans.

Pietro let the water wash over him closing his eyes so he couldn’t see the debris falling from his body. The scent of it was vile enough and he was still in shock that his eye hadn’t retained its natural colour. The water hurt the new skin which was regenerating but at a much slower rate than normal. He was afraid to look in the mirror and see the evidence of his capture.

Would he be scarred? He’d overheard enough of Demetri’s conversation with Mara despite being weak at the time. The very thought of bearing a permanent reminder was enough to make him shudder. Vampires were vain. They couldn’t help it. Something happened when they were Sired, their genetics mutating and enhancing their physical attributes.

Pietro was used to being perfect and now he wasn’t. Already he had a flaw with his eyes. Would his skin be marred too? Would he carry more permanent reminders of his utter humiliation at the hands of his abductors?

Now safety was guaranteed, now he didn’t have to court death, his emotions were rebelling deep within him. He was used to being strong, invincible. Having to admit that his own arrogance had been his downfall was hard to take. Having to admit that he’d been taken, stripped naked, his body abused and tortured at the whim of others...he couldn’t accept it, couldn’t deal with the humiliation.

Something fell from his hair to land on the shower floor and he moaned pressing both hands against the wall as his knees weakened and he had to hold himself up so he didn’t fall down beside the red and black clotted *thing* lying in the drain.

“I’ll do it.”

Demetri’s quiet words reminded Pietro he wasn’t alone. While he was relieved to be able to lean on his friend and avoid what he couldn’t face at the moment, another part of him screamed in denial as Demetri began to shampoo his hair.

He was like a helpless baby. For the last two days he’d been fucking helpless, alternating between screaming in agony at the pain and crying like a child.

Helpless! The word banged through his skull, taunting him, laughing at him, adding to the awful humiliation he couldn’t shake. All the time Demetri’s strong fingers stroked through his matted hair, shampooing and rinsing over and over again as chunks of something unknown landed with a thud on the shower floor.

“It’s okay to cry, Pietro,” Demetri voice was low and gentle. “There is only you and me here and nothing will leave this room. I understand. You’ve been through a terrible ordeal and the pain has to come out. I will not think less of you, my friend. I would be honoured that you trust me enough to allow me to help you through this vulnerable moment.”

His words were like turning on a faucet. The instant Demetri spoke, Pietro’s head reared back and he uttered an anguished scream up to the ceiling. His knees buckled and he fell, strong arms catching him from behind to hold him tightly as he screamed again.

Every second of the pain had been like an hour, every cut, every punch, the talons imbedded in his eye. He couldn’t escape the painful memories and he couldn’t assuage the feelings of helplessness, reliving the moment when he was ready to give up and he’d prayed for death as the only end to his agony, the poison burning him like a furnace as the torture raged on.

The bastards had broken him, he who was so strong in his world, so powerful and feared by those beneath him. He was broken and he didn’t think he would ever be able to fix what they’d done to him.

A loud hiss in his ear, bands of steel squeezing his chest.

“You are NOT broken,” Demetri hissed his voice full of fury. It was those words that made him realise he’d been whispering the word ‘broken’ over and over again as he sobbed like a child.

“I wanted to die, Demetri!” he admitted hoarsely. “I prayed to die before you arrived and when you came, when my body was eating itself apart, I wanted to beg you to end it so I didn’t have to suffer anymore. I was willing to abandon everyone, the children, my friends.”

The self-loathing in Pietro’s voice cut Demetri to the quick. He knew what it cost his friend to admit that, how he would view himself as a coward for wanting his torture to end. He understood because he knew he would react the same way if their roles were reversed.

He didn’t know what to say to him. He was no Annie; he didn’t have the perfect response when someone’s soul was so shattered. He tried to think what she would say.

“You did not die, Pietro. You stayed strong until help arrived and you did not ask me for mercy. No sane person would have thought any differently in your situation. Most sane people would have given up and stopped fighting. Only a stubborn, crazy bastard like you would keep going. You like to piss people off.” It was possible Annie would have phrased it a bit more eloquently but he figured it was close enough.

“I don’t know how much of me is left,” Pietro choked out. “I don’t know if I will ever be the same man again, Demetri.”

“You’ve eternity to work out just who you are going to be from this moment onwards, my friend. Know you limitations. Don’t try and work it all out when you’re probably having your first ever shower with what has to be the sexiest male specimen to walk the planet. It’s too much sensory overload.”

Loud laughter burst through the room. It bordered on hysterical but it was better than the anguished sobs Pietro had been spilling for the last ten minutes. “You fucking suck as a counsellor.”

“That’s because you’re not my type. Now if it was Mara in my arms she wouldn’t have time to be worrying about whether she was broken or not,” Demetri laughed.

Pietro laughed again struggling back to his feet, standing a little straighter even though he still felt raw inside. His friend’s diversion tactics were helping and he latched onto it. “I’m done with the shower. Just don’t think you’re climbing into the bath with me.”

Keeping up his light tone, Demetri headed out of the cubicle. “Nah, I measured it. Won’t fit both of us...”

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Hearts of Warriors Ch 10 teaser

Ahhh, all those wonderful Lit comments made me smile so much. Not just because they were so supportive towards the chapter but also because the readers were so looking forward to Andrei and Mac meeting up in the next chapter. So this one is going to be a complete curveball for everyone, and yes, it does make me smile imagining the curses I'll most likely get for this.

On to Europe we go...



Pietro groaned, trying to force his eyes to open and shuddering when pain greeted his attempts. Something was very wrong. Something so frightening that he knew he needed to stay alive at least long enough to alert the Council and to warn Mac when he arrived, so that one of them could get the information out.

The damage to his body was severe. It was enough to tell him that the likelihood he would be the one escaping was pretty low. They’d done something to him that slowed, if not completely halted, his vampiric healing abilities. Each wound healed slower than the last time. Some of them were still weeping blood as he hung from the steel chains in the ceiling, his feet barely touching the cold stone floor.

He cast his mind back trying to work out how long they’d held him. He knew it was at least one day, possibly even two, since he’d sent Mac the information he’d asked for. It had been shortly after that Pietro had become aware of a feeling of lethargy seeping into his movements. It had been so subtle at first he hadn’t really noticed it.

Something about the way Michael and Bruce had been looking at him whilst trying not to look at him had sparked his suspicion that something wasn’t right. By that time it had been too late. He’d already drunk the contents of the bottled blood.

It had to have been contaminated with something. Whatever substance they had put in it that was capable of incapacitating a vampire, had already been creeping through his blood, making him sluggish and weak.

It should have been impossible. A vampire’s metabolism broke down all foreign substances instantly rendering them harmless. But those two had found something that even vampires couldn’t protect themselves from.

