Chavez did end up making Xav dinner, he even spoiled him a bit and made just what he wanted. The next morning when Xavier slid under Rayne’s duvet they fucked like bunnies for two whole hours before Rayne finally tapped into those sensitive bite marks that just refused to heal and drank his promised breakfast in bed.
Over the next few days a routine developed. Xavier went to Rayne’s room in the morning, not too early because they were usually up late the night before. They would tumble across the sheets in a passionate tangle that invariably ended with Rayne taking his blood. Then Rayne kissed him and went about his day, sometimes going out, sometimes just disappearing into the expansive, sprawling house, usually in company with PJ.
Xavier was left to do as he pleased, watch TV, play video games, swim in the pool, and when he got bored with all that he’d find Chavez or Clay, or both, to talk to, tease, and play with. A few times he’d sat talking with PJ too. They all seemed to like him well enough. Chavez seemed to think he was amusing and whenever they were together there was generally a lot of joking around and laughing. Clay actually seemed to like talking to him and always looked pleasantly surprised that Xav didn’t just parrot back stupid shit he’d picked up from the TV, but actually had his own opinions. PJ just seemed pleased whenever Xav cuddled up to him.
At some point Rayne would come and find Xavier, either in the room he was using or somewhere else in the house, and they’d end up wrapped around each other again, whether the Vampire wanted his body or his blood or both. Xavier didn’t have to coax Rayne to bite him anymore (whether by accident or design). Rayne was altogether more relaxed about it, though he voiced concerned that the marks he had left did not ever go away entirely. He tried biting Xavier at the crook of his elbow instead, and those marks lingered too.
The really strange thing was that Xavier started to crave Rayne’s bite almost as much as his body. He had never been a slut for pain before, and the bites did hurt, but it was such a fucking turn on. His body reacted if he even touched the marks on his neck. When Rayne bit him it got him so hard it made him dizzy. If he was already close to orgasm it would send him soaring over.
So the bites were not really an issue. Somewhere in all of this craziness Xavier just accepted that Rayne was the real deal. He didn’t ask a lot of questions and Rayne didn’t offer too much information of his own accord, but it wasn’t really necessary. It was something about the blood; every time Rayne drank from him there was an electric connection, mostly one way, but Xavier also picked up odd bits and pieces from Rayne. Enough to feel traces of his hunger, his need. Enough to know what he was, though he couldn’t have explained verbally to someone else, nor would he have tried to. It would just have sounded crazy.
It was crazy, the whole damn thing, but Xavier simply didn’t care. There were no illusions between them, both were a little too jaded for that. Rayne was using him quite shamelessly and Xavier let him and just enjoyed the ride. It was like an unspoken but well-understood agreement between two like-minded creatures. Though it did sort of prickle Xavier that other than for the slaking his lust or his thirst Rayne pretty much ignored him the rest of the time.
Rayne was appreciative enough of Xav’s pliant, naked body in his bed and a hot, willing meal when he needed it, and Xavier’s insatiable sexual appetite was being kept well-sated, but when they weren’t fucking like a pair of wild animals Rayne, to all intents, avoided him. It might not have been so bad if he wasn’t the only one that noticed. Xav could not even mention Rayne’s name in front of anyone in the house without getting a sympathetic look and skittering avoidance of the subject, like he was some love struck calf or something. It was frustrating as hell, because that was not how he saw it. Xavier had been here before. He knew exactly what the score was, and exactly what would happen when it was time for Rayne to pack up and leave. The singer was thoroughly unsentimental. He had never given the slightest hint in his words or behaviour that what they had was anything more than an extended fling.
Right now, Xav just wanted to make the most of that.
Rayne had been lurking for most of the afternoon in PJ’s office, which was more of a chill-out room than a workstation these days, although it was equipped with a laptop and enough audio-visual hardware to give Bill Gates a three-day hard-on. It also had an ensuite sauna and massage room, which the singer enjoyed. Rayne rarely felt warm, unless he was feeding or making out, sharing another person’s heat and energy. The sauna helped in that respect. And it was good for his skin. The vigorous rub down that he got each afternoon from Paddy’s skilful Danish masseur loosened muscles that he hadn’t even known existed. If he had been out during the day to one of the studios, or doing a photoshoot, he liked to relax in here afterwards. Never the most sociable of creatures, Rayne found the media merry-go-round tiresome of late. It would be good to go back to England and retreat into the anonymity he was trying to create for himself there, but in the meantime PJ’s place was a sanctuary for him.
Whenever the thought of going home crossed his mind he was nagged by the memory of that conversation with Cole Lagrado. The Vampire Master had not been in touch since their testy exchange at the recording studio but Rayne could not get the Elder’s veiled threats out of his mind. He did not worry so much for himself but the idea that Lagrado might harm his friends was an irritant he could have done without. On the afternoon before he was scheduled to fly back to London, Rayne and PJ were relaxing in the steam room as usual, enjoying the companionable silence and the cleansing heat, when the older man brought up another thorny subject.
“When are you gonna tell the kid?” he asked gruffly.
“Tell him what?” Rayne tilted his head back to look at Paddy, lounging on the adjacent bench.
“You know, what! When are you gonna tell him that you’re going home?” PJ wanted to know.
For a moment Rayne looked discomfited. He lay back then and closed his eyes. “I’ll tell him tonight.”
