The car wound its way along the road, passing the boundary to the Hanlon Pack, its speed never wavering despite Rhianna spotting the grouping of wolves fanned out along the treeline. Her mind acknowledged they were there, but it was a fleeting recognition, her thoughts far away on another continent. There was an ache so strong in her heart that threatened to consume her, and that was all she could focus on at the moment, so the wolves were dismissed from her mind.
She could feel Caleb’s eyes on her, was aware that her silence concerned him, and yet, she couldn’t open her mouth to speak, couldn’t put into words the terror that was infusing her soul. She knew if she said the words it would somehow make them real. She couldn’t bear for them to be real, her heart would surely shatter into a million pieces if they were. So she remained silent, and bottled up her emotions with a ruthless iron will. She would not speak of it…she couldn’t.
She could feel Caleb’s gaze drifting to her rigid form once again, and knew he wanted to reach out and break through the wall she had built around herself. Her beautiful mate would want to tell her everything would be okay, but they both knew he wasn’t entirely certain it would be.
Had it really only been a couple of hours since they had first received the telephone call to meet Rafe in the early hours of the morning? It felt as if days had passed, what with everything that had happened. Closing her eyes, Rhianna tried to block out everything, tried to hold onto her composure and not lose control. She had to remain strong. She couldn’t be weak right now and yet her heart was silently breaking.
“Gard…please answer me…please…”
Caleb’s eyes flickered towards his mate again, and he bit back the automatic words of comfort that sprang to his lips. How could he ease Rhianna’s pain when he didn’t know if everything would be okay? He prayed that it would be but they had insufficient evidence of what had occurred over in Europe. His eidetic memory replayed the sequence of events over the last few hours as he drove the car as if on auto-pilot.
He had awakened to the sound of Rhianna’s cell phone ringing, and listened to her muted conversation with her brother.
“What’s happened? Why do you want us to come over, Rafe?”
There was a pause as she listened to his response, her brow furrowing in a frown before she sighed and agreed they would meet him shortly.
“He’s being very Alpha this morning. He won’t say what’s wrong until we get there.”
“Must be pack orientated otherwise he would have told us.” Caleb had answered as he’d risen from their bed, dressing as quickly as his mate and heading downstairs with her.
They hadn’t conversed in the car ride over to the Armand-Hanlon pack, both lost in their own speculative thoughts of why Rafe wanted to talk to them. It had to be serious otherwise it would have waited until the morning. Was it something Vârcolac oriented or was it something to do with Reasa? Deep down they boy had known there were a myriad of reasons why the Alpha required their presence so it was pointless to speculate until they spoke with him.
Neither of them had imagined it would be what was finally revealed. They hadn’t even considered checking down their Triumvirate bond for Gard’s presence. How could they have imagined it? Gard was the oldest vampire in existence, over six thousand years old. His mate, Sarayne, was the first and oldest Vârcolac, a hybrid child of vampire and Were, and over three thousand years old. It was unthinkable that anything could have bested these two powerful individuals but something had, and now they were missing.
Rhianna’s distraught expression at hearing the news had been expected as she tested the link between herself and her brother from another time and found only silence. Her startled exclamation, her terrified eyes, had been enough to have Caleb reaching for his mate and pulling her close.
The last time she had lost a brother, or thought she had, Rhianna had closed off and turned inward to escape her grief. He couldn’t allow her to do that again. He had to protect her as best he could because she was his mate, the very reason he breathed. Even as his own heart was heavy with sorrow over what may have befallen Gard and Rayne, he had to be strong for his Annie until they knew for certain what had transpired in Europe.
The information had barely had time to sink in before a pack alert suddenly went out, signalling they were under attack. Everyone had reacted as one, moving to protect the pack as their top priority. Caleb and Rhianna had heeded the call too. The pack was their family and they would protect it at all costs.
All thoughts of Gard and Rayne’s disappearance had taken a back seat while the pack fended off the assault of the European vampires. Rhianna had immediately gone to Thereasa’s aid, sinking to the ground beside Liam as he cradled his dying mate. Beside him, Cassia had her arms around Pietro, the vampire coated in Reasa’s blood, confusion on his scarred face.
“She threw herself in front of me,” Pietro kept muttering, disbelief in his voice.” Why would she do that? She had to know the bullets would kill her – she’s human now!”
Cassia quiet voice murmured soothingly to her mate, her gaze never leaving the dying woman.