The thought of being brought low by the two other males made his blood boil. Even as he conceded they’d been intelligent enough to come up with the unknown substance, he knew deep down they were too stupid to do so on their own. They were followers, monkeys. Someone else was directing their actions, the true organ grinder Pietro had yet to meet.

He should never have underestimated them. It was a rookie mistake and something a Youngling would do. He’d been around too long to fall for anything so obvious and yet he had. His pride had been his downfall, his belief in his superiority over them. And they had played him hook, line and sinker. They’d counted on him underestimating them and he’d played right into their hands.

He deserved to be in his current predicament but Mac didn’t deserve to be pulled into the same trap. His captors wanted something from him which was the only reason he was still alive. He was too weak to defend himself. Killing him would be like taking candy from a baby.

Pietro had never felt so disgusted with himself or ashamed. If he was responsible for anyone else’s death he’d be pissed as hell. He’d be dead himself so it was stupid even to worry about it, but all he had left was his rage, be it at himself or at his captors. They had taken everything else from him but he would hold onto that rage with every last fibre of his being.

The key turned in the lock and Pietro stiffened as the steel door slid back to reveal not one of the males but a female this time. Through his one working eye he could just about make out her features in the darkness. She was pretty and looked to be in her mid twenties but he could scent the age on her.

He stiffened when he realised she was close to Ancient, at least five centuries older than he was. In all their history, no European vampire had lived that long. They were wilder, more isolated, preferring to live in secluded covens and warring secretly over territory. How any of them could have reached close to eighteen hundred years old was a shock.

She had to be European because the Council knew of all Elders stateside. The general practice was to present any newly made vampires to the Council once they’d achieved their first year without losing their heads. The population was recorded meticulously. If this woman had been one of them then her identity would be known and Pietro had never seen or scented her before.

He watched her close the door behind her not the least concerned at being in the room with him on her own. The thought almost made him smile in derision. What would she have to feel concerned about? A naked male hanging limply in chains with one shoulder dislocated?

Just about every one of his ribs were broken, blood seeping from the mass of cuts covering every inch of his flesh. One of his eyes was swollen shut, hell for all he knew maybe he was missing the eye completely. With his hair matted with blood hanging dank and limp against his bruised face, he didn’t think he cut a very scary figure.

The woman came closer and he could see her skin with a light caramel colour hinting of some kind of mixed heritage in her family. She was curvy in all the right places and he was male enough to admit she was pleasing on the eye.

Her face was expressionless as she slowly ran her grey eyes over his body, walking around him as she did so, her breathing never once changing its rhythm. If she was pleased or unhappy about the damage to his body she gave no clear indication of it.

Not until she was once more looking up at him, then a small frown furrowed her brow and she tsked under her breath. “The boys were a little enthusiastic, I see. They were unsure of how much of the poison to slip into your drink given your age. They may have applied a little too much as your wounds are not healing.”

Her voice was light with a musical lilt to it. Under other circumstances Pietro might even have found it pleasing. “If you hire monkeys you have to live with their failings,” he managed to grind out through his swollen lips. It hurt to talk but he wasn’t going to let her know it.

She smiled and her face transformed into something so beautiful it seemed at odds with the room of horrors they were both standing in. “Ah, I see they may have broken your body but not your spirit.” She appeared pleased by his strong will.

Pietro remained silent watching as she moved away from him to retrieve a chair from one of the corners and place it in front of him. He was still trying to process the knowledge that they had some type of poison which, when introduced into a vampire’s blood stream, did irreparable harm. He watched as she sank down onto the chair with a grace that screamed of an era long gone, of flowing dresses and elegant manners.

He was uncomfortably aware that her new position brought her eye level with his genitals. He wasn’t normally concerned about a woman enjoying his ample view but the way her eyes ran over his limp shaft made him feel uneasy. So far that had been one area the males had surprisingly stayed away from.

“Such a pity,” she sighed softly. “You really are a very impressive male. I so abhor waste but I suppose in your case it can’t be helped.”

Her grey eyes slid up to meet his, a smile still teasing her lips. “I would have liked to have spent a little time with you before now but I was occupied elsewhere. I think I would have enjoyed sampling your lovely cock before we reached this stage.”

If she thought her words would shock or embarrass him she was in for a disappointment. Pietro was male enough to admit that if she’d shown up and made some plausible argument to explain her age, he’d have quite happily have ridden between her thighs with no real need to be tempted into it. Sex was a way of life for him just as it was for most vampires.

The woman admired his body a moment longer and then she sighed and closed her eyes. “The arrogance of you vampires stateside is quite appalling,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “You, with your little Council and rules and regulations, expecting everyone to obey your word as law. I’m quite staggered by just how arrogant you are.”

Pietro listened to her speak trying to place her accent. He guessed she was definitely from the UK but it was hard to determine if she was from Scotland but had lived in England too long or vice-versa. Her accent mostly sounded English but there was a faint Scottish lilt to it.

“The arrogance isn’t a regional thing,” he finally drawled. “More of a male thing. We can’t seem to help ourselves.”

His answer pleased her because her smile lit up the room again and she tilted her head back with amusement dancing in her eyes. Silky midnight tresses fanned her face to trail down to the top of her shoulders. She looked exotic and tempting and he felt his body start to react to her on a primal level.

He tried to stifle his reaction, concentrating on the broken ribs which hurt like a bitch. It did the trick thankfully and he heard her laugh softly as he once more went limp.

“Almost had you there, Pietro,” she laughed, not the least disappointed that he’d resisted her charms.

He’d closed his eyes to concentrate on his pain, now they flew open and his rage surfaced sharply. Pain exploded in his right eye which refused to see but his left was full of hatred as he glared down at her.

“Is this how you intend to torture me?” His fury seeped into his words. “Have your boys left you no room to mark my skin so you’re going to try and rape me into telling you what you want?”

She hissed loudly, her pretty features twisting into a hard expression. “You can’t rape the willing, vampire. I did nothing to you except look and enjoy. If you liked me looking then that’s your issue not mine.”

She appeared truly offended by his words, so offended he decided her emotions were genuine. Whatever else she was, this female considered herself to be honourable. Her brand of honour differed greatly from his but she set store in whatever values she applied to herself.

And that was what made her the most frightening woman he had ever come across.

She believed as only a zealot could. Whatever course of action she was on she felt she had the right of it which meant she would stop at nothing to achieve her goals. If her target was the Vârcolac she would stop at nothing until she reached them, harmed them. He prayed he lived long enough to alert someone; anyone to what was coming their way.

She appeared to gather herself, her expression smoothing out to become pleasant again. “I forgive you your harsh words, Pietro. The boys have been too severe with you and you are obviously in a lot of pain. I can alleviate your discomfort if you answer just a few questions for me. The most important one being how I can gain access to the abominations?”