“And what then?” his friend persisted. “What am I supposed to do with him once you’ve gone?”
“You’re not his minder. If you want him to go home, tell him.” Rayne sounded irritable and PJ knew that he didn’t want to think about the matter. Which was why he carried on pushing it.
“You’re just gonna dump him? No explanation?”
“He knows the score, he’s not a child!” the singer exhaled, turning sinuously to lie on his stomach on the towel, glaring back at the other man. “He knows what I am. I didn’t have to tell him, he just understood. He’ll understand this too.”
“He’s hooked on you,” PJ said observantly. “Like a drug. He just keeps coming back for more. You always told me that you didn’t go to the same feeders day-in day-out because they can get hooked. What was different about him?”
“I figured he could take it,” Rayne said bluntly. “There’s something about him, Paddy. I can’t put my finger on it, but he is different.”
“But you’re still gonna walk out on him?” The big fellow shook his head grimly. It wasn’t really a question. He knew Rayne too well by now. In the intervening years since the shy, defensive twenty-year old had first run out on him back in France, the paths of PJ McNamara and Rayne Wylde just kept crossing. The first time it happened it had been a shock for both of them, but now Rayne was no longer trying to hide from him. It still worried the older man that he was always alone though. Paddy had hoped that by now Rayne would be strong enough to let down his barriers and allow someone to get closer.
“I’m not his wife. I’m not his fucking keeper,” Rayne snapped, breaking into his reflections. “For Christ’s sake, Paddy. I can’t adopt them all, I’d need a warehouse! He might pine a bit but he’ll get over me.”
PJ gave him a look that said otherwise. Rayne scowled and buried his head in his folded arms.
“Stop that! He’s not in love with me and I’m not taking him with me, that’s final!”
When the older man still said nothing Rayne lifted his head wearily and looked into those shrewd, steely blue eyes. The look acknowledged their bond, a trust that Rayne Wylde put in few people.
“Will you keep an eye on him for me?” he asked at last, yielding to the non-verbal accusation of negligence. “Not adopt him, but… just make sure he’s okay once I’ve gone.”
PJ McNamara sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Sure I will. You think I could turf him out after the way you’ve been with him since you brought him home? He doesn’t deserve that!”
“I owe you,” Rayne said quietly.
“You always have done. I look forward to the day when you finally pay me back for all the favours I’ve done you over the years. That will be one mighty fine day!” Paddy chuckled sadly. He knew that it would never come, and in his heart he had no desire for payback. He only wanted to see his boys well and happy. Rayne was more sorted now than he had been twenty years ago, back when they first met, but PJ was not certain that he was happy. He wondered if anyone could ever make Rayne feel that emotion long-term.
“C’mere,” Rayne murmured suggestively, rising to his knees and leaning forward to plant a kiss on the older fellow’s lips. “I know what I can do for you…”
They did not need the masseur’s attentions that afternoon. They were far too busy for that.
Xavier sat on the floor, knees bent back and ass between his ankles in what looked like a thoroughly uncomfortable position though it didn’t bother him at all. He was stuffing the scattered clothes he’d picked up from around the room into his backpack. He took a last look around, making sure he’d got everything. For the first time since he’d been using this room everything was picked up and tidy.
It felt sort of wrong to just leave like this. Like he was sneaking out with the silverware or something. It was just… he didn’t do well with goodbyes. And he knew Rayne was leaving. He felt it in his blood.
Clay and PJ had hinted to him, kind of heavy-handedly, that he could stay on. Which was nice of them, but sooner or later they were going to get tired of mothering him. He’d rather go now, on his own terms. He thought about leaving a note, at least, but what was he going to put in it? “Thanks for a lovely time. Safe trip.” Right! There was nothing he could think of to write that wouldn’t sound cheesy or laughable. Still, he couldn’t shake the wrong feeling at just going off without even saying goodbye to anyone.
Ah well, they’d probably be relieved not to have to go through any awkwardness. He knew Rayne would be.
Xav timed his exit perfectly for a moment when he knew no one would be around to see him slip out. There was a cab waiting for him down the street, just as he’d instructed.
The little flea-bag rat-trap he was staying in was all the more shabby and depressing with the contrast of PJ’s sumptuous home behind him. Xavier dropped his bag on the floor and flopped back on the bed. Maybe he shouldhave said goodbye. Something, at least. Ah well, what’s done is done.
He rolled over on his side and curled up. He could hear the people in the room next to his arguing; the steady hum of traffic on the street; a wailing siren in the distance. He lay there for a while, listening to it all, then sat up with a disgusted snort. It was still early, just about dinner-time. Clay might have gone up to look for him by now, since he never missed a meal. Or maybe Ray would have, since he didn’t like to go hungry either.
Xavier shook himself angrily. He wasn’t going to sit here and think about them – think about Rayne leaving – and feel sorry for himself.
He got up and took a shower, blow dried his hair and tamed his curls into something a little more club-worthy. His fingers worked the back of his mane into messy spikes, the smoothed forelock falling to one side of his face. He took the time to line his eyes, paint his nails and put a bit of gloss on his lips, then got dressed. Carefully he pulled on a pair of jeans that clung to his hips like they were trying to drag him to his knees, a clingy tee shirt and red and black striped arm warmers. Looking through his bag for anything else that might suit he pulled out a long, thin scarf of some silky material that had runners of metallic thread all through it. He’d stuffed it blindly into his bag with a bundle of other stuff when he’d been getting ready to leave PJ’s.