All around were the sounds of screaming and fighting, but to the group kneeling on the forest floor there was only Reasa, and the sound of Liam’s pleas. His frantic eyes searched wildly, finding the one person he sought. “Help her, Annie. Help her. Make her wake up again...please.”
“Oh, Liam...I wish I could, sweetheart. I truly do...”
“She’s there, Annie, I can feel her still there,” he wept, his eyes pleading with her. “I can feel her in there, she isn’t gone.”
Then Mallen had appeared, pushing through the group. “Let me through,” he ordered, as he pulled open his medical bag. “If Liam says she’s there then I’m not going to argue with him, not after he just brought six seemingly dead vampires back to life. So, I’ll work on the physical side and you can do your mental shit. Come on, people, we don’t have a lot of time here.” His stoic pragmatism seemed to shake off some of the stunned grief they were experiencing and the group parted to give them room…
As events moved around them, the barest change in posture was enough to tell Caleb that his Annie had ceded control to the inner soul the resided within her – to the vampire Queen Anakatrine, and he automatically slipped into his role of protector, guarding the three crucial elements to Thereasa’s possible survival.
He’d had no idea if they could pull the woman back from the brink of death, but he would give them every opportunity to do so. He had learned long ago not to doubt Anakatrine’s resolve when she wished something to happen. If she had decided today was not Reasa’s day to die, then he expected that would be the case.
The fighting had been over by the time Rhianna had slumped tiredly into his waiting arms, the vampire queen once more withdrawn, a healthy pallor beginning to suffuse Reasa’s pale cheeks.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Liam’s grateful words gushed forth as he cradled his mate carefully, watching the wounds heal miraculously on her body.
Rhianna had yawned, snuggling against his chest as Liam dragged his gaze from his mate to look at them. “Thereasa saved her three souls. Her penance is over.” Her lavender gaze connected with the Vârcolac, a happy smile gracing her face. “Anakatrine returned Reasa’s immortality, Liam. She will heal herself in good time now, though it would probably be more comfortable if she wasn’t left lying on the forest floor while she did.”
A hush had fallen over the clearing, all eyes staring at them. “Do you mean it, Annie?” Liam whispered, hope in his voice. “Reasa is a vampire once more?”
Her smile had widened if that was possible as she rose to her feet with Caleb at her side. “She is a vampire once more,” she agreed placing a hand on his shoulder. “Take her home now, Liam. Cassia, take Pietro home too. There has been enough drama this night. Let’s care for those we can and find a way to help those we can’t.”
Caleb had gathered her to his side, knowing her thoughts were travelling back to Europe and to what could have happened to her brother and his mate. The rest of the pack wasn’t aware of that turn of events as yet, and it appeared they would try to limit that knowledge to those who needed to know for the time being.
“Back to Rafe’s?” he’d asked, but she’d shaken her head as she looked at her brother. The Alpha’s attention was on his pack at the moment, and the ones he could do something to help.
“Tomorrow,” she’d answered, her heart heavy as her eyes turned to stare off into the distance. “Be safe,” she whispered for only Caleb to hear. “Be safe, brother of my heart. Your work here is not yet done.”
Now they were almost home and Caleb wanted to curse out loud. Now that the adrenaline had receded, it gave Rhianna time to digest the news they’d learned just prior to the attack, and her reaction was what he had both expected and dreaded.
Caleb cast another sideways glance at Rhianna, his concern increasing as he searched her blank expression. He knew what was going through her mind, and he wanted to do something, say something that would alleviate the morbid thoughts she was no doubt thinking. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, taking a deep breath as he tried to find some words of comfort. “Annie, they will be okay.”
Haunted lavender eyes turned to meet his and then she looked away again, staring vacantly out the windscreen as he pulled into the driveway of their home. “I can’t feel him, Caleb. I should be able to sense him but there is just a blank area where Gard has always been.”
He knew what she meant; he could detect no sign of her brother down their Triumvirate bond. Always before the three of them had been linked, they carried the souls of the vampire Queen and King, and Gard was their third, the Queen’s Guardian. Caleb had tested that link and found only Rhianna on the other end, but that didn’t mean that the worst had happened. It couldn’t, because he didn’t think Rhianna could cope with the loss of her brother from another time.
He could remember every moment of when he had first met his beautiful mate. She had been human then, and grieving for the loss of her brother Rafe whom she had believed was dead. She’d had no knowledge then of a world where vampire and Weres existed. She had believed she had lost Rafe forever and her grief had been absolute.