Abominations? For a moment Pietro couldn’t work out what she meant and then he realised she was referring to the children. He fought to keep his expression neutral as a wave of horror washed through him. If she viewed the hybrids as monsters then the perceived threat to them was worse than any of them had imagined.

This female was old enough and contained enough power that if she was able to pull the other vampires into her scheming, if she could unite them as one, then it would mean all out war with the Council, the Weres…everyone. There would be no way in hell they’d be able to keep the humans from learning of the existence of their paranormal neighbours. The fallout could lead to the total extinction of some species.

Despite keeping his expression calm she obviously sensed his concern somehow. “You care about them.” She uttered the words flatly, plainly disappointed in him. “They should not exist. They are against everything which is natural. Surely you’re intelligent enough to see that?”

“They shouldn’t exist because you decree it?” he found himself arguing back. “Who died and made you God? You’re just some crazy-assed bitch who has delusions of grandeur. You’re not even an Ancient. You think you can take us on and win? I’m furious I’m not going to be around to see your downfall.”

Her lips tightened at his tirade and she stood up placing the chair back in the corner. She came to stand before him again her face now suffused with sadness.

“It’s your Council who have delusions of grandeur, pretty vampire,” she sighed quietly. “They’ve spent so long believing they’re the most powerful of us all that they’ve neglected to pay attention to what was happening on other continents. They will learn at their peril.”

She sighed again and ran a finger slowly along one of the larger wounds on his chest. “I am sorry you have suffered so much. I would have preferred your end to be less painful but you are such a stubborn male I can see you will not volunteer any information to me willingly. I wish things could have been different.”

Pietro held his silence, ignored her touch until she stepped back and gave him one last appraising look. Without another word, the woman turned and walked out of the cell, locking the door after it clanged shut.

As the door clanked shut Reasa sagged against the wall as Michael locked it. Christ, the vampire had been strong, forcing her to use her abilities at such a high level that she’d been fighting to maintain it at the end of their brief meeting.

She pressed a shaky hand against her stomach as she tried to gather herself, accepting Michael’s arm as they moved silently up the stone steps into the kitchen of the cottage they were renting.  Bruce quirked an eyebrow at her pallor and went to rise from the table but she shooed him down and lowered herself into another of the wooden chairs around the table.

“I’m fine,” she reassured them, accepting the glass of water Michael handed her before he sat down beside Bruce. “His mental shields were some of the strongest I’ve encountered. Even with the damage to his body, I had to fight to slip inside unnoticed.”

When she’d first seen what they’d done to the male she’d been ready to berate them for their overzealousness, now she was thankful for it. If Pietro had been in more control, there would have been slim to no chance of her breaching his shields unnoticed and she’d have had to force her way in. It would have fried his brain.

She was under no illusions the vampire would not leave the cottage alive but that didn’t mean she wanted his death to be at her hands. That was why Michael and Bruce were here. It was their job to clean up the mess and hers to gain the information before they did so.

Getting into a vampire’s mind was generally judged as impossible to do without destroying their personality. Reasa could and did regularly invade vampiric minds, utilising her skill for her coven leader as directed. She wasn’t completely happy with this current assignment though.

Why Louis had agreed to this was a mystery to her. He didn’t usually get involved in the politics of their kind and she knew he even had some respect for a few of their overseas brethren.  Maybe he was genuinely concerned about the hybrid children and what it meant for their species.

That was the only part of this mission Reasa did agree with. She’d had no major issues when she’d heard about the matings but producing abominations was something she just couldn’t tolerate. If they had just stayed barren everything would have been fine. Maybe Louis felt the same way?

What made her so uncomfortable about her task was the need to hurt a fellow vampire. Sure, discipline was required within a coven and in extreme circumstances like a vampire crossing over, then death was the only solution. But to harm their own kind for no good reason didn’t sit well with her.

And that was going to be inevitable. The stateside vampires and Weres weren’t going to surrender their young to be put down like the animals they were. There would be some casualties but she lived in hope she could do what she needed without having to take out her people as collateral damage.

“So what did you learn?” Michael interrupted her thoughts and she pulled herself together enough to report.

“A name…someone called Mac. He’s expecting him to arrive soon and was worried about him walking into a trap. His thoughts were hazy but I got the impression that they’ve set up some kind of elite guard to protect the hybrids. I’m not going to get anything further from him so I think it’s best if we wait for this Mac to arrive and see if we can learn anything from him.”

“Should we kill the vampire?” Bruce asked, his eyes shining with excitement at the prospect. He was looking forward to killing Pietro. His superior attitude had been driving him insane for months now. It would be satisfying for him to be the one having the last laugh over the smug bastard.

“No, we need him alive until his friend arrives,” Reasa sighed, thankful for being the one in charge but knowing she’d regret that position fairly soon. For the moment she could keep Pietro alive.

Given his injuries she didn’t know if he would class that as a blessing or a curse. A part of her hoped he counted it as a blessing. As long as he was alive he’d have hope of escaping. Maybe he’d even manage to achieve it and she could be spared the final decision on his fate.

It was stupid to think that way and she knew it. Sometimes hard decisions had to be made and a true leader made them despite having to hate themselves afterwards. “Give him some blood. He’s dangerously low and it may ignite his healing process a bit. If things continue as they are, he’ll be dead within the day.”

“He’s dead anyway, Reasa,” Michael snorted. “The poison is eating his internal organs. No amount of blood is going to stop that from happening. We had no idea how potent the stuff was.”

The excuse was pathetic. The formula for Amort was a closely guarded secret known only to a handful of coven leaders. She only knew how to make it because Louis hadn’t had any on hand and he’d had to give her the ingredients to mix it.

Amort didn’t play favourites…it targeted all vampires, so keeping knowledge of it out of the public domain was crucial. Still, Louis had been adamant of the dosage to use and she’d reiterated that information to the two males before she left them.

Reasa’s mental fatigue made her lose control and she glared at the two males in front of her. Pietro was right…hire monkeys and you had to put up with their failings. She’d be having a word with Louis about these two.

“You mean you were both such cowards you overdosed him because he scared you witless,” she corrected him icily. “Louis told you two drops would be sufficient. He is your coven leader and you disobeyed him. How many drops did you give Pietro?”

Michael at least had the grace to look away. He wasn’t pleased about being called to account but he didn’t argue with the chain of command. Maybe there was some hope for him after all.

Bruce was unrepentant. “I gave him five,” he admitted. “I hate that smug bastard. I’m glad he’s suffering.”

“I’ll be sure to inform Louis of how well you obeyed him,” Reasa snapped secretly appalled at how the vampire in the basement must be suffering. An extra drop would have been bad enough but more than a double dose?

