Gard shot Rayne a questioning look as he sighted a banner emblazoned with Sarayne. A tall athletic male held it up, his shoulder length blond hair partially obscured by a black fedora hat. His mate met his gaze and shrugged, a frown creasing her forehead. “I’ve never seen him before.”
Gard’s protective instincts automatically kicked in, as no one out of their inner circle knew Rayne’s birth name. “Stay here.” He strode towards the other male without waiting to see if his mate would obey. He knew she wouldn’t so he was determined to get to the male before she did. He could scent the vampire as he neared; the blond was a healthy age for one of the European covens.
The other male smiled a lopsided grin as the Ancient approached him. His demeanour appeared relaxed though Gard could detect the subtle alertness in his stance. The vampire was no fool; he was prepared for trouble though he was probably reasonably certain there wouldn’t be any. They were in the middle of an airport surrounded by thousands of humans.
“You don’t look much like a Sarayne,” he grinned. “Before you’re tempted to forget where we are, Caleb gave me the name. He said if that didn’t settle you down then to tell you Callain and Anakatrine would be most displeased if you felt inclined to detach my head.” He spoke low enough that only Gard and Rayne, who had caught up with her mate, could hear.
“I’m Sarayne, though most people just call me Rayne. And you are?”
“Joshua. I am at your service and kind of relieved to see you didn’t bring Demetri with you...not that this impressive gentleman isn’t enough to send a shiver down most vampires’ spines.”
His acknowledgement of Gard’s dominance level was enough to soothe some of the Ancient’s suspicion. His mentioning of Callain and Anakatrine did the rest of the trick. Gard relaxed, running quickly through his mind what Caleb had told him of his friend. Though not commonly known in Europe, Joshua was in fact a coven leader and one of Caleb’s oldest friends. The Ancient trusted him implicitly and had urged Gard to do the same. Joshua had also helped save Pietro’s life so that was another mark in his favour. The crowning point was Demetri had vouched for the vampire...that was nothing short of a miracle.
“Can you take us to where Pietro was found?” he asked with little preamble. The sooner they found out what they could, the sooner they could get home to their son.
Rayne rolled her eyes though there was a smile on her face. “This is Gard, my mate. You’ll have to excuse his manners, travelling makes him a tad surly.”
“Spoken by the woman who slept the entire flight,” Gard chuckled, dropping a quick kiss on the top of her head. “You do know you won’t sleep tonight with the time difference.”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to entertain me then,” she retorted, turning her gaze back to their escort. “Would it be better if we found accommodation first, Joshua?”
“I figured you would want to be under the radar as much as possible so I’ve cleared out one of my safe houses for your use. Whoever you’re looking for appears to be employing some younglings as lookouts. We spotted three newly created vampires hanging around the terminals here. I sent some of my people off to lead them a merry dance. I presume there will be more hanging around the main hotel district and various bed and breakfast establishments.”
“We came in on a private jet. If someone is keeping watch, it won’t be hard for them to get the flight list,” Gard growled, unsettled by the news.
Joshua nodded his agreement. “This is why we need to hustle and get you stashed into the safe house before that happens. By the time they access the flight list you’ll be ghosts and it will make it harder for them to pick up your trail.” He turned and headed out of the airport, crossing a road to lead them into the parking garage. When he stopped at a beat-up van with peeling paintwork and plenty of rust on display, Gard quirked an eyebrow at him in question.
“If you think vamps on your side of the pond are arrogant, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Joshua chuckled. “It is beyond their comprehension that Ancients would lower themselves to travel in a rust bucket like this. Believe me; any other potential eyes we haven’t spotted won’t look twice at this vehicle.”
“And if they do?” Gard was already stowing their cases in the back and ushering his mate into the back seat.
“There’s a McLaren engine under the bonnet, though I suppose you call it a hood.” Joshua walked to the driver’s side, pointing to the left hand side of the vehicle. It had been awhile since Gard had been in Europe so he’d automatically presumed the front passenger seat was on the right.
“If we end up in a road race, we’ll most likely come out the winner,” Joshua continued as they put on their seatbelts. “If we are rolled, the inside has been retrofitted with a steel roll cage, to minimise any injuries. I fully expect you two are more than capable of healing faster than I am and will be able to neutralise anyone stupid enough to mess with you.”
