Happy Easter to all who celebrate it! The Easter Bunny has left you a gift hehehehe
Demetri growled, coming instantly awake as the sound of the front door opening roused him from his sleep. Mara stirred at his side, sitting up abruptly, as she too, heard the intruder downstairs. She turned to look at her husband, but he was already flowing from the bed in one sinuous movement, morphing into his feral state before his feet touched the floor. He was halfway towards the bedroom door before the scent of their nocturnal visitor reached him, and he halted his movement, muttering a loud curse.
“Caleb?” Mara’s head swiveled to her bedside table to glance at the alarm clock. “It’s not even five a.m.”
Demetri cursed again as he hunted in the dresser for some boxer shorts. He was irritated at his friend for showing up so early, beneath his irritation was an underlying trace of concern. Caleb must have had a good reason for turning up at this hour. Something had to be wrong. He was vaguely aware of Mara climbing out of bed as he headed out of the room to greet their visitor.
“Do you know what time it is?” Demetri growled out the words, raking talons through his rumpled hair as he glared at his best friend standing in his open doorway. He pushed down his vampiric side, scowling darkly as Mara appeared beside him, a hastily thrown on dressing gown wrapped around her.
She was still blinking sleepily, snuggling against Demetri’s bare chest now that she knew there was no imminent danger. “Do you need me, Caleb?” It seemed prudent to ask; she was part of the vampire council, even though she was still a Youngling. The Ancient vampire staring up at them had appointed her to that position and he may have come on council business.
“Yes, I do, Mara. Sorry for the early hour, but I have to get up to the Praetorian Compound and then over to the Armand-Hanlon pack. If you wouldn’t mind…”
“Come, lover, let’s put some clothes on.” Mara tugged at her scowling husband, smiling up at his expression. Even petulant, Demetri was gorgeous. If it weren’t for Caleb’s unexpected presence, she would be so tempted to drag all six feet plus of muscled flesh and hard body that she craved right back to bed. Her man had “built for sin” written all over him and boy did he know how to be sinful; beneath the sheets, and over a table, and in the shower, and...
Mara stifled a groan and headed back to the bedroom, fighting down her sexual urges. Being a vampire had its disadvantages at times, like an inappropriately heightened libido when least required. If she couldn’t keep herself under control, Caleb would have to wait a lot longer than his expression indicated he was willing to.
“What could he possibly want at this time of the morning?” Demetri grumbled, pulling on a pair of black jeans and T-shirt as Mara dropped her dressing gown.
“I guess we’ll find out shortly,” she sighed, heading to the closet to pull out some clothes. She had taken less than two steps before she shrieked as her husband picked her up and pinned her against the door, sucking her breast into his mouth. The touch of his warm mouth and tongue elicited a deep moan, even as she pushed him away. “Demetri! Caleb’s here.”
“Hungry,” he growled, sinking his fangs into her soft flesh and suckling hard, her hot blood filling his mouth and making his head swim.
Mara stifled down another moan, threading her hands in his hair to pull him away. However, his strong suckling was igniting her previous erotic thoughts and she couldn’t resist holding his head against her breast for a moment, liquid heat flowing to her core as he pulled roughly. It felt wonderful, but a part of her still focused on why Caleb was there, so with some reluctance, she tugged at Demetri’s hair to get his attention.
“Demetri, stop it. You’re not hungry, and even if you were, you wouldn’t get any real sustenance from my blood. You’re just being difficult. Behave yourself!” He couldn’t really argue with her; they’d fed from their private stock of human blood only last week.
Although it was highly erotic to feed from each other, they required human blood to be fully nourished, Mara more so than Demetri, as he was an Ancient and could go months without requiring food. He didn’t though, preferring to join her with her more frequent feedings.
He was ignoring her words and she tugged at his hair again until he released her breast with a deep growl. Demetri watched her for a moment, licking his lips and then kissed her, long and slow, sliding his tongue deep into her mouth. His kiss branded her his, in every way imaginable, and held a hint of promise as well as danger. When he finally raised his head, Mara was struggling for breath and the heat in his gaze had her heart beating a wild tattoo.
“Fine, beautiful, we’ll do things your way for now, but as soon as Caleb’s gone, we’ll discuss this further.”