For a moment his heart skipped a beat. It was Rayne’s, or had been. He wasn’t sure if the singer had given it to him, or loaned it, or it had just found its way into his bag. Xav had spent a few hours tied up with it one torrid afternoon when Rayne had discovered how hot being restrained got him. He wound the scarf once around his neck and went out. The fabric lay feather-light over the bite marks on his neck; unexpectedly stimulating.
He hit three different clubs before he started having fun. A half dozen Screwdrivers and several shots were helping things along. Xav lost himself in the mass of writhing bodies, moving to the music. Hot sweaty torsos pressed into him, moving with him for a little while until he gyrated on. He was popular onstage or off. The way he moved drew attention like personal gravity. A heavy beat pounded at him. The guy in front of him slid closer, moving his thigh between Xavier’s legs as they danced and cupping his ass to draw him closer yet. He ground his erection again the guy’s leg, slid long hands around his neck and kissed him just because he was cute. Then he moved on. The guy tried to not let him get away but the crowd soon swallowed him up.
Hands slid over Xavier from behind, around his hips and under the edge of his shirt, cool fingers fanning over his taut belly. For a second he was sure that cool touch belonged to Rayne. He turned into the embrace, fully expecting jewel green eyes to be looking back hungrily at him.
The eyes weren’t green, they were a dark velvety brown, the body much taller and broader than Rayne’s. Those cool hands were on his back now, pulling him in tight. The smile the guy gave him made his heart pound; a flash of sharp canines there for just a moment. He was being led towards the edge of the crowd. Xav wasn’t sure why he followed but he couldn’t seem to break away.
It seemed like one moment he was dancing in a sea of hormonally charged bodies in the club and the next he was in the parking lot, being hauled into the back of a sleek car. He wasn’t smashed, just a little drunk; not sure how he lost time like that. The car pulled away almost instantly.
The guy with the dark-chocolate eyes and the sharp, feral smile was cupping his chin with one hand, like he might kiss him, but he didn’t. It was more like he was inspecting him.
“You belong to Wylde?” he asked, though it was one of those questions that wasn’t really a question.
“Belong to?” Xavier laughed. “I don’t belong to anyone.”
The chuckle that rolled from the stranger’s throat was coolly mocking.
“I don’t make mistakes. You are the whore that’s been warming his bed.”
Xavier grabbed the hand holding him by the bony wrist and pulled out of his grasp. He got the distinct impression that the guy let him do it.
“I’m not a whore either. Lemme the fuck out of this car.”
That earned him another cool chuckle and Xavier suddenly felt the little hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Something wasn’t right.
The guy pulled on the end of the scarf, tightening it. Xavier couldn’t help the little gasp and the flood of heat that made his dick hard as the fabric rubbed against the bite. His captor kept the pressure on, just this side of cutting off his air, while he moved his other hand to Xavier’s throat. He ran a thumb over the twin marks on Xavier’s neck and grinned as his quarry tried not to shiver and moan in response.
“You have been tasted, no need to pretend.”
Warning bells were going off like crazy in Xavier’s head. He could not figure out why. So far the guy was creepy but hadn’t done anything bad. He’d never talked with Rayne about keeping the vampire thing to himself. There didn’t seem to be a need to talk about it. For one, it was nobody’s business, for another most people would have just laughed if Xav went around claiming he’d had a sexy tryst with a Brit vampire. Still, something told him it would be prudent to play dumb.
“Yeah, so what? You obviously paid a dentist to cap your teeth too. Everybody’s got their kinks. Not against the law to pretend you’re Count Dracula.”
“Tch, such lies. You know what Wylde is. The question remains, what else might you know?”
Yeah, this didn’t sound too good. Panic gripped Xavier. He leaned toward the front seat and yelled at the driver; “Stop the fucking car, now!”
The driver didn’t flinch, didn’t even acknowledge him at all, like he was deaf. The guy in the back with him reached over and grabbed Xavier’s shoulder. Xav lunged for the door handle and the fingers on his shoulder tightened painfully and yanked him back. Xavier turned, swinging a blow at him wildly, which was easily deflected. His captor hit him then; drew back his hand to deliver what looked like a casual slap, like the kind of thing you’d see in a movie when someone got too hysterical. It felt like he got hit with a brick. His head snapped back hard enough to crack against the window. Xavier saw stars for a couple of seconds.
“Do not struggle. You will not be hurt, so long as you stay calm. Mr. Lagrado would simply like to ask you a few questions and then you will be released, unharmed.”
Xavier knew bullshit when he heard it. He struggled, hands fumbling for the door-catch again. That radar deep inside, the primal instinctual part of his soul that thousands of years of evolution had built and a scant few hundred years of science and reasoning had not been able to erase was screaming for him to escape; to do what ever he needed to get away.
Fingers wrapped in his hair and yanked his head back. He was pressed into the seat. The face hanging over him was something out of a nightmare, twisted into a rictus grin of horror like some medieval demon. The Vampire hissed, thin lines of saliva stretching down from his fangs and Xavier screamed. Terror was coursing through him. The hand on his throat squeezed, cutting off his air andhis scream like a thrown switch. That unyielding hand came down again and this time the stars were blotted out by sudden darkness and he cascaded down into still, quiet unconsciousness.