However, fate had stepped in showing her a world where her brother now lived as a Were shifter and her lover was an Ancient vampire. She had accepted these things in her stride, her love for the two most important men in her life making acceptance a simple matter for her. Then fate had stepped in once more, awakening the spirit of a long-dead vampire queen within Rhianna, and reuniting her with her beloved brother and Guardian, Gard. The same brother who was now missing somewhere in Europe along with his mate Sarayne.
Caleb knew that his Annie loved Gard with the same passion that she loved Rafe. There was no distinction between the two of them in her mind, no matter that Gard had lived over six thousand years and his blood kin was the vampire queen residing in her soul. If she lost Gard…if the unspeakable had happened and he no longer walked the planet…Caleb didn’t know how she would react to that loss. All he knew was she needed him to be strong for her, and he would do his utmost to be there for her.
He parked the car close to the front door, walking around it to open her door when she didn’t move. “Come on, Annie.” Holding out his hand he waited for her to acknowledge him, waiting a full five minutes before he reached in and took her hand. “Let’s go inside, love.”
She appeared to shake herself from her reverie, her troubled gaze searching his face for a moment before she allowed him to help her out of the car. “She’s so silent too. It’s eerie how absent she feels as well, Caleb.”
He knew who she was referring to, and he took a moment to turn his thoughts inward, to the soul that nestled inside his head. “Callain?”
There was a brief pause and then the deep voice of the vampire King whispered through his mind and sent a shiver down his spine. “Leave her, Caleb. Let her come to terms with what she’s heard. If she reacts out of emotion…well, let’s just say we don’t want her to do that. Comfort Annie as best you can. If Anakatrine reacts negatively, be prepared to cede control to me so I might temper her rage. She can be formidable when she is hurting. I don’t want anyone to be hurt because she is lashing out in grief. Take respite that she is thinking this turn of events through.”
The other presence vanished as quickly as he appeared, and Caleb sighed as he pulled Rhianna into his embrace, his need to protect his mate paramount. “Callain says it’s best to allow Anakatrine to come to terms with things and we shouldn’t prod her until she is ready to speak to us. For now, we are on our own and it is our actions that we need to determine.”
She nodded against his wide chest, pressing her small frame into his arms as if she was trying to climb into his very skin. “Do you think….do you think they’re…?”
Caleb cursed as her voice broke, and a loud sob wracked her body, shock and grief finally breaking through the fragile control she’d held on her emotions. His beautiful mate gave her heart unreservedly, and that meant when things went wrong, it shattered so very easily.
Sweeping Rhianna into his arms, he strode into the house, and headed straight upstairs to their room. She needed to feel safe and there was no safer place she felt than in their room. She also needed to rest, because no doubt there would a lot asked of her in the days to come. “No I don’t believe that, and I won’t until I see evidence to the contrary,” he growled, lowering his mate onto their bed and curling his big body around hers protectively.
“They’re not dead, Annie. I refuse to believe that. Gard and Rayne have lived far too long to be easily subdued. Something has happened, and while I don’t know what that something is, I am certain they are still alive somewhere in Europe. When we return to the pack tomorrow we will formulate a plan to find them. Until then, try to sleep, love. I know it will be difficult but we need to be rested and prepared for whatever tomorrow will bring.”
Caleb expected her to fight him, but instead she cuddled close and closed her eyes, as if she wanted the oblivion of sleep to claim her so she wasn’t imagining all kinds of nightmares of what may have happened in Europe. The shivering of her body was the only indication that she still wept silent tears for Gard and Rayne, and he held her close until those tremors finally stilled and she fell into a fitful sleep.
When he was certain she was truly asleep, he rose from the bed and tucked the covers around her body. Then he left the room, pulling his cell phone from his jeans pocket and hitting the first speed dial number.
“What’s wrong?” a male voice growled down the phone as it was answered. “I presume it’s something of biblical proportions seeing as you’re waking me at this ungodly hour.”
The irritated response brought a half smile to Caleb’s lips. If there was one thing he could always count on, no matter what shit was hitting the fan Demetri Bozic would never change. “I need you over here right now,” he answered. “We’ve lost contact with Gard and Rayne, and there was a vampire attack on the Armand-Hanlon pack tonight.”
“I’ll be there in ten,” Demetri answered, hanging up as soon as he’d finished speaking.