It satisfied Gard who relaxed in his seat, turning his head to look back at Rayne. “I guess we’re all set then. Let’s get to the safe house and then to the location Pietro was found.”
“We sanitised the area, Gard. I don’t know what you expect to find there.” Joshua was concentrating on the road as he pulled out the parking garage, his eyes darting in all directions.
“We’ll know it when we find it,” the Ancient answered, satisfied that their escort was up to the task. “Keep him on of trouble, Rayne. I’m going to take a nap.”
When Gard opened his eyes again, they were pulling up to the charred remains of a stone cottage. He’d been aware when they’d arrived at a similar styled cottage earlier, but had remained in the van while Joshua and Rayne transported their belongings inside. His mate was more than capable of checking the place over without his interference. While he did chafe at allowing her out of his sight, he knew he’d get no end of grief if he tried wrapping his panther up in cotton wool. Now they were at the location of Pietro’s imprisonment and his eyes were lazily tracking their surroundings.
“Do you want to check the right hand side and I’ll do the left?” he asked his mate, opening the door to get out of the vehicle.
“Demetri and I swept the area before we entered the building,” Joshua supplied, not making any effort to get out. It was more than obvious that Gard viewed him as little more than a glorified chauffeur. It rankled considering they were on his patch but Caleb had asked him to give them what they wanted so he would overlook the slight.
“Knowing Demetri I’m sure you did an excellent job taking into consideration the time constraints you had,” Rayne answered, giving him a brief smile before narrowing her eyes at her mate. “With Pietro’s life no longer hanging in the balance we’ll be able to perform a longer, more leisurely sweep.”
Gard returned her gaze, unconcerned, though she could see in his eyes that he’d detected the subtle rebuke she was giving him. It was just like her mate to ignore the pleasantries when he was in full Guardian mode. In his mind, he wasn’t here to make friends. He was here to find out who was a threat to his family and friends. Still, a little bit of common courtesy wouldn’t go amiss.
Joshua, for the most part, didn’t appear to be offended by Gard’s abruptness so that was a mark in his favour. Rayne found herself liking the vampire the more time they spent in his company. She gave him another smile as she climbed out of the van. “If you see anything untoward, let us know immediately. Even if you think it’s something innocuous. We have no idea of whom or what we’re dealing with here so it’s better to err on the side of caution.”
“I had planned to,” Joshua grinned back, his laconic demeanour filling Rayne with confidence. There was something infinitely trustworthy about him and it took her a moment to realise what it was. Her eyes widened a fraction as she nodded her head at him. “Nicely played, Joshua.”
Gard was immediately alert, crossing back to her side and shooting a hard look at the vampire. “What?”
“He shares Liam and Reasa’s talent. He’s an empath.”
It was Joshua’s turn to look startled, his body language shifting imperceptibly. His shrewd gaze met Rayne’s for a slow heartbeat and then he relaxed once more, a rueful smile crossing his handsome face. “How did you know?”
“I’m not that trusting, for one,” she answered, still smiling. “And Demetri would spit you out faster than trust an outsider. I always did wonder how he worked so easily with you when he was here. Now I know.”
Gard’s eyes were still hard as he stared the other man down. “Whatever you’re doing, stop now.” His glare turned to his mate. “And just how was he able to breach your defences? You know what’s at stake here, Sarayne. You can’t be this complacent.”
It was her turn to be rebuked and she took her chastisement in the spirit it was given, her mate being concerned for her welfare. “You’re right, Gard. I wasn’t shielding as strongly because I was relying on Caleb’s judgement of his friend. In my defence, he is very strong, probably on a par with Thereasa. I do find it curious that our European counterparts appear to have retained stronger mental skills than we have.”
“Self-preservation can be very focusing,” Joshua replied with a small shrug. “If I had known Reasa shared my gift, she wouldn’t have gotten past me so easily.” He shrugged again. “But then, I had donated a substantial amount of blood to Pietro at the time so my reserves were weakened.”