The absence of clutter in the room which Xavier had claimed for his own told Rayne more than words, more even than his finely tuned senses. The boy’s delicious scent was still there but faint and subtle like something caught on a breeze then lost again. He opened a cupboard door and saw what he was expecting to see; empty space.
The coverlet on the bed was hastily smoothed. He sat down there and stroked a hand restlessly over the pillow, plucking a short, fine, blond hair from the soft linen and running it between his fingers then discarding it.
“Damn it!” he exhaled, shaking his head.
“What d’you mean, gone?” Clay looked up from the TV with surprise as the singer hovered in the doorway of the dayroom, a grim look on his handsome face.
“I mean, exactly what the word fuckin’ means, idiot! He’s gone. He’s not here. He’s taken his stuff and he’s gone. He jumped the gun, I told PJ he wasn’t stupid. He knew the party was nearly over and he’s just cleared off.”
“Did he take your wallet?” Clay asked with a little quirk of his lips.
“No! He’s not like that!” Rayne shook his head impatiently. “Bloody little shit though!”
The bigger man laughed softly.
“You’re priceless baby! You were ready to shoot off back to London without saying a word and you’re pissed because he’s run out on you first!”
“Bollocks, I’m not!” Rayne narrowed his eyes. “I just wanted to tell him to be careful. It’s not safe out there.”
“He’s streetwise,” Clay said amiably. “I think he can figure out what’s safe and what’s not.”
The slender Englishman shook his head again, irritably. He half turned back into the hallway as if he expected something to have tried to creep up on him there.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he muttered. “Christ, Clay! You watched me bite him. You know what I am, even if you’re brushing it off as a weird fetish. PJ’s accepted it for years, so has Mikka. Do you think I’m the only one, huh?”
“You’re talking crazy,” Clay said quietly, returning his attention to the newscast on screen.
“I’m trying to tell you something important, something that might keep you safe,” Rayne hissed impatiently.
“That Frisco’s over-run with blood-suckers? You’ve been watching too many late-night movies, Wylde.” Clay tilted his head, looking back at the younger man with a mixture of affection and sadness. “Too many disco biscuits, baby.”
“Yeah? Well when some toothy fucker comes for your throat out of a dark alley somewhere, don’t come crying to me about it!” Rayne snapped back at him and went off to find Chavez. The Latino boy had gone with Xav to pick up his stuff and might at least remember where the boy lived.
Chavez seemed despondent about Xavier’s disappearance too and was oddly quiet on the run downtown. Rayne was not complaining, his own thoughts were still turbulent. He had not forgotten the look in Cole Lagrado’s eyes when he spoke of ‘his property’ so casually.
The rooming house was a dive, there was no polite way of describing it. Rayne spent several minutes hammering on the door before Chavez persuaded him to give it up. They went to the club where he had watched the boy dance on the night they met, but the guys at the bar told him that Xavier wasn’t scheduled to work that week and hadn’t been seen for a few days. He signed a couple of autographs and made his excuses. At the door one of the security guys, whose face was familiar from that night in the dressing room, stopped him and mentioned the names of a couple of clubs where Xav liked to hang out when he was off the clock.
For the next four hours they moved from venue to venue, checking out the dancefloors and the chill-out rooms. At 2am they called it a night. There had been no sign of the boy at all.
“San Francisco’s a big city,” Chavez sighed as they got back into the car. “He’ll probably be okay, man. You know, I’ll look out for him the next few days, so will Clay. He talks tough but he’s a pussycat.”
“I know he is,” Rayne said grimly, still staring out into the night and wondering which pocket of darkness had swallowed Xavier so completely that he could hardly even feel the boy’s presence in his head. He wanted to believe that everything would be okay but he had a bad feeling in his gut. A very bad feeling.
Rayne did not rest for the remainder of that night. PJ sat up with him and they played cards half-heartedly. The old man promised that they would make sure Xavier was fine, and even try to get him into a better apartment. Rayne felt a little happier about that but he was still concerned.
His Lufthansa flight back to London was via Paris and left first thing in the morning. Paddy held him close for a long time before he got into the waiting car and Chavez drove him to San Francisco International. There had been no talk of Vampires but Rayne whispered; “Be careful. Please, be careful,” to the older man before PJ let him go.
“We’ll be fine, sweet thing,” PJ assured him, kissing him on the nose. “You call me when you get back and I’ll update you.”
Rayne never made the call, because he didn’t get that far.
He generally travelled light, just a couple of small cabin bags, so he had a little time to wander around the airport hall before check in once Chavez had left him at the airport. He was browsing a souvenir shop admiring a reproduction oriental Katana that he thought Simon would have liked when he felt the first prickle down his spine, an uncomfortable sensation like someone was sticking tiny pins into him. The singer looked up with a frown, pushing his elegant, black framed sunglasses up into his hair and looking around. He wasn’t certain but he had the uneasy feeling that he was being watched, and not in a good way.