Caleb hadn’t expected any less from his closest friend. When things went to hell, Demetri was the vampire you wanted to have at your back, and Caleb knew he would always come at a moment’s call. Before Rhianna, Demetri had been the only constant in his life. They had remained close despite finding their mates and Caleb coming to terms with the fact he carried the vampire King’s soul within his mind.
Now he began making some coffee, changing his mind and grabbing a bottle of red wine and two glasses. He was sitting in the near dark in his living room when his front door opened, the light from the hallway illuminating the other male even though Caleb didn’t need it to see his friend.
It was obvious Demetri had been sleeping when he’d called him, his thick, black hair was rumpled as if he’d just run his fingers through it rather than a brush. It was loose around his shoulders, his back T-shirt and jeans making him look every inch the lethal predator that he was. Green eyes searched and found Caleb sitting in the dark, and Demetri entered the room to take the armchair across from his friend, his hand reaching for the waiting glass of wine on the table at the side.
He didn’t speak as he took a drink from his glass, his beautiful face devoid of all expression as he waited for Caleb to speak.
“I’m glad you came alone,” Caleb finally said, sipping from his own glass. “I hope Mara wasn’t too annoyed at me calling you away.”
Demetri’s expression softened, as it always did when his wife was mentioned. Gone was the deadly predator and in its place was a husband very much in love with his mate. He only relaxed this way when surrounded by those he truly trusted, and it made him even more devastating to look at when his eyes glowed with such love for Mara. “She said to tell you that if this is something that impacts on the Council then you’d better let her know because there was enough grumblings from the other members that you keep them out of the loop the last time.”
Caleb wasn’t surprised at that and nodded his agreement. The vampire council had only just learned that there was a poison out there that could kill vampires by destroying their regenerative abilities. They had still to update them about finding an antidote and discussing a way forward that all vampires could receive an inoculation to mute the threat from Europe. Too much had happened in too short a period of time. It was hard keeping up with events.
Caleb’s thoughts were on Gard and Rayne though. A slow burning fury was bubbling up inside that someone had dared laid hands on the emissaries he’d sent to Europe to find out what the fuck was going on over there. He had yet to make a call to Joshua for an update. He wanted to have something concrete in place to tell Rhianna when she woke, so that his mate would know events were in motion to find them and bring them home.
“Tell me about the attack,” Demetri said when his friend remained silent. “Was anyone hurt? Is Pietro okay?”
“Reasa was badly injured but is recovering. Pietro was involved but apparently Reasa threw herself in front of a poisoned bullet to save his life. I don’t think it even crossed her mind that as he was mated with Cassia now and had been taking her blood that he was most probably already immune to the poison. She just reacted and in that reaction almost died. Anakatrine returned her immortality back to her.”
Demetri’s expression turned surprised as he listened to the news, a trace of unease in his eyes. “Caleb, don’t take this the wrong way but that freaks me the fuck out the way Anakatrine just takes and gives back vampire immortality as if it’s a common day occurrence. We need to make sure this knowledge never comes to the Council’s attention, our friends excluded of course. If the others found out…well I don’t want to think how they would react to Annie if they knew what she was capable of.”
The low growl from his friend was expected. “If they come anywhere near her I will rip the lot of them to pieces!”
His fierce expression brought a half smile to Demetri’s face. “I would be right there with you, my friend, as would Alexei, Andrei, Mara and Stephan to name but a few. No one will ever lay one finger on our Annie. This is not like the past when Anakatrine and Callain stood alone against the first Council. Events will not play out as they did then. You have my word on that.”
His friend’s reassurance appeared to mollify Caleb for the moment, and he sighed and ran a hand through his tousled hair. “The attack was from the European vampires. They were all killed with the exception of the leader, Michael, who appears to have gotten away. We need a search of the city and eyes and ears on all ways out of the country. I want him…and preferably alive. I have questions only he can answer.”
Demetri nodded his agreement. “I will get on that as soon as we’re finished here. What about Gard and Rayne? How the hell could someone catch them unawares, Caleb? They’re two of the oldest living beings to walk this planet. Did you speak with Joshua?” He was partial to the blond European vampire who had helped him save Pietro’s life a few months ago. If anyone could help ferret out what had happened to the missing couple then Joshua should be able to.
Caleb swallowed back his wine and poured another glass, replenishing Demetri’s at the same time. “I’m going to call him shortly. There hasn’t been any time yet. I wanted to speak to you first.” His expression when troubled when he met his friend’s intent gaze. “I’m between a rock and hard place here, Demetri. My gut reaction is to send you and some others across to Europe to find out what happened but I can’t afford to lose any more key personnel when we still don’t know what we’re dealing with there. If I don’t send someone then Annie’s going to insist that she goes and I can’t let that happen.”