Bruce frowned and started to look less sure of himself. Their coven leader could be brutal when angered though he was generally fair in most instances. “Come on, Reasa. He’s the bloody enemy.”

“The abominations are the enemy!” She was shrieking now, the two males wincing as her shields cracked and she began projecting her emotions. “Louis hasn’t even openly declared his intent to join with the other covens. Until such time as he gives that order this was an intelligence gathering mission which has already gone to shit and will lead to the death of one of our kind possibly two.”

The fatigue of being in Pietro’s mind was so strong she was holding onto herself by a hairsbreadth. Any more stress and she was liable to lose all her mental shields and then they’d know all about it.

Convincing Pietro she was almost an Ancient, playing with his male emotions to try and tempt him, as well as listening into his thoughts as she’d distracted him had been far too much given his own mental strength. If her shields shattered under her weariness, all her fury and pain would blast out and everyone would be shrieking under the weight of her agony.

Taking a deep breath Reasa stood up trying to calm her breathing. “I’m going to call Louis. Give Pietro at least three bottles of chilled blood if he’ll take it. If he wants more give it to him. And see if you can convince him to take from source. You can each donate one of your little harem members if he’s willing. Just keep him alive until we get clear instructions on how to proceed.”

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Hearts of Warriors Ch 09 teaser

Okay here is over half of the next chapter. It has not been edited and I really have no idea when I will submit to Lit as I haven't even sent it to be edited yet. But a special treat for SkyMullooly as she asked so nicely. And NO Sam it is not cos you smacked/pinched/rubbed any part of my anatomy :P hahahahaha!

Chapter Nine

Rafe looked around the room stifling down a need to sigh. A summons from his sister usually always spelled trouble of some kind and when she asked for various people to be in attendance, namely the ones who were now spread out in the closed off community centre; it set his warning radar off big time.

The mated vampire couples were there, Ash and Nors sitting with their heads together as always, his arm looped loosely over the back of her chair. Their body language screamed of intimacy, Ashleigh’s face radiant as she smiled up at her mate.  There was no sign of the lost young girl who had suffered a weight of heartbreak at such a tender age. Happiness seemed to waft from the little blonde, contentment in the way she leaned into her mate’s body.

There wasn’t a day went by that Rafe didn’t feel thankful to Nors, the biggest vampire in the room, so scary and intimidating to look at and yet so loving and protective of not only his own family but also the pack. Without his devotion they would have lost Ashleigh to the grief that had once clung to her like death. He had loved her enough to bring her back to the pack and bring love and laughter back into her life. How could anyone not love him for that?

Rafe’s gaze turned to the Romanov twins, the volatile brothers who were fierce and protective but often hard to handle. Even after all these years there were still moments when either Alexei or Andrei tested his patience as Alpha, made him wonder why he was stupid enough to accept the role of being leader to everyone in his pack.

At the moment it was Andrei giving him all the headaches with Lily missing. Alexei was helping out as best he could along with Loretta to keep the more mercurial vampire at bay but it was challenging.

As always where the twins were so were their mates. Loretta had a thoughtful expression on her face as her eyes kept flickering to Andrei even as she listened to something her sister-in-law was saying to her. She was a striking woman, not tall for a Were but sleek with toned muscles that signified strength. Andrei looked at her, his brown eyes flashing with some untold emotion for an instant before his expression became neutral again. He turned back to his brother raking an impatient hand through his hair.

Cedar caught the look which passed between the mates and raised an eyebrow obviously querying her friend on it. Her blonde curls were tied back in a loose ponytail which Alexei was playing with absentmindedly with a faint curve of a smile across his lips.

Whatever was going on in that family group obviously wasn’t being discussed. Loretta confirmed Rafe’s suspicions by giving a quick shake of her head at Cedar. He did sigh then, mentally preparing himself for having to deal with whatever fallout would soon be coming his way. The Romanovs would test even the patience of a saint.

His gaze swept on coming to rest on Dayton, one of his most trusted Betas. The change in Cedar’s brother, a wolf who had lost his first mate and almost succumbed to madness, was remarkable. After decades of exile from the pack he had been home for a long time now, once more a valuable addition to his pack. He smiled constantly these days, teasing his mate mercilessly until she was ready to explode in a whirlwind of fury.

Freya was still coming to terms with developing a sense of humour. Only Day was insane enough to needle the Ancient vampire past the point of no return, confident that she’d never hurt him no matter what he did. Rafe watched him gather his scowling mate into his arms, kissing her soundly until she melted against him. He couldn’t help smiling as he watched them. Seeing them so happy together reminded him of the upside to being an Alpha.

The remaining people in the room where the Vârcolac. Liam was sitting on the floor as far back from everyone as he could get, his brown eyes full of concentration as he leaned against the wall. He was huge like his father, dark auburn hair hanging over shoulders so wide he looked as if he could barely fit through some doorways.

Liam broke Rafe’s heart on a daily basis. Not because he was hard to work with or had a mean bone in his body. No, he broke his heart because no matter how he hid behind his neutral mask, Rafe could always feel the muted sensation of pain down their Alpha bond. Liam hid it well but his empathy crushed him, overloaded him and threatened to break him.

Only the tall, willowy woman at his side could temper Liam’s agony. Elina Alexander was as stunning as her mother Freya, her skin porcelain white, her hair a crazy mix of browns, reds, golds and that one streak of pure silver she’d inherited from her father.

So serious and reserved, her face was almost severe in its beauty. She’d given up a piece of her soul to protect the cousin she adored more than life itself. Now she sat close to him, leaning into his body with her eyes closed. Rafe knew she was sharing her mental shields with Liam, helping him to buffer all the emotions in the room with so many people in attendance.

Cassia and Dara were less reserved than some of the other hybrids, but still separate from the rest of the pack. The sisters’ relationship was an enigma to all of them including their parents sometimes. They weren’t twins like their father but they gave every indication of being so the way they interacted together.

Cassia was the elder sister, sharing her mother’s curly blonde hair and blue eyes. Dara’s blonde hair was straight like Alexei’s her eyes the same shade of brown. Both wore their hair to their shoulders, both invariably dressed the same even if they chose different colours.

Arms wrapping around Rafe’s waist had his lips curling in a smile as he wrapped his arms around his mate’s. Her scent washed over him, soothing his tension and he leaned back against her. Lacey always knew when he was worried about something, always reached out to bring comfort to him.

“It might not be as bad as you think,” she sighed sliding around his body to rest against his chest as he hugged her tightly.

He could never get enough of his mate. She was everything good in his life, beautiful and loving with hair a pale silvery blonde that reminded him of moonlight. Her light green eyes were striking, her lips looking eminently kissable at that moment.