Big brown eyes met his, which were only a heartbeat away from being feral, and Mara’s heart skipped at the promise she read in his expression. She was going to pay for being the sensible one…again, and she couldn’t wait.
Mara laughed, anticipation heating her blood and threatening to undo all the progress she’d just achieved, which was focusing her husband on the situation at hand. “Bring it on, Demetri, I’m not afraid of you. Now let me down. I need to get dressed, or would you prefer if I went to this meeting with Caleb naked?”
Her jibe had the desired effect and he released her with a loud curse. “Try it and see how far you’d get, woman!”
She was still laughing as she hastily dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, feeling his eyes on her back the entire time. Her man had woken up in one of his dangerous moods, the kind of mood that scared the shit out of just about everyone who knew him. It didn’t faze her though; she’d just have to work on keeping him tempered until it passed. It would make the day interesting to say the least.
Caleb glanced up from the book he was leafing through as he waited for Demetri and Mara to come downstairs. A handful of seconds later they walked into their sitting room and one glance at his friend’s face told him Demetri was going to be difficult to handle. He dampened down a sigh and mentally ran through what he could do to help Mara. From her sideways glances at her husband, he could see that she was aware of the situation and watching it.
“This had better be urgent, Caleb,” Demetri snapped, making no attempt to hide his irritation.
His friend quirked an eyebrow, a hint of hardness entering his eyes. “Are we going to have a pissing contest before we can get down to business? Because, I really don’t have time for this, so either get your bitching out of the way quickly or shut up and sit down.” Caleb turned his gaze to Mara and gave her one of his more endearing smiles. “We have time for some coffee, though.”
She snorted and gave him a pointed look, before turning to go to the kitchen. “Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I have to make the coffee all of the time. I’m a Councillor, remember.” There was no barb in her tone despite her words. She knew Caleb was getting her out of the room so he could have a talk with Demetri to try to centre him a bit. If she were present during it, then her husband would be less receptive, as his ego would feel the need to prove how dominant he was. Males could be so stupid at times.
Caleb waited until Mara was out of the room before focusing on his friend. “You need to hunt. I thought when you went to Europe that would help, but clearly, you’re still on edge.”
“What gives you that impression?”
Demetri’s quiet tone was more concerning than his earlier open aggression. When he went quiet… Caleb tensed but kept his expression neutral. “Ratchet it down a notch, Demetri. I need you here.”
There was long moment of silence, Caleb tensing more as his gaze pinned his friend, until some of the tension eased from Demetri and he ran a hand through his hair again. “You’re right; I need something to occupy my time. All the shit going on right now is irritating me.”
He moved over to sit down on a large sofa, frowning as he did. “How many times do we have to do this, Caleb? Why can’t these idiots get it into their heads that they can’t win, so they may as well just live with it? This feels like Richard Graves all over again, except on a larger scale. Someone has to be driving this European shit. They’re too fragmented, from what I saw when I was over there. The covens remain smallish and independent.”
Caleb frowned, mulling over his friend’s assessment. He’d been thinking something similar but hadn’t vocalised it yet. From his talks with Joshua, they’d almost reached the same conclusion. Joshua was trying to uncover as much as he could, but he had his own coven to protect. He couldn’t be seen to be too obvious in his investigations or they’d be at risk if there was someone manipulating events.
Sighing, Caleb rubbed at his face. There was too much going on and he was feeling as frustrated as his friend. He needed to get a handle on things before they blew up further in his face. “If that’s true, then we don’t know how far this unknown’s influence may already have reached, and we still need to ensure there isn’t any fallout from what happened up at the Praetorian Compound. We also need to deal with the damage to our relationship with the wolves.”
“We do? Don’t you mean you do? It wasn’t the rest of us who flipped out and almost caused a war with the wolves, Caleb. You lost perspective as you did the night you discovered Rafe was still alive. Remember that? How you nearly started a war over Annie? Well look around you, my friend. You’ve almost done it again.”
Caleb could feel his temper igniting and fought to contain it. Demetri was itching for a fight and giving in to his aggression wasn’t going to solve anything. He couldn’t really argue with what his friend said anyway. It was old ground and didn’t need rehashing. “That is why I’ll be dealing with the pack.”