His gaze took in fellow shoppers, most of them suited business travellers this early in the morning, but a fair few holiday-makers in garish shorts and tee-shirts too. One traveller stood out from the crowd. He was tall with immaculately close-cut grey-blond hair and a dark, almost empty stare behind his semi-translucent shades. One of Rayne’s English friends, Lord Dominic Warren, had the gift of seeing psychic energy and he swore that Vampires and all the Undead had auras like interference on a badly tuned TV set. Rayne could not see this creature’s aura but he could feel it, like white noise in his head. This close he could almost taste it, metallic like raw meat; like blood. The stranger’s attire was smart without being formal; dark pants and a loose black jacket over a slightly paler charcoal sweater. All the garments were well cut and very expensive. The delicate green chiffon scarf he wore loosely knotted under the roll neck of his jersey stood out as the only item of colour. Sunlight glancing down through the high glass roof of the concourse picked out the delicate threads of silver and gold running through it.
Rayne experienced a moment of chill that gripped at his intestines and then anger swallowed it. He knew that scarf was meant as a message the moment he set eyes on it. When he was packing earlier he had not missed it, but he remembered bringing it with him to Frisco. He had worn it at the studios the day he met Lagrado. It was a Jean Paul Gaultier, a one off; a present from the French designer years ago when Whipsnade first became famous. And there was only one way that this smug, suited, Undead bastard could have acquired it.
Rayne put down the Katana and pushed his way through the crowds toward the other Vampire with murder in his vivid green eyes.
About the same time that Rayne and Chavez were giving up on searching the clubs for him, Xavier was waking up in an unfamiliar room. His jaw ached and he brought a hand up to gently run over the low throb on that side of his face. For once he was glad to find himself unfettered when waking up in a strange bed.
“My apologies for Steffen. I’m afraid he was a little over zealous in subduing you. It wasn’t my intention that you should be harmed.”
Xavier found the owner of the dark, syrupy voice. It belonged to a man sitting comfortably in a chair in the corner of the room. Intensely black hair, dark eyes that looked almost coal-black in the dim light, a trim, medium build, casually but expensively dressed. He looked Hispanic, but Xavier was used to seeing Mexican and South American ancestry in the residents of his home city. There was something just a little different in these features, the face a little narrower, the brows and nose more sharply defined. Mediterranean, maybe? Something not south of the border but a little farther away.
To his right, standing near the wall in an easy stance, hands clasped lightly in front of him, was the guy from the club; Steffen. He wasn’t smiling. The smug look was gone completely. He didn’t look chastised though, just bored. Definitely giving off the hired-muscle vibe.
“My name is Coelho Lagrada-Diaz, I’m hoping you’ll be my guest for a little while.”
“Right!” Xavier answered. “Listen, I’m the fuck outta here. This is bullshit!”
He got up, and his head immediately started pounding. Fantastic.
“I’m afraid I can’t let you go,” his captor told him softly.
“Fuck off!” Xavier headed for the door. Who the fuck did this guy think he was?
Steffen unfolded from where he leaned against the wall. Xavier only got two steps before the massive Vampire grabbed him. His arms locked around Xavier’s body like steel bands and he turned so that Xavier faced Cole Lagrado again.
Lagrado shook his head, as if he were truly regretful.
“There is no need to make this unpleasant, Xavier. You would have sought us out soon or later anyway. Mr. Wylde has been indiscreet, and now has abandoned you to your own devices. This creates a problem for both of us. It would be much easier to simply kill you, but there are complications that might arise if we were to do so.”
Xavier stared at the guy, not a clue what to say. What do you say to crazy people, after all? Telling them they’re nuts obviously wasn’t the wisest course of action and arguing with them seemed equally pointless.
Lagrado suddenly rose and moved to stand in front of him. Xavier blinked twice. His heart was thumping against his ribs like a caged thing; that creepy crawling feeling of panicked fear dancing all over his skin. He’d moved so fast it was hard to follow, Xav’s brain refused to register it. In contrast, as the Vampire stretched a hand towards him now he seemed to move in slow motion. Lagrado grasped the end of the fine, green scarf and pulled it gently from Xavier’s neck, letting every inch of the fabric slid along the bite mark underneath, watching Xavier shudder and writhe in Steffen’s grasp. When he’d pulled it free he laid his fingers against the little pin-points dimpling his captive’s skin.
If the boy weren’t marked Cole could easily have ignored him, or killed him, depending on how things panned out. If the boy was simply a feeder he wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But, he couldn’t kill another Vampire’s favourite. If he did, he’d owe Wylde a blood debt. The hell of it was, Wylde seemed ignorant of a lot of vampire customs. He probably wouldn’t even realise this. However Cole couldn’t take that risk, or the off-chance that Rayne Wylde wouldn’t discover his error and come back to collect his debt. So many of these little customs were designed to keep all out wars from occurring between Vampire Clans. Even if Wylde never made an issue of it, someone else, someone with the weight of more years and experience might make it an issue. Vampire politics was a complex game. How easy to use the killing of this one marked boy as an excuse to try and usurp him. Essentially calling him out for breaking Vampire Law.
He couldn’t kill him then, but since Wylde had abandoned him, or was apparently planning to – if his sources were correct, and he was confidant they were – then he had the right to make sure this boy didn’t cause any trouble.
His fingers trailed lightly over the pulse beating like a frantic thing in the human boy’s throat, upward and along the smooth line of his jaw and the dusky purple bruise there.