“She’ll invoke the vampire Queen to overrule you,” Demetri growled, displeasure crossing his face at the thought. “You won’t be able to argue with her.”
“Agreed,” Caleb sighed, weary resignation crossing his face. “Callain will though, so if it comes to that I’m going to have no choice but to let those two fight it out and hope he has enough influence over Anakatrine to make her see sense. I can’t lose Annie, Demetri. I will do whatever I must to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Demetri rose, finishing his glass of wine and setting it down on the table. “The best thing we can do is have some answers for her when she wakes and we’re not going to have that by sitting here talking all night. While you talk to Joshua, I’ll see about trying to track down this Michael character. I take it the twins are sticking close to the pack at the moment? Will Nors and Freya be available to assist or does Rafe need them too?”
“I’ll talk to Rafe and get him to free up the Erikssons. He has enough muscle with the twins staying close to the pack. Truth be told, I want Freya and Nors trying to track down Michael. They have a particularly vested interest in hunting him down as Liam’s mate was the target of his attack. By the time you get home, they should already have been alerted to the fact you’ll be calling.”
Caleb felt better now he had a plan of action in place. For too long now they had been reacting to whatever was thrown at them from Europe. It felt better to be in control, to at least be doing something. As Demetri headed out he picked up his cell phone and placed a call to Rafe first. He would speak to Joshua afterwards, once Demetri had the tools that he needed to perform his task.
“Freya? Where the hell are you?”
Dayton’s sleepy mental contact brought a smile to the tall, beautiful vampire as she wove her way through the houses in the compound on her way towards her brother’s house. She had thought she would have had more time before he woke but it appeared her mate was far too sensitive to her absence. She couldn’t deny the bubble of satisfaction that welled up inside her. It was good he noticed she was gone, even if it meant he would be unhappy that she was. “Caleb needs Nors and I to try to follow Michael’s trail into the city. He has requested Rafe to release us from pack security for now and our Alpha has agreed.”
“What? You didn’t think this was important enough to wake me? Wait up, I will come with you.”
There was mild reproof in his voice and it made her smile widen. She adored his over protectiveness, even when it was unwarranted. It was a sign that he loved her, not that she needed any signs of that. He’d spent the last twenty five years proving how much he did, and she was a lucky woman to have a mate so loving.
The only sadness she felt at his words was the very faint trace of concern she detected that he tried so hard to mask. Even after all this time there was a lingering shadow in his mind that he might one day lose her as he lost his first mate Faith. She supposed it would always be there, and she could understand why. While it had been a tragic event in Dayton’s life, it had shaped him to be the man he was today. Faith deserved to have her place in his heart and his memories. She would never take that from him and she would accept his over protectiveness because he needed to take care of her, whether she required it or not.
“I would prefer one of us to remain with our daughter, Dayton, just in case anyone is foolhardy enough to try a second assault on the pack. Michael is a vampire and therefore it’s logical that vampires will have a better chance of tracking him down as we can anticipate better how he thinks. Nors will be with me so no harm will come to me.”
For a long moment her words were greeted with silence, and then a resigned sigh echoed through her mind.
“And this has nothing to do with the fact that Michael hurt Reasa and in doing so, Liam? There isn’t a smidgeon of revenge in the beautiful mind of yours, is there, my love?”
Freya laughed softly, the sound causing her brother to turn around from where he was kissing Ashleigh goodbye at their front door. She had reached their house and was walking towards the couple as she answered him. “Of course it does, my mate, as you very well know.”
It was her turn to have a small amount of reproof in her mental voice that he would actually question that. “No one touches my family and lives to tell the tale. I offered Reasa sanctuary in our home and I let her, and Liam, down. I will not let either of them down again. Michael must pay for his transgressions, Dayton. It cannot be any other way.”
Her mate sighed softly, and then sent a pulse of love down their mate bond. “Fine, I will stay with Elina. Just don’t do anything reckless, Freya. We need you home with us, safe and sound.”
“As if,” was her droll response, sending him her own love and reassurance. “Keep our bed warm for me, lover. I will return soon.”
Freya broke off her conversation, smiling at the blonde wolf who had come to be as dear to her heart as her brother. “Are you giving Nors as difficult a time as Dayton is giving me?”