A long sigh escaped him and he closed his eyes for a moment before looking back at his friend. “Annie is fine; we spoke before I came over. She’ll be coming home soon, so I need you and Mara to do damage control with the Council. Find out what, if anything has slipped out and come up with some plan to contain it if necessary. Can you do this for me?”
Another dark scowl shot in his direction. Demetri wasn’t in a very forgiving mood. “For Annie, I will. When you fix your mess, I’ll think about helping you out.”
“Fine, for Annie,” Caleb sighed again. “Just make sure she’s protected, Demetri. Be pissed at me if you want, just make sure there isn’t the faintest hint of any knowledge of what happened up at the Praetorian Compound.” Entering the room with a tray in her hands, Mara’s reappearance cut short anything else he may have said.
Demetri immediately took the tray from her, setting it down on the coffee table and pulling her down beside him so he could ground himself in her scent. He was mad at Caleb and had been so before, but the level of his aggression was surprising even himself. Usually he worked with his friend, but today he was so off-centre he wanted to pummel his face. To hell with the consequences! He knew Caleb was one of the few people alive who could kick his ass, but wiping that smug look off his face might just be worth it. The chance to get a few good shots in would suit his mood just fine. His aggression levels were off the scale, the need to strike out overwhelming.
His mate wrapped a hand in his hair, tugging it until he looked at her. He could see the concern in her eyes and he knew he was the cause. He needed to get some control; he didn’t want to ever see that expression on her face. He struggled to push down his feral side, finally managing to calm his fury down to a simmering rage. When he felt he had a modicum of control, he turned back to his friend.
“So, anything in particular you want us to do or are your requests just broad strokes?”
Caleb took his coffee, sipping at it as he sat down on the sofa facing his friends. “Annie and I never did get a chance to talk to the Council about the poison. They need to be updated on that. Mara how’s the current split in Council?”
She sipped her coffee as she thought. “Well, you have me, the twins, Stefan and Emily. Most likely Cristoph too as he’s still favouring Andrei at the moment. That’s six of the twelve. Of the rest, William tends to side with us, though I don’t know him that well. I think Corinne has the hots for him because she’s always in agreement with him. The others tend to be more traditional in their way of thinking.”
Caleb was silently counting, working out their position. He didn’t know this William or Corinne and maybe that was a mistake on his part. Once he’d set up the Council, he’d stepped back and let them manage themselves. Maybe he should have paid a bit more attention, given past history…but he’d trusted the core members to let him know if anything was wrong. “So five definite votes and three maybes. Can you sway those three around to our way of thinking?”
“They will be or they’ll have me to deal with,” Demetri growled.
Mara refrained from rolling her eyes, but barely. Ignoring her husband, she nodded at Caleb. “I don’t see that as being too hard a task. We should be able to swing a Council vote our way and even if we hit a deadlock, the Ancient Council has the deciding vote.”
Caleb sat back, relaxing for the first time. “Good. We’re going to have to inform them about the poison only we need to keep Reasa’s identity out of it. Just tell them the vampire was taken care of on the spot. No need to elaborate on how that was done. Let them know we’re working on a cure for the poison with the Weres’ help as they’re more knowledgeable about science and the healing arts. If you can put forward the idea of Gard and Rayne going over to Europe on a covert mission that will help. Try to make it seem like it’s their idea. That should generate fewer objections.”
“What about the vampires that were injured during Liam’s outburst?” Demetri asked, his tone less aggressive and his body language loosening up at bit.
“I’ll find out from Mac what the extent of the damage is. We will have to make a decision once we know more. Right now, I don’t know how bad it is.” Caleb eyed his friend intently, a frown marring his face. “We may have to do damage control there too.”
Demetri didn’t need to ask what he meant, his expression said it all. If the injured Praetorians were beyond help and they posed any risk to Rhianna’s safety, they would need to be disposed of, no matter how untenable the prospect appeared to some. He could tell from the way Mara stiffened that she’d worked it out too and wasn’t happy.
“You know it makes sense, Mara,” he said, turning to gather her close. “If their minds are damaged beyond repair then they aren’t really living anyway. Add to that, if anything gets out about what happened up there, it’s not just Annie’s safety that’s at risk. It will be Liam’s too, and the rest of the Vârcolac. This abomination madness could spread from Europe and all of the Vârcolac be perceived as some kind of threat. We need to be prepared to do what is necessary to protect our own.”