“Steffen is quite taken with you,” he said quietly and casually. “You will be given to him.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Xavier demanded incredulously. “I’m not staying here. You can’t give me to anyone. Does the word kidnapping mean anything to you? Aiding and abetting? You may not be up on your American history but it’s been almost a hundred and fifty years since you could own people here, dickweed.”
Cole Lagrado looked amused, but Xavier was pretty sure a lot of it was feigned. The Vampire clearly wasn’t used to people talking to him with anything but deference.
“I assure you, the slave trade thrives in this country, although I will grant you it is no longer limited by race. Whether you are treated like a slave or a favoured consort is up to you.” Lagrado looked from Xavier to Steffen now. “Take him to Jeanette. Perhaps he will learn from her that it isn’t wise to be disrespectful to one’s Elders.”
Steffen kept his face carefully blank, but it was obvious he was not overjoyed about this order. He didn’t dare argue though. He was not happy that his newly promised pet would be punished, but he wasn’t pissed enough to risk punishment himself. He shoved Xavier toward the door. Once in the hall he forestalled any potential struggles with a warning.
“Jeanette is one of the starved ones. She will act as a revenant; crazed, mindless. I can control her, but it will take all of my focus. If you scream and struggle it will make controlling her more difficult. Stay calm and I will be able to keep her from ripping your throat out.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re astoundingly bad at not creating panic?” Xavier managed to gasp as he was propelled along the hallway and down a flight of stairs.
The basement (of course it would have to be a basement, wouldn’t it?) did not open up into a room like one would expect, but a hallway lined on one side with steel-reinforced doors. Xavier was brought to the third of these, althoughdragged was more accurate. Fuck it if he was going to co-operate!
Once inside a switch was flipped and a single, bare, overhead bulb cast harsh light down. Straight away it showed there was a woman in the room, fastened to the wall with what looked like thick tractor-tire chains. Although, ‘woman’ was being kind. She had obviously been female in life, but now was little more than a decaying corpse in chains. The sweetly rotten smell of putrefying flesh was gagging. Xavier might have vomited if he hadn’t been in shock. Every horror movie he’d every seen was wrong. There was no way makeup and effects could capture the reality, the sickly colour, the smell of a real dead body.
Terror, sharp and bright flashed through Xavier. These people were not just your average crazies. No, this level of craziness went far beyond anything in Xav’s experience. Before he’d even fully managed to take in the horror chained to the wall before him, the head slowly rose, milky eyes fixing him with a rabid stare. The creature opened a ruined mouth, parched lips blackened and drawn back from its jagged, ruined teeth, and snapped at him like a mad dog on a chain.
Xavier felt the air compress in his lungs. He couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, couldn’t think. His mind still hadn’t been able to catch up, to force this nightmare to make sense, and then suddenly it did with a snap. He was being draggedtoward the horror.
“NO! No-no-no… don’t!” He tried to claw his way out of Steffen’s grasp, kicking and throwing all his body weight into trying to get away. The thing on the wall lunged to the end of its chains. A sound that was part animal, part nothing he’d ever heard before issued from its throat. Xav was screaming ‘NO!’ in a repeated litany like a chant that could somehow keep him from being drawn any closer.
His arm was grasped and extended, he could see the maw of the dead thing snapping and then it latched on at the crook of his elbow, sinking its teeth in and shaking his arm like a dog that wanted to rip flesh from a carcass. Xavier’s screams echoed around the room.
“God, oh god, don’t let it touch me! Don’t let it touch me!” The hands that grabbed him were not bony, they were cold and waxy, almost slimy as if the skin was congealing on its bones. Xavier reached a level of horror he’d never imagined possible
The overpowering smell of it, the agonising feel of its rotting lips touching his skin; he was going crazy. It couldn’t be real, couldn’t be happening, but it was. He could feel the warm spurt of his blood pumping from his arm, the thin, blackened lips moving against his warm flesh as it slurped and swallowed. He struggled reflexively but couldn’t break its grip, or Steffen’s.
When he thought for sure he was either going to puke, pass out, have his mind snap, or all three at once, Steffen finally yanked the thing off of him. It snarled and snapped and tried to clutch Xavier but he somehow stumbled back. Steffen grabbed him by the arms and half dragged, half carried him from the room. The thing continued to make those inhuman, animal sounds of hunger and rage, only partially cut off by the slamming door that closed it up in its prison again.
Steffen let Xavier go then, dropping him in the hallway, and he fell on his knees, retching up the contents of his stomach. When he had stopped heaving he realised he was babbling incoherently, sobbing like a child. Blood ran down his arm in little rivulets. Steffen crouched over him with a sneer of disgust and picked him up. Xav had neither the strength nor presence of mind to try and fight him off. He was taken back up the stairs and carried into a different bedroom than the one he’d awoken in. This one had no windows and the door clicked shut and locked after Steffen had deposited him wordlessly on the bed and left him alone with his fear.
By the time Xav had calmed down enough to take inventory, the wound on his arm had closed though his flesh still looked sore and angry. Xavier guessed that it was about an hour later when Steffen finally returned. There was a feral look in the vampire’s eyes, a hungry look that Xav recognised.
The vampire on the concourse at San Francisco International smiled at Rayne pleasantly as he approached. He did a very fine job of feigning cool nonchalance but he couldn’t do anything about the aura of nervous fear he gave off. Rayne could taste it and his fangs extended automatically. The strange vamp waited until Rayne was just within striking distance before speaking.