He smiled again and then rested back against his seat. “Trust no one here...not even me. No one is quite what they seem and believe me, I have come across a few others who have some skill level in empathy. Let’s just consider this as a lesson well learned.”
For a moment it appeared Gard was about to press the issue but Rayne placed a hand on his arm. “Joshua is right. Now we have fair warning we will know what to expect. Let’s see if we can find anything that could help track down our adversary.” She shifted into her panther form, pressing her inky black body against his legs and emitting a low purr when he automatically reached down to stroke a hand down her back.
“I’ve placed a safeguard at the front of my mental defences,” Rayne communication telepathically. “I suggest you do the same, something only we would know. That way we will be able to detect if anyone tries to tamper with our minds.”
“Hmmm I knew there was a reason I chose you for my mate,” Gard’s voice rumbled through her mind, approval lacing every word as he continued to stroke her. He searched and found her safeguard instantly, a smile crossing his face as he did. It was a tall tree standing innocuously in front of a barred wooden door; the very same tree they had played in all those years ago. He mirrored her safeguard in his own mind and then stood up straight.
“Remember, Joshua. No mind games, and alert us if you see anything out of the ordinary.” He turned and began a slow walk to the left of the burnt-out building, leaving his panther to begin her sweep of the right.
Dante pulled out his phone and checked his messages. It had vibrated in his pocket while he’d been talking with another other vampire in Louis coven, signalling he had a text. it had taken him a moment to extricate himself and slip outside but now he was reading the message, his lips tightening...‘They’re here.’
‘Update when you can,’ he tapped, and then shoved the phone back into his pocket. The pieces were all beginning to fall into place. There was still too much he was in the dark about, however the things he did know were enfolding just as he expected. With a quick glance at his watch he knew he had a little time in hand to make a quick side trip before Louis noticed his absence.
Dante took off at supernatural speed, running the relatively short distance to the hidden cave tucked away behind a thick copse of brambles. He ignored the scrapes he received as he made his way inside. The cave burrowed into the hillside with a narrow entrance that branched into a more cavernous area. Rock walls neatly divided it into three separate chambers.
The main chamber had a hot rock pool for bathing in and a rug on the floor, with cushions thrown down for seating. It was currently empty though the sound of his arrival brought its inhabitant from the left hand chamber.
“Hey, beautiful,” Dante smiled, moving forward to engulf the petite woman in a tight bear hug. Long ebony waves tumbled down her back as she returned his embrace, her silver eyes unfocused as she rested her head against his chest.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Mila sighed, though it was evident from her tone that she was glad he was.
“I know, but I wanted to check in to make sure you were okay.” Dante had been irrevocably drawn to the woman in his arms since the first moment he had met her. His friend Abraham had introduced them, a bare month before he had met his death at the hands of a rival coven. It was as if providence had conspired to place a new protector in her path before she lost the old one. It was a calling Dante had never chafed at being assigned.
“I’m more than capable of taking care of myself, Dante.” Mila pulled away, walking unwaveringly towards the cushioned area to sink gracefully onto them.
It always amazed him to watch her interact with her surroundings. No one on the outside looking in would ever know that this frail, beautiful woman was blind in the conventional sense. Abraham had saved her from certain death, when disease had ravished her weakened body, turning her to the life of a vampire after her father had begged for her life. Mila had survived, however, her normal sight hadn’t returned after the change. Instead, she had developed a new way of seeing, an ability to sense her surroundings by sound and vibrations.
If she encountered a moving object, that object transmitted itself to her mind in the form of a picture, her vision as clear in that ‘snapped’ moment as if she still had her sight. Her blindness had also morphed into something else, the ability to See future moments, though they had to be quite catastrophic before a Vision came to her.
Of all the people he had come across in his long life, Mila’s abilities were the most unique and fascinating of them. They had spent many long hours discussing what she could do, trying to decipher how her talents had come about, but had never been able to come up with any kind of answers. Mila was simply Mila, the one person he treasured most in his world.
Dante loved her though he had never spoken of his feelings. He had no right to love or happy-ever-afters, not after the life he had led before being turned to a vampire. His history was strewn with blood and carnage, his self-righteous piousness being the cause of untold deaths. No, he didn’t deserve forgiveness or happiness, but he would bask in the beauty of his love for however long she allowed him to accompany her.