Ashleigh’s eyes sparkled with amusement as she shook her head. “I’ve long since learned that I am wasting my breath when it comes to this mate of mine. Bear with Dayton; he will reach that point eventually.”
Freya’s expression clearly indicated that she doubted that very much but she smiled at the other woman. “How is Reasa? Has she recovered?”
“I presume so though it’s hard to tell since Liam locked them in his room the instant Mallen gave her the all clear.”
There was quiet amusement in Ashleigh’s tone and Freya was pleased to see that she was coming to accept Reasa into their family. It would have made things challenging if she had continued to resist her son mating with the woman who had initially come over from Europe to assassinate him. It was good that they would have the best of starts to their life together with the blonde wolf’s acceptance.
“The sooner we get this over with the sooner we will be home,” Nors pointed out, dropping a quick kiss on his mate’s lips before turning to his sister. “Do you want to start at the attack point?”
“That makes sense,” Freya answered, waiting until Ashleigh had headed back inside the house and the door closed securely behind her. “You will have to take the lead, Nors. I cannot trust myself not to take Michael’s head if I get my hands on him and that will only irritate Rafe as our instructions are to bring him back alive. I can do without another lecture on what it means to be pack.”
Her brother smiled, quickly tying his long auburn locks back on a ponytail at his nape. Freya’s resigned tone about pack etiquette always made him smile, as well as earned her his pride. His beautiful sister had come such a long way in the last quarter of a century, though she hadn’t lost sight of her limitations. Realistically, he should have been the one concerned about possibly losing control as it was his son and his mate who had been hurt by Michael’s actions. However, he had spent all his life being the reasonable one, always looking out for Freya, that it was second nature that she would turn to him when she was worried about being able to maintain control.
“Dead vampires tell no tales, Freya, and we need Michael to be singing like a canary. Try to keep that in the forefront of your mind just in case you do come face to face with him, and I am not there to intervene.”
She rolled her eyes at him, stretching her arms above her head to loosen some of the tension in her shoulders. “Singing like a canary? Where do you get your vernacular from? Actually, don’t answer that, I’ve heard how most of the pack speak. I swear you grow more like a wolf every day, brother mine.”
“Something you might benefit from,” he countered as he turned in the direction where the assault had happened only hours before. “Come on, I want to get this over with so I can get back into bed with my mate.”
“Lead on, then, and I will dutifully follow.” Freya couldn’t hide her amusement as he snorted loudly and then took off into the trees. She also couldn’t deny the bubble of excitement that was starting to infuse her. It had been a long time since she had not only been on a sanctioned hunt, but also spent any alone time with her brother. It felt as if the years had suddenly rolled back and it was just the Erikssons against the world. She hadn’t realised how much she had missed it.
Smiling she took off after Nors, vanishing into the thick treeline surrounding the main pack compound. Her vampiric senses kicked into gear instantly, as she focused on the task at hand. In less than ten seconds, she had caught up with her brother and was fanning out on his left side, immediately falling into old habits of when they had hunted together in the past. Freya took a wide circle towards the attack point just outside their boundary line, meeting up with Nors as he circled in from the right.
“He headed that way,” Nors growled, wrinkling his nose at the confusing scents all around them.
“You’re sure?” Freya wasn’t really questioning her brother. He wasn’t usually wrong about things but the area had already been sanitised and the vampire bodies burnt. There was still the lingering scent of death all around them, mixed in with the many packs scents of everyone involved. It wasn’t unreasonable to double check they were picking up the correct scent.
“Positive…he has a rather unique… odour.”
Freya backtracked over Nors’ trail until she picked up what he meant. “There’s something very wrong with him,” she commented, her tone conversational despite the fact she was wrinkling her nose at the smell.
“I guess we’ll find out what when we catch up with him,” her brother answered. “Let’s find where he went to ground…”
Michael sat in the library of the safe house waiting for Candrea to arrive. He had placed a light in the window as she had instructed him when they’d first met, but his patience was wearing thin as he waited. The abduction of Reasa couldn’t have gone more horribly wrong…well he supposed it could have, he could have been killed along with the rest of the team he’d taken with him.
One moment he had been in a position of absolute power and the next, wolves and ancient vampires had descended on them on masse and retreat had been the only option. He needed to talk to Candrea. He needed an exit strategy back to Europe. Though he hated to admit it, he needed the other vampire to give him some advice on how he could present this failure to him.