He indulged himself, rubbing her mouth with his to ground himself and ease more of the tension which was making his muscles ache. “This is Annie we’re talking about,” he breathed against her mouth. “Lily is God knows where. Kallum appears to have joined her and once again Kothari has disobeyed a direct order to attend a meeting.” His displeasure was evident as he finished speaking.

The final hybrid child, the only issue of a mating between an Ancient vampire and the very first Vârcolac, tested Rafe’s patience to his limits. Not only did he drive Rafe to insanity but also Aaron, the most pack orientated Beta and second-in-command of the Armand-Hanlon pack.

Aaron took on all the troubled pack members, worked diligently to integrate them and help them through any issues they had, but even he struggled to get Kothari to meet him halfway. Which was probably why it was lucky Aaron was over at the Hanlon pack with his family and also Lacey and Rafe’s sons.

Rafe would fill them in later on whatever happened at the meeting but it was just as well some of those who should have been there had been otherwise engaged. Aaron losing his temper wasn’t something which happened often but when it did he was downright vicious. Liam could do without that level of emotion battering at his mental shields.

“Oh Ye of Little Faith,” Lacey whispered as the door opened and Gard and Rayne entered followed reluctantly by their son.

The impressive vampire, one third of the triumvirate and over six thousand years old, strode confidently into the room his expression determined though a faint smile hovered over his lips. His arm was draped over Rayne’s shoulder, his mate moving with the sleek grace of the panther she was, her long black hair secured in her customary high ponytail.

Behind them came Kothari, his eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses so darkly tinted that not even the enhanced sight of vampires or Weres could penetrate the darkness. The most volatile and unknown of the Vârcolac, Kothari hid behind his dark glasses and silent demeanour never letting anyone get truly close. He was dressed completely in black, his wide shoulders encased in a black leather jacket full of silver zippers and studs.

Unlike the rest of the pack, Kothari’s hair was cut short tapering in sharply at the nape of his neck though the front was longer, falling in a wide sweep across his forehead. He was as tall as his father and just as wide and his body language screamed out the need to be anywhere else but where he was. Kothari was pissed and he didn’t care who knew it.

The only change in his demeanour was when he sighted Dara and Cassia. The first hint of a true emotion crossed his face and it was anything but pleasant. His expression turned hard, his lips thinning in a straight line of disapproval as he raked his eyes over the women.

“Kothi.” Rayne’s voice cut through the instant tension in the room at their entrance and her son’s head snapped round to look at her.

There was a brief pause and then his expression softened, his lips curving into a semblance of a smile. He dropped a kiss on the top of his mother’s head and walked further into the room, separating himself from everyone as he leaned against a far wall beside one of the many windows, his gaze peering into the night.

“Kids,” Gard rumbled rolling his eyes as they reached the Alpha couple.

Rayne shot him a reproofing look trying not to glance over at their son. He’d always been different but the older he’d become the more isolated he appeared. It concerned her greatly and she knew it concerned Gard too.

At home when they were alone, the hard mask dissolved and he was their Kothi, a hint of happiness on his face, a certain level of peace in his eyes. The moment they were in company he became the cold, hard stranger who now stood staring out the window, so alone it broke her heart. She didn’t know how to reach him when he was like this so she just loved him as a mother should, unconditionally.

“Where’s everyone else?” Gard was asking Rafe as she turned her attention back to the room.

“Demetri’s off to Europe for some reason and Mara’s at the Council chambers. Aaron and the boys are over at the Hanlon compound along with Jen and their three. Still no word on Lily and now Kallum’s vanished too. We’re just waiting for Annie and Caleb and we can find out why this gathering has been called.”

“Actually we’ve brought another couple of people with us,” Rhianna announced in her soft, lilting voice as she entered the room at Caleb’s side. Kallum was just behind them along with a vampire a few of them recognised.

“Karn?” Rafe frowned in confusion wondering why his sister had brought a Council Enforcer to the meeting. He’d met the sandy-haired vampire a few times when he’d been backup for a Were/Vampire Council meeting over the years. He knew there had to be a good reason for it because Annie would never endanger the pack but he didn’t like being surprised. Though he should be used to it by now when his sister was involved.

“Rafe,” Karn nodded his eyes quickly flickering over the room, taking in the various people he knew by sight, honing onto the younger attendees who were obviously the other Vârcolac. His appraisal was quick though his eyes rested a shade longer on the couple sitting on the floor at the opposite end of the room.

He stopped first on the male, his protective instincts flaring. His appraisal was quick, accurate, his concern deepening. The woman at the male’s side brought a different reaction -- anger. He looked at her and he felt his temper spike, his instincts perk up. He filed the information away to deal with a later time.

“There’s little point in beating around the bush,” Caleb announced as he pulled up two chairs beside Rafe and Lacey and sat down beside Rhianna. “With the exception of the children, everyone here is aware of the Praetorians and what their remit has been with regard to the Vârcolac. There have been some…issues regarding that which have recently come to light.”

The younger members of the group looked at each other and it was clear that there was some form of quick mental conversation occurring as was often the case with them.

“You mean the vampires that have been dogging our footsteps all our lives?” Kothari asked when no one spoke, his voice quiet and toneless. He didn’t turn to the room though his shoulders tightened slightly.

“He’s one of them. I recognise his scent,” he added.

“One of them?” Dara echoed unease in her tone as her eyes flicked around the room and finally rested on the man at the window. “We’ve been followed for years and you knew about it, Kothi? Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Why didn’t anyone tell us?” her sister asked sounding just as unhappy. Her gaze was on Kothari too, irritation dancing in her eyes. She was annoyed that one of them knew of these secret vampires and had chosen to keep quiet. It was so like Kothi to do something like that it was a wonder she was even surprised to hear it.

“The decision was made a long time ago to keep the Praetorians a secret,” Rafe answered calmly. “You were all so young when the first attack was made on the pack, the first attempt to reach you and cause you harm; some of you weren’t even born.” He smiled at Elina for a moment and then looked at Kothari briefly.

“You shouldn’t be angry with your parents or Rafe,” Rhianna added. “I needed to protect the pack, to protect you. The Praetorians seemed the best way of doing so at the time. We wanted you to have normal childhoods, as normal as possible considering your heritage.”

Elina shifted beside Liam, leaned into him slightly and rested a hand against his arm as though picking up a rise in his distress levels. He smiled briefly closing his eyes and rubbing his cheek against her hair.

“So not all vampires were accepting of hybrid children coming into the world?” Elina guessed correctly as she soothed her cousin unconsciously, strengthening her shields within his mind not realising her expression turned colder, more remote when she did so, her voice dripping with ice.

Karn noticed the subtle changes and felt his anger ratchet up a notch though he kept his expression neutral. He didn’t like what he was witnessing, was worried at Liam’s sensitivity levels and also the effect it had on the woman at his side. The warning signs were clear to him. How no one else was reading them was criminal. He wanted to yell at the others, ask them how they could have let things become so dangerous.