“Mr. Lagrado wishes you farewell and safe journey, Mr. Wylde,” he declared, moments before the small, angry Englishman’s left hand wrapped itself around the trailing ends of the scarf tied loosely at his throat and yanked his head down to shoulder height. At the same time Rayne Wylde’s right knee came up hard and connected with the softer tissues of the tall blond vampire’s groin.
“Suck my dick, you cold-blooded bastard!” Rayne hissed at him as he went to his knees with an astonished groan that told the smaller Vampire that no one had treated him with quite such blatant disregard in a very long time.
Once upon a time, Rayne might have worried about that. Blondie was no Ancient but he was older, and probably stronger. The element of surprise would not last forever so he needed to capitalise whilst his opponent was still distracted by the pain coursing through his mangled genitalia.
He crouched automatically, putting on a show of mock-concern.
“Oh my god! I am so sorry! Did I hurt you?” he exclaimed in a stagey tone designed to carry and put other passengers at their ease. He was already projecting; his thoughts telling anyone close enough to have witnessed the assault that this was really nothing for them to worry about and it would all be taken care of. Passengers bustled on around him, seemingly unconcerned that he had just attempted a non-surgical castration on the man kneeling before him. In a lower register for his victim’s ears alone Rayne growled; “Where is he? Tell me now and maybe I won’t strap you to the wheel of a 747 and leave you for the fuckin’ carrion chasers!” The urge – no, the all-consuming compulsion – to grab the smaller vampire and pummel him into a unrecognisable pulp was so strong that Lagrado’s creature almost couldn’t control it in time. He could not create that kind of spectacle in such a public place or Cole Lagrado would have his head, literally.
“Concern? How touching!” he wheezed through gritted teeth. When he moved, it was with that blinding speed all but the weakest of them were capable of, turning at the same time so the scarf came off and Rayne was left holding it, a puzzled expression briefly gracing his handsome face as he found himself alone. Prowling around behind him the older Vampire growled softly and impatiently.
“You cross into an Ancient’s territory, uninvited and unannounced. You not only hunt without permission but you mark your mate. Then you abandon your marked human in our city. You offer insult after insult and expect no retaliation?” He snorted, a very human gesture, suggesting that he was perhaps not so old after all. “Be grateful Cole Lagrado’s only punishment is to take the boy.”
Rayne half turned, tracking him purely by the feelings of anger and frustration he emitted. His fingers remained curled around the delicate wisp of emerald and gold, still rich with the scent of Xavier’s skin; his blood. Were it not for that he could have left it; and if this creep had not so casually referred to Xavier like some kind of offering. He had seen too many innocents go down that route with the Old Ones and it never ended well. Soft, pale lips drew back from his extending fangs in a slight, warning snarl like a dog whose boundaries have been violated.
“I’ve told your boss and now I’m telling his trained monkey, I don’t ask anyone’spermission for anything,” Rayne hissed softly. “Now if any of you creeps have hurt so much as a hair on that boy’s head, I am going to break some bones. Punish me if that’s what gets you hard, but leave him out of it. It’s not his fault.”
He shivered all the same. There was no expression on the blond’s face but something in his manner, in the way he felt… it sent chills through him. Rayne was a good judge of his own kind, generally. He had a feel for the ages and skills of his fellow Undead that even his Sire, Jabez openly admired. But he had no time for them, to his Ancient Mentor’s eternal frustration. It was true that Jabez Everman also shunned most of Vampire-kind but he was over three and half thousand centuries old and it did not pay to provoke him. Plus, his mortal bodyguard Mersen was almost as lethal as a whole cadre of Undead. Any Vamp that got within a hand’s distance of the Everman was doing well. Doing well, that is until Jabez got hold of him!
In London these days Rayne’s blood ties to the semi-mythical Everman protected him from all but the most lethal opponents. After they had combined to teach Everman’s own Demonic Sire, Kal Zelarin a lesson he would spend the remainder of his Unlife regretting, they discovered they had earned a massive quotient of kudos among the British Vampire coteries. Here things were a little different. He wished now that he had paid more attention to the stuff Jabez and his human ally Dominic Warren tried to teach him about Vampires and their ways and the whole complex pecking order. It was so boring though. The Vamp politics just sent him to sleep. It was like the Royal Family only ten times more insular and with even more archaic regulations. Of course the Royals probably wouldn’t rip out your lungs and eat them if you crossed them (with just onenotable exception, that he knew of!)
This cocksucker at the airport had talked about him marking Xavier and he supposed that was right. It was unusual for him to leave visible bite marks on a lover and he certainly had not done so on purpose but Xavier seemed to have no problems with it. And the boy’s increased sensitivity to his touch had been immensely rewarding in bed, he had to admit. It was almost as if they moved with one accord. Actually, when he thought about it like that, it was a bit creepy. He pushed the idea away and focused on Blondie, who still had not tried to rip him to quivering pieces.
“I don’t do gratitude,” he sneered at the glowering Vamp now, tempering his sharp tongue slightly. “But I’ll make a tiny little allowance because I hate to put anyone’s nose out of joint and I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to do that on purpose, all right? I’m a dozy Brit, we have different rules where I come from. I didn’t think I was robbing from anyone’s table. So I’d be very grateful if you guys would let the boy go. Okay?”