Michael was afraid to report back to their Master just yet. His wrath could be a terrible thing, and the blond vampire was in no doubt that the Master would not be happy to learn that he’d failed to neutralise Thereasa, and had learned nothing of worth from the aborted attack. Perhaps Candrea would have some way of dressing it up so it didn’t appear to be such an abject failure. If only the stupid slattern would get his message and show her face at the safe house!
“Michael, your agitation is a palpable thing. Tell me what has transpired.”
Cold slivers of dread trickled down his spine as his Master’s voice rebounded through his chaotic thoughts. “Master…Master, we were ambushed. The ancient vampires arrived with their wolf pets and slaughtered everyone.”
Heavy disapproval flooded his mind, so thick he could almost reach out and touch it psychically. A split second later, pain exploded inside his mind, sending Michael crashing to the flood clutching his head in agony.
“Be still! Be silent!”
The order was inescapable, and Michael strove to obey even as tears streamed from his eyes. He had disappointed his Master. It was only fitting that he be punished for his failure. He could feel him scything through his thoughts, ripping the knowledge directly from his weak mind. The pain was agonising, Michael’s body bowing up in a razor sharp needles appeared to rasp over every inch of his body. He tried to protect himself, to dull the agony, but there was no hiding from the Master.
“Imbecile. Fool. I should never have honoured you with this task. You have nothing to show for your time here, Michael. I was already aware that the pack would be heavily defended from my other sources. Your failure cannot be tolerated; you know that, don’t you?”
“Please…Master…please! I live only to serve you. I am sorry! I will do better next time. Please, Master…please let me serve...” Michael let out an agonised scream as a shaft of pure malevolence seared through his already bruised mind. The scream cut off to a muted wail, the last semblance of any rationality cruelly extinguished with a mere thought.
“Candrea…clean up this filth…”
The female vampire was just approaching the safe house, the contact from the Master so unexpected she almost drove off the road into a ditch. As it was, she pulled over in the dark, taking a moment to catch her breath. It took all of her mental skills to hide her instant irritation from the powerful mind still lurking within hers. He never stopped to consider that whomever he was contacting may need to be in full control of their faculties. It was little things like that which chafed at her soul, and was probably one of the reasons she had survived so long in servitude to him.
He burnt out weaker minds at an exponential rate. As soon as she had met Michael, she had known that the blond vampire wouldn’t last much longer. He was already too far gone in his subservience, too eager to please the powerful mind that ruled so many. She wasn’t the least surprised that she would be cleaning up yet another of his victims. It wouldn’t be the first time and she doubted it would be the last.
About to start the car again to carry on her journey, something halted her hand as she went to turn the key. She had always had what she laughingly termed her early warning system. It wasn’t a power as such, not like some of the powers others she knew had. It was more of a sixth sense that warned her when she was about to walk into danger. It served her well this time, as less than a minute later her enhanced vision picked up movement at the edge of the forest up ahead, and two figures broke the treeline.
Nors and Freya Eriksson. Just seeing them together was enough to send a shiver down Candrea’s spine. Only a complete fool failed to fear the Ancient siblings, and a fool was something that she wasn’t. Holding her breath, she watched the duo cross the empty road up ahead, their destination clear. They were headed towards the safe house. They must have tracked Michael!
How long had it been since she’d been there? Would they be able to pick up her scent from her earlier visit? It had been a few days so most likely any trace scent that may still be there would be well diluted by the many male vampires who had been residing in the house up until the attack. One thing was certain though, she couldn’t obey the Master and clean up his mess now. She wouldn’t be able to account for her presence there.
Finally turning the key in the ignition when the Erikssons vanished from sight, Candrea quickly turned the car around and headed back the way she had just come. She hoped Michael’s mind was completely destroyed as she anticipated it would be, but she wasn’t overly concerned if there was still a spark of sanity remaining. She had been well disguised when she had met with the blond vampire. Even if he could give a description of her, it would point in the completely wrong direction. She was safe for now, but she would be on high alert going forward. If the others found out about her…well nothing would save her skin if that truth came out.
Nors and Freya entered the silent house, turning unerringly towards the sitting room the second they slipped inside. Walking purposefully into the room, they stopped just inside the doorway, a sound of disgust uttering from Freya’s lips as her gaze connected with the curled up body lying on the floor.