Smiling sadly, he followed Mila down to the cushions, bracing an arm behind her so she could rest her head on his shoulders. “I know you don’t need my protection,” he belatedly answered her. “But I give it none the less.”
“I know, and I am grateful for that, more than I can ever say.” Mila sighed, closing her eyes to enjoy the companionable silence that often surrounded them. It was so soothing to sit quietly, savouring each other’s company as they mulled over their own thoughts.
For a long moment, the only sound in the cave was their shared breathing, and then Mila shivered and sat up straight, concern shadowing her exquisite features. “Something bad is coming,” she whispered, her voice shaking as the words breathed out. “Something terrible is on the horizon, blinded by the sunlight so I can’t see what it is.”
Dante shivered at the words, wrapping his arms around Mila protectively. His hand stroked soothing down her arm. “Can you see anything else?” He couldn’t keep the concern out of his voice.
“It’s so dark, so cold. Death...head to tail in black.” A sob escaped Mila as her shivering increased. “The world will swim in blood as the Justice Seeker wreaks havoc. There will be nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.”
“Who is it, Mila? Try to see their face.”
“Burning orbs...fire in their depths. Madness...depravity...a soul lost to grief. One so young, so lost, so full of unimaginable pain.” Mila swallowed another loud sob, her shivering beginning to lessen as her sightless eyes stared off into the distance. “There is hope though; there is one who can reach the Justice Seeker. We must find her, Dante, and quickly, before everything we know is coated in blood.”
As quickly as the Vision happened, it vanished and Mila sagged against him. Dante held her secure in his arms, kissing the top of her head as she took a few moments to come back to herself. “It’s over, sweetness. You’re safe here with me.”
“Such rage, Dante,” she whispered. “So much pain. I don’t know if we’ll be able to withstand his fury when he comes. If we can find the girl in time, we may have a chance.”
Her words filled him with dread but he tried to hide his disquiet. This was the strongest Vision Mila had ever had, the most detailed one he could remember. It meant that whatever was coming their way was something they had never encountered before. Something so dangerous it could be the end of all of them.
“Who is the girl? Did you see her clearly?” It was important to get as much detail as possible after a Vision.
Mila nodded though her expression turned puzzled. “She is a waif, a human stray, young...just turned to womanhood. She is pretty, but hides behind thick glasses. Oh, she has such beautiful hair, long to her waist, the deepest brown with flecks of blonde highlights. The girl is graceless despite her beauty, awkward. She obscures her body in jeans and a T-shirt, using one of those hoodie things to hide her face.
Mila stiffened again, her eyes going wide with surprise. “She lives with wolves, Dante, though she is not of their pack.”
“Shit!” he groaned at the news, his concern increasing. “We can’t get close to any of the wolf packs here, Mila. How are we supposed to get to the girl if she’s protected by Weres?”
“We can’t,” she answered after a long moment. “However, we can guide him to her once we discover where she is. I will start tracking the local packs to see if I can pick up any sign of her. We still have a little time.”
Dante turned her around to face him, his eyes searching her features. He could see the stubborn set of her mouth and knew she had made up her mind already. That didn’t stop him from speaking. “You know I don’t like it when you go out on your own. I will do the investigating.”
“We don’t have time for you to divide your efforts...or to be so overprotective,” Mila smiled reaching up to stroke his cheek. “You need to be focused on what’s going on in the covens, Dante. Let me take care of the wolves.”
He wanted to argue more, but knew it would be useless. When his Mila got that set look on her face...well that was one of the reasons he loved her so much. She refused to be a victim; she refused to accept that her lack of conventional vision limited her in any way. She was frail in appearance but so strong in will. She was his beautiful lady and always would be.
“Very well,” he sighed, resting his forehead against hers. “Just don’t do anything foolhardy, okay?”
“You’re the risk taker out of us, dear Dante; I am but the trusted sidekick.” She winked as she laughed, the soft tinkling sound making him yearn to taste that laughter in his mouth.