Mara shuddered, knowing what he said was true, but her heart ached for the unfortunate vampires who had been caught up in the mess. They had trained to protect the Vârcolac and would ultimately pay with their lives.
“Yes, beautiful, they trained and were willing to risk their lives. They did their duty and would want to be granted the respect of a decent end, rather than live as vegetables forever.” Demetri’s words whispered in her mind and she realised she’d mumbled some of her thoughts out aloud.
“Mara, none of us would take any pleasure from ending their existence even if there is no hope for them,” Caleb followed up, rising to come to stand before them. “They are casualties of a war we didn’t start and find ourselves having to try to end without knowing who or what we’re really fighting.”
Sighing, she nodded, though she still didn’t like it. She could understand what they were saying though. Sometimes the toughest decisions had to be made, regardless of the price.
“I’m heading up there now,” Caleb continued, making his way to the front door. “I’ll keep you posted on any news. Let me know what’s happening with the Council, and call in Freya and Nors for more muscle if you need it. Do what you need to do to keep this buttoned down tight with the exception of starting an outright civil war.”
Demetri snorted a laugh without humour. “Isn’t that your party trick these days, Caleb?”
His friend paused with his hand on the doorknob, turning his head to look back over his shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was a cold as ice. “Demetri, it’s only out of respect for the fact that you’re trying to protect Annie that I haven’t kicked your ass yet. You’ve had your opportunity to say your piece. The topic is now closed.” Without waiting for a response, Caleb walked out the door, closing it gently behind him.
Mara looked at her husband and tightened her arms around him. “Let it go, love. I know you’re angry with Caleb, but don’t you think this division is playing right into the hands of our enemies?”
His surprised expression was almost comical. “Think about it, Demetri. For so many centuries now it’s been a well-known fact that if anyone went up against one of you, they took on both. You are strong as individuals, but formidable together. What would be the most perfect way to weaken you? You’re mad at him for creating division with the pack and yet your anger is weakening you as a team. I heard you refuse to help him, only doing it for Annie. I don’t think you even understood the impact of what you were saying, but I’m sure Caleb did.”
Demetri blinked slowly, staring at Mara as he tried to digest what she was saying. Clearly, she’d misinterpreted what was going on, because he hadn’t done anything to cause any divisions. Caleb was the one acting like an ass, hurting Rhianna, causing friction with everyone. He was just calling him on his behaviour as he’d done before in the past, when required.
The expression on Caleb’s face when he’d mentioned helping Annie but not him suddenly came to his mind, and he frowned. His friend’s face had remained neutral but there had been a brief flicker of emotion in his eyes before he’d covered it up. Did Caleb believe he wouldn’t have his back anymore? He was helping him with the Council shit, so he had to know he would do anything in his power to help. Didn’t he?
“Fuck!” Demetri groaned running a hand through his hair. “Caleb knows I’m with him one hundred percent. I always have been and I always will be. I may have been a bit pissed at him but I’d never let him down; I never have.”
“I know that, love, but things are so erratic at the moment that I think we’re all feeling as if we’re on shaky ground right now. We need to be working together, Demetri. We need to know without a doubt that we are one strong unit, all doing our part. That way we are invincible.”
Demetri buried his head in her neck, holding his woman tightly as he uttered another groan. He’d talk to Caleb later and make sure he knew that he hadn’t deserted him. Mara’s words made so much sense and he was thankful to have her by his side, helping to keep him reined in. “Thank you, beautiful.”
“You’re welcome, love,” she whispered, running her hands through his hair. “Council business won’t convene for a couple of hours. Didn’t you have something you wanted to discuss with me?”
For a second, Demetri stiffened and then he threw back his head and started to laugh. His woman was insatiable and the blood was already rushing to his groin at the thought of what he was going to do to her. “So I do, wife,” he laughed, his deep green eyes sparkling with lust. “I believe you were telling me how you weren’t scared of me…?”
Mara shrieked as he stood up, throwing her over his shoulder as he did. He gave her backside a hard swat, making her shriek again with laughter. “Let’s go test out that premise, woman.”