One glance was all it took to tell them that Michael’s mind had been irretrievably shattered. His pale eyes stared vacantly ahead, and flecks of spittle oozed from the side of his mouth. Dried blood encrusted his lips where his fangs had pierced his flesh, the wicked looking teeth still embedded there. Whatever had been left of Michael’s sanity was long gone and it took a moment for the two Ancients to process what they were seeing.
“His mind is completely destroyed.” Freya pointed out the obvious, a frown marring her exquisite features. “That must have taken extraordinary power. No vampire would willingly allow another to mess inside their heads.”
“Except for Liam and Reasa,” her brother countered, referring to his son and his mate, and their ability to dream walk. “Does this mean we have another dream walker out there somewhere? Possibly someone from Europe?”
Freya pursed her lips, moving over to the window to stare down at the lit lamp languishing on a table against the wall. “Old abilities are being resurrected. I would not be surprised to learn our enemies have this talent. All the more reason for us to determine if any others have the skillset and to have them trained as soon as possible.”
Her frown deepened and then she looked back over her shoulder. “This is a message, this light before the window. Michael was signalling someone that he wanted to meet.”
Nors raised an eyebrow, his expression doubtful. “It’s a lamp on a table, Freya. I swear you see conspiracies everywhere.”
“There is no seating close to this lamp. It provides no direct illumination for anything. Its purpose isn’t beneficial as a light source therefore it can only be a beacon of some kind, a message to someone outside that they are being called. Laugh at me if you wish, Nors, but I am sure on this. This lamp is a call for someone to come to the house.”
Her brother didn’t argue with her, it was foolish to do so when she was so certain. Instead, he nodded his head in agreement and headed back out of the living room. “You check inside the house, I’ll do a sweep of the grounds.” He didn’t wait for her acknowledgement. They had hunted together for over two thousand years and each knew the other’s habits.
Nors circled the property and surrounding trees in a tight arc and then three times more in every increasing arcs. He returned to the house when he was certain that the area was completely secure. Freya was just returning up from the basement, her body language alert but relaxed.
“There’s no one outside,” Nors reported. “I take it the house is secure too?”
“I scented the vampires who attacked the pack but no others. I’ve checked the house four times and there are no concealed panels to be found. The only person here is the living corpse in the living room.”
Her brother frowned, his gaze drifting towards the front door. “Perhaps if we had been a little slower at tracking Michael we might have found out who he was meeting.”
Freya shrugged, her movement an elegant tilt of her shoulders. “Or perhaps whoever he was meeting was here already and that is why his mind has been destroyed.” She didn’t truly believe that. If his co-conspirator had been here they would have cleaned up the mess before leaving. No, it was likely as Nors said, they had arrived before Michael’s visitor had.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” Calm green eyes met her brother’s intent gaze.
“The European vampires have a spy among us,” Nors answered, his expression hardening as he uttered the words. Just the thought that one of their own could be responsible for what was happening was enough to send him into a fury like no other. His sister’s deceptively calm expression didn’t hide her own inner fury from him either.
“When I find whoever it is, they will scream for mercy,” Freya promised.
“I think there will be a long queue for that, sister mine,” Nors replied, a cold smile crossing his face. “Come, there is nothing of worth to be learned here now. Let’s clean up the mess and report back to Rafe. I want to get home to my mate as I am sure do you.”
Without another spoken word, the siblings worked together, lifting Michael’s limp body and ignoring his pathetic gurgling as they headed upstairs and into the first available bathroom. Staring down at him for a long moment, Nors nodded his head in his sister’s direction and she elongated her talons and knelt down beside the bath.
Smoothing back his hair from his brow, Freya closed Michael’s sightless eyes and then sliced her talons across his throat. She pressed hard and deep, scything ruthlessly until his head detached and she let it rest beside his torso. The deed was almost done, well the first part was. Now she had to dismember the body and dispose of it. They also needed to sanitise the house.
Nors left Freya to complete her job, finding as many natural accelerants as he could in the house. There would be sufficient to cover all traces of Michael’s origins and most likely burn the entire house down to the ground if the fire department didn’t arrive too quickly. It was most important to ensure Michael’s remains were obliterated so they would ensure that before the left.
Barely an hour since they’d left the pack, Nors and Freya Eriksson stood hidden within the treeline watching the house burn in a raging inferno. In the distance they could hear the first sounds of emergency vehicles rushing to the scene, but they were unconcerned by the clamour. The area had been fully sanitised and the human world would be oblivious to what had occurred inside the house. Turning as one, they melted into the darkness, returning home to report to their Alpha.
To be continued…