The urge to yield to temptation was strong but he held himself in check, maintaining his role of friend and guardian. Mila deserved so much better than him, and he knew one day that someone would come along and take her from his life. He knew his heart would break on that day but he would let his love go with no hesitation. Her happiness was paramount to him, it usurped all else and always would.
“I’d better get back before I’m missed,” he said with a resigned sigh, standing and drawing Mila up with him. “I’ve heard some news. The Council have sent their investigators and they’ve arrived already. I need to be close to Louis to try to steer him in the right direction when he learns of this.”
“I’ll let you know what, if anything, I find out,” she answered, leaning against him as he wrapped her in his arms. “Be safe, dear Dante.”
“I promise,” he whispered into her hair. “No foolhardiness...remember.”
“Be gone with you,” Mila laughed, shaking her head at his protectiveness, though her tone was warm with affection.
Dante memorised that image of her standing there, before he turned and made his way out of the cave. Things were about to get busy and that image would have to last him for a while, until he could sneak away and come back to her.
“Ugh, he smells so wrong!”
“I’ll be right there!” Gard moved at supernatural speed through the woodland, using his mate bond to track Rayne’s location. It didn’t take him long to find her though he was surprised how far she had travelled from the cottage.
“What made you look this far out?” His puzzlement was clear as he waited for his mate to shift back to her human form.
“I was wondering what Andrei or Alexei would do in the same circumstance,” Rayne answered, rising to her feet and brushing her long hair over her shoulder. “I figured they would have used the trees initially, vampires are very sneaky that way.” She shot him a smile, letting him know she classed him in that statement.
It brought an answering smile to his lips. “I had the same idea but scented nothing where I was.”
“Michael travelled in this direction, using the trees for quite a while before he finally dropped down to the ground. He probably went on foot from here because he was nearing that road a mile or so that way.” Rayne pointed off to the north and Gard heard the quiet hum of passing vehicles in that direction.
His attention turned back to his mate and he frowned, remembering her words. “What do you mean he smells wrong?”
Her expression changed, a distasteful pout crossing her face. “It’s hard to explain it. My panther just didn’t like his scent at all. The only way she could communicate it to me was wrong.”
Gard had no choice but to accept what she said. He could pick up a mild vampiric scent but he had to concede that her Were ability when it came to scent was that bit more enhanced. Was this wrongness Rayne picked up insanity? He had heard before of some Weres being able to detect madness as a distinct scent. Opting to mull it over he pulled his mate into his arms and kissed her soundly. Whatever it was, they had picked up Michael’s scent and now they needed to let Joshua know that they would be parting company with him to follow that scent.
“You wait here,” he finally said when he’d finished ravishing her lips. “I’ll let Joshua know we’re heading off on our own.”
Pietro sighed and squared his shoulders before pulling open the apartment door. It had taken him a while to work up the courage to head downstairs to the bar, longer than he had expected it to. He tried to convince himself it was because he wanted to put off being in public as long as possible but he had to admit that his conflicted emotions to do with Cassia were the main problem.
Despite Andrei’s insistence that he work the previous night, Pietro had taken the time to settle into the upstairs apartment and try to deal with his anger at the blonde wolf who refused to get out of his head. Everywhere he looked he expected to see her, every sound he heard made him think of Cassia. He could scent her on his skin. He could still here the mournful wolf howl that had shattered his heart.
Was she okay? His concern wouldn’t abate no matter how hard he tried to put her out of his mind. He had asked Andrei and been told to fuck off in no uncertain terms. His friend’s expression had been so cold that for a moment Pietro had thought Andrei might possibly lash out, however he had merely turned away and disappeared into his basement office without a further word. Pietro couldn’t really blame him, Cassia was his niece after all. Still, his friend could have at least let him know she was okay.
Sighing again, Pietro headed downstairs. There was little point in putting off the inevitable. He was about to be the main attraction in a freak show and nothing was going to prevent that. Striding into the bar area, he felt a sense of homecoming as he watched the wait staff finishing off the last minute cleaning projects before the doors opened for the night’s revelry. He hadn’t held court at the Dive in over twenty-five years and yet, this was his domain, this was what he knew.
One of the Youngling vampires stopped to stare at the scars on his face and he growled low in his throat. “Something I can help you with?”