The ensuing silence was broken when Gard spoke addressing his son. “How long have you known about them?”

“Longer than Lily has.” Kothari turned from the window to look at his father before his hidden gaze swept over Dara and Cassia. Liam and Elina didn’t appear to be put out with what they were hearing but the sisters were not happy about it, were particularly unhappy with him. The corner of his mouth twitched in a satisfied smile.

“It was amusing watching Lily work it out. She doesn’t half get puffed up with her own self-importance when she thinks she knows something no one else does.” His words sounded harsh but there was an undercurrent of warmth in his tone, a hint of genuine affection.

Andrei growled softly and Kothari met his gaze for a moment and then nodded at the silent rebuke. Andrei didn’t like it when he felt someone was maligning a child of his. The vampire was already volatile. It was pointless antagonising him any further and Kothari genuinely adored Liliana and her wild ways even if he didn’t show it.

“How did you and Lily find out?” Rafe asked his gaze sweeping from Kothari to Andrei and finally settling on Karn who had been identified as a member of the Praetorians. If his scrutiny made the vampire uncomfortable there was no outward sign of it.

“My senses are sharper than the others,” Kothari answered. “I was about six when I first realised we had silent guardians shadowing our every movement. Lily’s senses are not as acute as mine but she has an agile brain and not a lot escapes her. She worked it out by the time she hit maturity.”

Andrei’s irritation faded his eyes boring into Kothari as he spoke. He couldn’t help but feel pride at his daughter’s intelligence, proud of the knowledge she’d been one of the few to have worked out a secret so closely guarded that most people didn’t know it.

“Lily would have seen the Praetorians as a challenge,” he mused almost to himself. He turned to look at Karn his eyes narrowing. “That’s where she is, isn’t it?”

Karn pursed his lips and then nodded. Mac had told him to attend this meeting, to bring Kallum with him to help. He’d thought it madness but Mac had been insistent. His opinion hadn’t changed but so far everything was going reasonably smoothly.

“We didn’t know who she was,” he answered carefully. “She managed to circumvent all our careful screening to become accepted as a Praetorian candidate. She was the top recruit in her class, the best soldier I’ve ever trained.”

His pride in his charge was evident in his voice as well as his affection for one of their own. Because of that Andrei found it easier to accept, his own pride escalating higher. His daughter had fooled everyone and been the best soldier. She was so much like him it was scary but he was proud of her anyway.

“How did she get past the final check?” Rafe asked suspiciously his eyes already dropping to his sister for confirmation. He was stunned at the news and not entirely happy about it. Seeing Rhianna’s sheepish expression ignited his temper.

“For the love of God, Annie, what were you thinking?” he ground out furiously, her guilty expression telling him all he needed to know. Once again his sister had kept a secret from him, one that directly affected a member of his pack. He was furious with her.

“You know the uproar Lily’s disappearance caused. How could you keep quiet when you knew she was safe?” Because Lily had been safe all this time only they hadn’t known it. She couldn’t have been safer living in the heart of the Praetorians.

“Sometimes the needs of the one is more important that the needs of many,” Rhianna answered, accepting Rafe’s anger because she knew it was justified on one level. It hurt though. It always hurt when she disappointed her brother even if sometimes it was necessary.

“Lily needed her freedom, Rafe. You would only have dragged her back here and despite the fact we all love her it would have been the wrong thing for her. You know that deep inside. And in my defence, I’ve only known a few days. I was just giving her a little time until she was ready to come home again.”

Rafe opened his mouth to retort fury still in control. Deep down he knew she was right, Annie was always right but he still wasn’t ready to let go of his anger. If she’d told him, explained her reasoning then he would have listened to her no matter what she thought. He trusted her decisions. His scathing words were silenced when Andrei spoke.

“Annie’s right.”

All eyes turned to the one person they’d all expected to be demanding they march up to the Praetorian compound and retrieve his daughter instantly.

“Lily contacted me earlier today,” Andrei continued in a quiet voice. “She has the same genetic flaw I have only it manifests itself in her wolf side rather than her vampiric side. She’s scared and a little confused but she’s found the one thing that can help her and she can only find it with the Praetorians.”

He paused as if struggling with the next words, as if they left a bitter taste in his mouth. “She’s found her mate.”

Loretta wrapped her arms around Andrei’s waist knowing how hard it was for him to admit this to everyone. When he’d told her earlier of his talk with their daughter there had been such guilt in his eyes. Convincing him that it wasn’t his fault had been hard but there was nothing he could have done to interfere with genetics. It was just a part of life they all had to live with.

Of all of them Alexei was probably the one who could most understand the agony his brother was experiencing having lived with it for so long. He laid a comforting hand on his twin’s shoulder, silently adding his strength to that which his mate was giving him.

“That changes things,” Rafe finally sighed though his eyes promised Rhianna they’d be having a chat later about just what was acceptable to keep hidden from him. She shot him a rueful smile, but her lavender eyes couldn’t conceal the distress she was feeling. He hated being at odds with his sister even more than she did.

Andrei’s acceptance, the shock of hearing that Lily balanced on the edge of crossing over as her father did was enough to soothe Rafe’s wolf. He was an Alpha wolf but he was also a man who knew that none of the people in this room would ever do anything to hurt his pack.

If he accepted that Annie was always right then he had to abide by her decision even if he didn’t like his lack of inclusion in it. He sighed again and reached over to ruffle her curls to let her know they were okay. He couldn’t stay mad at Annie for very long.

“It changes everything,” Kallum spoke for the first time moving to stand behind his father and give him his support. “It’s highlighted the fact we need the Praetorians in a different capacity now. Lily is thriving there and now she has her mate I know she’s going to be fine.”

He glanced around the room gauging everyone’s reactions to his next words. “Some of the other Vârcolac could do with spending some time with the Praetorians too.”

He expected uproar from the adults, denials of some kind but the reaction he’d expected came from a completely different direction.

“No.” Elina rose from her seated position beside Liam, her voice carefully modulated to hold no emotion.

“You can’t send Liam away where he doesn’t feel safe. It’s taken long enough for him to find a balance here among the pack. Strangers will be too much for him.” Her words were for Kallum but her eyes were fixated on the strange vampire in their midst whose cool blue eyes appeared to be boring into her soul.

Ashleigh was on her feet, too, worry etching her face as she looked at her son. “Elina’s right.” She hated sounding like an overprotective mother but Liam didn’t function well around strangers.

She turned pleading eyes to her mate. “Nors, you can’t let them take him away.” She could see indecision on his face, as if he was conflicted about the possibility.