She scurried off without a word and for a moment he felt some satisfaction but that quickly waned. He might still be able to scare Younglings but he was sure once word got out, he’d be subject to the scrutiny of every Elder vampire who wanted to view the freak show. He guessed he would have to deal with that as and when it happened.
Moving over to the bar, he settled himself behind it as the doors opened. It was time to see if he could still cut it among his peers.
Pietro blinked in surprise as his first customer of the night arrived at the bar and sat herself down on one of the barstools. He looked around for her companion but he was nowhere in sight.
She smiled at him and it was obvious that she wasn’t going to answer his unasked question. Her exquisite features were a carefully constructed mask of innocence though he had to look away from the intensity of her questioning stare. He didn’t even know if it was Annie sitting there or the vampire queen. He had yet to meet Anakatrine though he had heard plenty about her.
Deciding that it was most probably Annie given their surroundings, Pietro opted not to push for answers. No one ever knew what the beautiful redhead was truly up to, he doubted even Caleb did some times. “What can I get you?” he finally asked, shooting her a quick smile.
“Red wine please.” Rhianna brushed her red curls over her shoulder and turned to survey the early patrons already beginning to fill up the bar. “Looks like there’s going to be a large crowd tonight. I wonder why that is. I didn’t think this place pulled in crowds like Karpathia’s.”
“Word has probably spread that there’s a freak show in town,” Pietro answered setting her drink down in front of her. He couldn’t hide the bitterness from his tone.
She sighed, turning back to him. “You’re probably right. Sometimes I despair of our kind.”
He had expected a lecture and was surprised not to receive one. He didn’t know Rhianna as well as most of their inner circle did but he was aware of her high empathy level. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask but then he realised that she was setting him up to do just that. That sparked his irritation and he held his tongue out of pure stubbornness.
“So, where’s Caleb? I didn’t expect he would let you out of his sight any time soon.”
It was Rhianna’s turn to watch him speculatively for a moment before she smiled and sipped at her wine. “Ancient Council business, he will be along later.”
Pietro wanted to laugh at her feigned innocence. He was well aware that anything Rhianna Armand did…well there usually was some reason behind it. He decided to call her bluff. “Exactly what is it I can do for you, Annie?”
Her smile turned enigmatic and there was a twinkle in her lavender eyes as she beamed at him. “Perhaps the question should be what can I do for you, Pietro?”
It was hard not to smile back and he conceded defeat with a rueful shake of his head. “Okay, what can you do for me?”
“Well I can let you know that Cassia is going to be okay, for one, and I can sit here with you while you become accustomed to the inevitable scrutiny you’re about to be subjected to.”
The relief at her words was palpable. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about being stared at, but having some positive confirmation that Cassia would recover from his absence felt like a burden being lifted from his shoulders. Pietro couldn’t put a finger on why he was so concerned about the wolf, after all, it wasn’t as if he was her mate. No, they had just scratched an itch, and while the sex between them had been nothing more than that...it had been amazing. It was natural to be concerned about her; he had always been considerate to the women who’d graced his bed. Add in the fact she was Alexei’s daughter, and his concern was totally justified.
“I’m glad to hear that, Annie, about Cassia. I don’t need my hand being held though.”
Rhianna laughed, causing a few heads to turn in their direction. “Oh, Pietro, you are so very male. As if you would have the first inkling of what you truly need.” She sipped at her wine again and when her gaze connected with his there was something very old hidden in their lavender depths. “I believe I will wait for Caleb here, none the less.”
A vampire sidled up to the bar before Pietro could answer, the male sitting on a stool beside Rhianna. He was an elder; beautiful as most of their kind was, but clearly so new to the area that he couldn’t detect danger when it was staring him in the face.
“Whatever this little beauty is having and mine will be a beer.” He slid money onto the counter, dismissing the bartender and focusing on the petite redhead. “I knew I made the right decision coming to this godforsaken place. If I’d known the scenery was so exquisite I would have come sooner.”
Rhianna let her gaze roam lazily over him, acknowledging that some women would find him quite a catch. Silvery blond hair and clear crystal blue eyes painted a pretty picture but he couldn’t hold a candle to Caleb. “That seat is taken, my friend.”
“Really? I don’t see anyone but old scarface here.” The vampire’s lip curled in distaste as he spoke, though he didn’t spare a glance at Pietro. “Surely you don’t find those blemishes attractive?”
A chill seemed to fill the air as Rhianna’s eyes narrowed and the smile that had been on her face melted away. “On the contrary there is nothing more beautiful than the mark of true courage. Every line that speaks of pain and suffering, every tear that tells the world one has suffered but conquered despite that...to me that is something to be revered and respected above all else.” Her gaze turned from the man at her side and she smiled at Pietro. “This seat is still taken.”
“You know, you’re very snooty for a Youngling. I think someone needs to teach you some manners.” The amorous note had vanished from the vampire’s voice to be replaced by a hard edge.
If he thought his words would concern her, he was sadly mistaken. Instead of cowing Rhianna, she laughed softly. “And you truly think you are the one to do so? Believe me, friend, many much better than you have tried. I suggest you go enjoy your evening elsewhere before you regret your decision to sit here.”
“Who’s going to make me, Youngling? You? I hardly think so.”
Pietro moved without thinking. The entire time he had listened to Rhianna’s conversation with the other male his protective instincts had kicked into gear, his ire rising with each passing word. This fuckwit thought it was acceptable to hit on Caleb’s mate? He thought it was safe to ignore Pietro’s presence because he had some visible scars on show?
Pietro vaulted over the bar at supernatural speed, slashing his talons across the other vampire’s face as he did. In less time it took a heart to beat, he was squarely between Rhianna and the vampire now lying on his back on the floor. “Get out!”
The vampire was too stupid to pay any heed. He sprang to his feet, throwing a punch and kicking out at the same time. Pietro deftly avoided both, landing his own punch in the vampire’s face, the force of his blow propelling the other male across the room to land in the midst of a crowed table.
People scattered in all directions as the bartender stalked to the stunned vampire and lifted him from the floor by his neck. “If you want to keep your head I strongly suggest you get the fuck out of here now and don’t ever come back,” he hissed through clenched teeth, giving the vampire a rough shake for good measure.
Pietro tossed him towards the door and glared at the rest of the room as the wounded vampire beat a hasty exit. “And that goes for anyone else who thinks to challenge scarface. Spread the word. Pietro de la Rios is back and this bar is his. Anyone who thinks differently will answer to me!”
Stunned silence filled the room for a long moment and then everyone went back to what they were doing. The wait staff hurried over to clear up the mess, Pietro’s gaze cataloguing the entire room until he was satisfied that he’d made his point. With a shake of his head, he turned back to Rhianna to find her smiling as she watched him.
“Can I have another glass of wine, please? On the house I think...seeing as you spilled my first glass when you vaulted over the bar.”
It took a moment for her words to sink in, for his brain to catch up with what had just happened. Pietro kept his expression as neutral as possible though he knew he wasn’t fooling the redhead. He had vaulted over the bar and taken down the vampire as if he were a Youngling and not an elder. Technically, the other male should have kicked his ass however Pietro felt stronger than he’d ever felt before.
How was this possible? He should still be recovering from Europe but if it hadn’t been for the scars he bore, he could almost believe Europe had never happened. Something had healed him faster than should have been possible and he was starting to have an inkling to what that might be. There was only one thing he’d done since he’d returned that could account for the faster healing. He had taken Cassia’s blood as nourishment...
The six vampires filed silently into the imposing redbrick mansion nestled behind a twelve-foot high wall in one of the exclusive residential areas at the edge of the city. The female who opened the door waited for the last one to pass and then closed it quietly behind them. Her eyes alighted on Michael and acknowledged him as the leader of the group.
“Organise your men and then meet me in the library. It’s the mahogany door just there.” She pointed to a door to the left of the ornate staircase in the main hallway, turning in that direction without waiting for a response.
Michael felt the urge to break her neck because of the way she ordered him about. Not that it would have killed her as she was a vampire like them, but it would have hurt and shown her who was boss. However, he wasn’t allowed to do that despite how much he would have liked to. He had ordered him to obey the female, telling him that she was his eyes and ears on this continent.