“Ash, honey, no one’s said anything about Liam going but maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea?” Nors asked gently reaching for her hand.  He was just as concerned about his son’s struggle to contain his empathic abilities but he could divorce his emotions to a certain degree, better than his mate could. If the Praetorians could help him in some way…

Disbelief crossed her face and he let out a deep groan. “Ash.”

She turned away from him to her Alpha. “Rafe, don’t agree to this. Maybe it would help some of the others but not Liam.”

Rafe was at a loss with what to do. Changing the whole concept of the Praetorians’ remit was staggering. Allowing vulnerable members of his pack to be spirited away went against every instinct he possessed. But deep down he knew that some of the Vârcolac needed more than he could give them.

A loud cough attracted everyone’s attention to Karn who was scowling blackly not the least intimidated by the people in the room. “I think you all seem to have forgotten one very important fact. You don’t get to decide who comes to the compound. I make the decisions and if Mac agrees with me then the decision stands.”

He stared down Rafe ignoring everyone else. “If you decide as Alpha that being with the Praetorians can benefit some of the Vârcolac then I will choose which of them I feel will gain the most good from the experience.”

Silence greeted his words though Kallum fought a smile. Karn was just as impressive as Mac when he was pissed. His words were also indisputable unless the triumvirate overrode him.

Rhianna shrugged her shoulders. “Mac has protected the Vârcolac most of their lives. We’ve never had cause to doubt his decisions and I see no reason to now. If you’re in agreement, Rafe, then Karn as his representative has final say as to who should go.” She looked at Caleb and Gard who instantly nodded their agreement. The triumvirate had given their approval; it was now up to the Alpha.

Rafe looked at Lacey, saw her unwavering support and knew she would back up any decision he made. It still didn’t make it any easier as he looked around the parents in the room. Their children may be grown but they were still their children and Ashleigh was already distressed over Liam.

But he had to balance the needs of the Vârcolac as well as the pack. “If the Praetorians can help then I have no objections to their remit being changed,” he finally said. “But if any harm comes to my people while in your care I will come down on the Praetorians with every able-bodied wolf I can find.”

“They are safer with us than in the pack,” Karn answered confidently. He’d already chosen the ones that needed help, had done so the moment he’d entered the room. He wouldn’t take them at the same time though. They already had Lily, one more would be enough to handle.

“You need to let us do things our way, though. No interference. I don’t do pretty words and tenderness and you aren’t helping the Vârcolac by doing so either.”

He strode across the room to stand in front of Liam, ignoring the woman at his side even though her scent was the one in the room he would from this moment on always find first among the Vârcolac. “You’ll come with me tonight.”

Ashleigh stifled down a gasp of dismay as Elina let out a long, slow hiss. “You didn’t hear me the first time, vampire. Liam is not up to going anywhere, least of all with an uncontrolled male like you.” Her tone was still devoid of emotion, her expression calm despite the hiss she’d given.

Nors was pulling Ashleigh into his arms to soothe her distress; Elina was fixated on the male who looked through her as if she didn’t exist. His huge size and pretty face, the inherent maleness of him which sparked something unknown deep within her, it all did nothing to counter the cold fury she fought to contain inside.

Karn turned his gaze on Elina allowing himself the luxury of scrutinising her now she was talking directly to him. He took in her heart-shaped face, her cold beauty and multi-coloured hair.

His lips curled in an unpleasant smile. “I heard you just fine the first time, Vârcolac. Repeating yourself isn’t going to change my mind. Liam comes with me and you’re not invited to the party.”

Elina’s mouth dropped open at his dismissive tone. She had to work hard to keep her emotions in check, something she hadn’t had to do for a very long time. “Where Liam goes, I go,” she managed to answer evenly while battling the unfamiliar emotion of hate which was quickly forming towards the vampire in front of her. His arrogance was outrageous, the way he towered over her unacceptable.

“Not in my compound you don’t, Missy,” he shot back instantly, his eyes hard, and his smile never wavering as the delightful creature matched wits with him and tried to stare him down.

He knew despite her cold aloofness her emotions were whirling deep inside her. He could tell because Liam’s stress levels were starting to escalate despite his expression never wavering. It was a little known fact that Karn shared one of the Vârcolac’s abilities. He could sense emotions which was why he was so good at what he did, why he was Mac’s second-in-command.

“You’re part of the problem so you need to be taken out of the equation,” he continued ruthlessly. “Now if that offends your sensibilities -- tough shit. You’ve helped cripple Liam so I’m not feeling particularly charitable towards you at the moment.”

Fury like nothing she’d never experienced washed over her. Green eyes began to glow as a loud hiss escaped Elina. “Who do you think you are?” She wasn’t even aware that her voice had risen, that her cold façade had cracked and Liam was wincing at her side.

“I’ve spent my entire life helping my cousin. I’ve been there for him every second of every day. Where the hell do you get off saying I’ve crippled him? You don’t even know him and you think you can come in here and make snap judgements about people?”

Karn growled facing down the furious woman who was making his gut tighten in need as she literally crackled with power and rage now her emotions had been released. She was fucking glorious and he knew one day he would have her. Not today because the timing sucked but one day soon he would have all that pent-up fire and passion in his bed. He would bathe in her and she would scream his name as they rolled in his sheets.

He dampened down the desire he felt, hid it from prying eyes and noses as he kept the smirk on his face, feasting on her.

“Do you want a fucking medal?” he barked. “What do you want me to put on it for you? Saint Elina – Black Widow to all who love her? You may not eat your lovers but you know how to cut a man off at his balls with your brand of love.”

His words whipped across her flesh, harsh and stinging but he kept going. The truth often hurt but it was undeniable. “You’ve made Liam so dependent on you he’s never had the opportunity to learn what he’s needed to protect himself. Great fucking job there, Missy. Let’s all give you a round of applause for your selfless act.”

Dayton let out a furious roar as his daughter went chalk white, a harsh gasp escaping her as she took a step back from the raw fury burning in Karn’s eyes. He was out of his chair in an instant ready to beat the vampire senseless.

Freya reached out and wrapped a hand calmly around his wrist, using her vampiric strength to halt her mate even though her own fury was bubbling deep inside her. She had made her daughter a promise twenty four years ago. She would keep that promise and so would her mate.

“Don’t interfere, honey,” she said levelly. “Elina is more than capable of taking care of herself and she won’t thank you for it.” She sounded reasonable though her eyes were almost bleeding to black belying the calm she was exuding.

Dayton shot her a disbelieving look, tugged at his wrist but she held firm. If he pulled hard enough she would release him but he could see that it was important to Freya that he allow their daughter to be strong even if it went against every protective instinct he had. He glanced at Elina but her gaze was on the vampire. She was completely oblivious to her parents’ family drama.

“You’d better be right, Freya,” he finally conceded unhappily, sitting down while still plotting as many ways to kick the shit out of Karn as he could think up.

Liam rose to his feet towering over Karn for a moment, his brown eyes thoughtful before turning to his cousin. He reached out and pulled her into his arms, for once being the one to soothe her.

“It’s okay, Elle,” he whispered stroking her hair gently. “Karn’s right on some levels just not all of them. He doesn’t know you, doesn’t understand what it has cost you to give so much of yourself to me. But I know and I will always be grateful for it even as I will always be ashamed for taking from you so selfishly.”

It was hard for Karn not to snort out loud, not to react to the tension in the room. He knew exactly what it had cost Elina all these years. His mouth may have said one thing but his mind was fully aware of the amount of damage suppressing her emotions had done to her.

It was as crucial to separate Elina from Liam as it was the other way around. Liam needed to learn to shield his abilities on his own but Elina needed to learn how to experience her emotions too. She was so close to breaking it was a wonder she hadn’t cracked earlier.

Elina swallowed hard staring into Liam’s face. She worked on her emotions utilising years of painstaking discipline to batten down her defences and construct the necessary barriers to shield her cousin from her distress. She stepped back knowing what it cost him to touch her.

“I regret nothing, Liam and I never will,” she finally answered, her cold eyes turning to look at Karn for a moment before she turned back to her cousin. “If you feel you need to go with the vampire then you must do what is best for you. Call me if you need me. And I’m so sorry for this.”

“Elle?” Liam’s confusion was nothing compared to Karn’s when Elina stepped around her cousin to face him.

Liam felt the surge of violence and braced for it as Elina’s fist connected with the vampire’s face sending him flying clear across the room to crash against the wall making it obvious she hadn’t contained her strength.

“That’s my daughter,” Freya sighed smugly into the silent room as Karn slid to the floor in a daze.

Elina stared at the male, cringed at the violence she’d committed. He had hurt her with his words and she’d wanted to hurt him back. She couldn’t even blame it on her emotions taking control. She’d made a conscious decision before she hit him otherwise she wouldn’t have apologised to Liam first. What kind of person did that make her?

Ashamed of her actions she crossed the room heading for the door as Karn struggled to his feet a wide grin on his face that contained nothing but delight. “Is that the best you can do, Missy?” he taunted as she walked passed him, her expression a mask of serenity. “I’ll look forward to the rematch.”

She ignored him and kept walking leaving the room with as much grace as she could muster after her shocking loss of temper. Liam was going away and for the first time in her life she had nobody to rely on her. The vampire was taking away the one person who truly needed her and she was battling a hatred towards him that threatened to consume her.

She was battling fear too because if she wasn’t needed to help Liam, if she had to admit that she had hurt her cousin more than helped him over the years as Karn had accused her, then she didn’t know how to deal with it or what else she had in her life. Everything had always been about Liam. If he was gone then she was all alone and that thought was more frightening than anything else.

Kallum broke the continuing silence with a bark of laughter. “Now I know why you’re single, Karn. Your chat up lines suck.”

“Truth hurts sometimes,” the vampire snorted, stifling down a groan. The witch had snapped a couple of ribs which would hurt like a bitch until they healed. It still didn’t stop him grinning though. Elina Alexander was glorious in her fury. It was just a pity she’d repressed her emotions so badly trying to help her cousin she’d inadvertently stifled her own growth. Learning control was going to be just as difficult for her as it was for Lily.

“Have we covered everything now?” he asked Rhianna, his gaze sliding to Rafe’s for confirmation. “I need to get back to the compound.” He was about done with his first foray into pack life though it had been pretty entertaining for the most part.

“I don’t think the pack can take much more at the moment,” Rafe commented somewhat dryly. Conceding control to the vampire had been a difficult experience. He wanted the other male gone so he could spend time with the others and ensure himself they were fine.

A quick glance to Liam and he nodded his consent for him to leave. The expression of relief which crossed the younger man’s face was enough to tell him he’d made the correct decision.

Liam crossed the room to say goodbye to his parents as Kallum turned to his.
“Lily’s fine,” he reassured them hugging his mother tightly. “She’ll be home tomorrow with Mac.” He watched his father intently, saw the instant he put two and two together and worked out the significance of Mac coming to the compound.

“Mackenzie?” Andrei growled softly conflicting emotions welling up inside him. He’d known Mac for centuries, had fought at his side a time or two. He knew just what the other vampire was capable of and also knew just how dangerous he was. Part of him liked that because he knew Mac could keep his daughter safe. Another part of him wasn’t best pleased though. Mac came with baggage, a past he’d never appeared to have truly recovered from. He was Lily’s mate?

Alexei started to laugh and slapped his twin hard on the back. “Who’d have thought Lily would pick someone as screwed up as you?”

That got Loretta’s attention and she frowned. “What’s wrong with this Mackenzie person?” She was overjoyed her daughter had found her mate but if there was something wrong with him…

“What’s wrong with Andrei?” Alexei countered with another laugh as Cedar nudged him to halt his teasing. She could see her friend was worried enough as it was. Having Alexei goad the other couple wasn’t helping matters.

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Loretta answered firmly, sticking up for her mate loyally. Andrei may have his odd quirks but he was hers.

“There you go then,” her brother-in-law smiled.

At the confusion on Loretta’s face Kallum burst out laughing. “What my uncle is trying to say is that Lily has chosen a mate just like Dad,” he soothed her. “He’s a good guy, Mom, and he adores her. She adores him too.” The last was said for his father’s benefit.

Andrei nodded to his son and sought comfort in his mate’s arms. He was desperate to see Lily again, needed to reassure himself she was safe and well. Dealing with her mate at the same time would be a bit of a challenge but as he held Loretta close and felt the soothing calm she gave selflessly to him, he knew that if Mac gave his daughter that same balance then he’d accept him with open arms.

As Karn rounded up his charges he sensed Kothari watching him and turned his head to find the Vârcolac standing close by. He raised an eyebrow in query waiting for the other man to speak.

“You didn’t choose me,” Kothari commented a carefully constructed expression of curiosity on his face.

Karn snorted. “I choose those I think I have a hope in hell of shaping into the best they can be. You, boy, you don’t even know who you are at the moment. Until the day you decide who you are there’s nothing I can do for you.”

Kothari’s lips quirked in a brief smile which was gone almost as soon as it formed. “I think I like you, vampire. Doesn’t mean I won’t rip you to shreds if you hurt any of mine though. You should bear that in mind the next time you meet Elina.” He turned and walked away unconcerned if Karn was offended by his words.

“Nice talking to you,” Karn quipped back rolling his eyes and turning to usher Kallum and Liam from the room. Yeah, he was most definitely finished with the Armand-Hanlon pack for a long time. It was time to go home to the relative sanity of the Praetorian compound. He left the pack to their business.