With a flick of his hand, he motioned the others to head upstairs and find rooms to make themselves comfortable. He headed towards the back of the house to where the female waited. Opening the door, his gaze focused first on the female and then the room. It was a library like any other he had seen, full of towering bookcases filled with books, and the customary desk and seating areas. The female was sitting behind the desk, watching him with a neutral expression.
She looked young but something told him that appearance was deceptive. Everything about the woman was deceptive. There was no way in hell her hair was short and blonde. He could just make out where the wig began and he could see the barest hint of a ring around her irises that told him the pale blue of her eyes was a lie too. Whoever she was, she had gone out of her way to alter her appearance.
“What do I call you?”
“Candrea will suffice, and you are Michael,” she answered coolly, motioning him to sit down. “How many of your team work for The Master?”
He hissed as he was lowering himself into his seat, fire in his eyes as he glared at her. “Do not mention Him out aloud!”
She was undaunted by his response, a half-smile gracing her beautiful face. “Yes, he did say you were a bit of zealot, but I hadn’t expected you to be this far gone. There is nothing wrong with speaking of him. Naturally, he should only be mentioned to those who perform his tasks, and as we are both his willing disciples, I will continue to speak however I like in your presence. If you have an issue with that I suggest you raise it with him and he will educate you accordingly.”
Michael gritted his teeth, forcing himself to remain in the chair facing her as the urge to take her head built at a steady rate. He wouldn’t like it if he hurt the female. Michael kept that mantra running through his mind as he continued to glare at Candrea.
“What are your orders?”
“Answer my question!” The words grated out, raw command in Candrea’s tone as her hand slapped the desk hard.
Michael jumped at the unexpected sound, his eyes narrowing in fury. What question did she want answered? He couldn’t remember her asking one.
“How many in your team work for The Master?”
It was only as she repeated it that he realised he had spoken the words out aloud. “None. Only me.”
His answer appeared to set her thinking for a moment because she didn’t respond immediately. Finally, she nodded and leaned on the desk. “Any that are not killed during the assault on the pack will need to be taken care of then. Are you up to that task?”
Killing brought him the most happiness, not including speaking with his Master. Nothing transcended that. The smile he gave her was nothing short of chilling. “It will be my pleasure.”
“Good.” Candrea rose, smoothing down her figure hugging skirt as she did. “I will leave this phase in your capable hands then. You will not contact me or attempt to discover who or where I am. If you have need of me for any reason leave the library curtains open at night with that table lamp on.” She pointed to a small lamp near the window. “I will be informed and come as soon as I can.”
Michael stayed rooted to his chair as she left, his homicidal impulses still driving him. He felt out of control and that wasn’t a good thing with the task ahead of him. “Master…”
“You arrived safely, Michael?”
The instant his voice filled his mind, the vampire felt the first tendrils of peace begin to wash over him. His voice was so beautiful…it wrap around him, enveloped him, lifted him to a level of serenity so blissful he could live in the moment forever. “Yes, Master. I have met with the woman as you instructed. I am finding her…challenging. She speaks of you out aloud, Master!” He couldn’t keep his loathing from his tone.
“You must do as she says, Michael. I have already instructed you on her importance to me. She is my voice there and you must heed her words.”
The Master’s voice was cold and hard, menace creeping into it as he spoke that sent a shiver of fear down the vampire’s spine. “I obey, Master. Please don’t be angry with me. Please!”
“As long as you heed my words there will be no need to incite my wrath. Carry out the task Louis has assigned to you, however, perform your main task too. Find the weakness I seek and return with that knowledge as soon as possible. Do not fail me, Michael.”
The Master withdrew from his thoughts, but not before he sent a shaft of reassurance down their bond. It was enough to make Michael sit up straighter, his mind clearing a little of its zeal so he could perform the duties assigned to him.
Rising, he headed out of the library and upstairs to find a room where he could rest. Candrea was lucky she’d put the idea into his head to contact him, otherwise she may not have seen many more days. He must treat her as he would the Master…until such times he allowed him to kill her. Smiling, Michael lay on the bed fully clothed, closing his eyes to rest after their long journey.
To be continued…