He held his hands out to his sides in an open, placatory gesture that was probably not the best defensive posture under the circumstances. But hey, he was standing in the middle of one of the world’s busiest airports. This cold-blood was hardly going to eviscerate him here with so many witnesses.
“Okay?” he invited again when the other Vampire seemed to be having difficulty controlling his breathing.
The vampire’s expression changed ever so slightly. As if he had been trying to peer into Rayne and now had what he wanted, but what he saw wasn’t what he’d expected to see.
“You can not be that naïve,” he muttered, almost to himself. Then he heaved a small, completely unnecessary sigh. Old habits died hard, especially for those not yet a few centuries old. “Even if it were up to me, which it’s not, he can’t just be let go. You marked him…”
When he saw that Rayne’s expression did not change he rolled his eyes. “Don’t you know anything?”
He laughed because it really was rather ironic. The huge insult Cole Lagrado had dealt this small vamp, that was barely more then a fledgling, didn’t even ping his radar as an insult because he hadn’t a clue what he’d done. He was simply concerned his lover should not be hurt.
“The mark…it’s a blood bond. Like saying this is mine, tagging him as your human servant or as a favourite. It tells other vampires he’s under your protection and not to feed from or harm him. That Lagrado has done so, and has since made him Steffen’s pet, says you’re no threat, your mark means nothing.” He paused and chuckled humourlessly again.
Explaining the insult was just so ridiculous. The very reason he was sent, with that scarf as a message, was so that Wylde would know of the retaliation. He had no hope of winning if he challenged Lagrado, so he was supposed to get on the plane with his tail between his legs knowing he’d been effectively bitch-slapped for his insolence. Having to tell him all this took the sting out of it. Cole would be all sorts of put out if he knew.
He should stop here, the messaged had been delivered, and made abundantly clear. His job was done. But he couldn’t resist adding; “You only have two choices, Wylde. Get on the plane and it’s a draw. Or try and negotiate for your boy.” With that the blond vampire moved away, leaving Rayne standing there speechless, for once, and very, very pissed off.
Rayne quivered almost imperceptibly as the words sank in. The milling airport crowds melted into mindless background noise, as irritating as the drone of insects but of no more consequence. He had eyes only for this smug, slightly incredulous creature standing in front of him, laughing at him. Fucking welllaughing at him!
He could, and had, put up with a lot of shit but he saw no reason to take that one lying down. Lagrado was a serious motherfucker but this one? The singer doubted Blondie was more than bait. Cole Lagrado wasn’t going to waste serious Vamp-power just to send a message. And he’d been brought up to always reply to messages. It was only polite, after all.
“Oi, Mr Know It All!” he said coldly as the blond turned to walk off.
For a second the tall, fair-haired show-off hesitated, and then he turned. The pause was his undoing.
Rayne was not where the messenger had left him. As he turned back again to face in the direction he had been headed, the singer appeared in front of him. He was like a wraith, moving so fast that his opponent only had the sense to take a single step back before the sharp point of the ceremonial oriental knife Rayne Wylde had been admiring when he first became aware of his shadow punched through his heart and out through his back.
It made one hell of a mess of his nice suit.
As the blond went down with a grunt of pain and surprise, Rayne Wylde stood over him and said; “Tell your boss, ‘that’s just a little warning, in case I find out you’ve damaged what’s mine’. If you survive that long, anyway. If not, I’m sure he’ll get the message.”
He was gone before the blond could get a hand to the hilt of the katana in his chest. By the time the mesmerised travellers realised what had happened and started screaming that there was a wounded man lying on the ground in their midst, Rayne Wylde was in a taxi heading back into the city.
He went to PJ first and warned his friends to get out of San Francisco. Initially this request was treated almost as light-heartedly as his lack of understanding of Vampire legislation back at the airport. It took a serious argument and several acts of unpremeditated violence to emphasise just how much danger they were likely to be in. By this time there was an article on the mid-day news bulletin about a stabbing at San Francisco International, with police speculating about how a man could come to be stabbed through the chest with a 16″ knife without there being any witnesses to the assault. To add to the difficulties the SFPD were already experiencing, the victim had disappeared too. One spokesman was already dismissing it as a prank, but in the lounge of PJ McNamara’s house overlooking the bay three pairs of eyes turned slowly to look at Rayne Wylde.
“Now do you believe me?” he demanded, shaking his head impatiently. “This is real. I didn’t want to drag you guys into it but Lagrado already knows I’m involved with Xavier and I’d lay a penny to a pound that he’s figured out I’m in deep with you lot as well.”
“Why’d he take the kid?” Clay wanted to know.
“Because I’d bitten him, stupid!” Rayne shook his dark mane again, rolling his eyes. “In their eyes it puts a ‘Property of… do not touch’ sticker on him.”
“So why’d they take him then?” That was Chavez.
Rayne was at least a little glad that he wasn’t the only ignorant one playing this fucking game. He took a deep breath.
“They’re throwing the ball back into my court.” he explained patiently. “Either I can let it go and walk away, which is what I think they were hoping I’d do. Or I can go back there and give them seventeen shades of shit about it.”
“And what will they do then?” PJ asked solemnly from the sofa where he had been listening to all of this with a frown.
“I…” Rayne closed his mouth and looked away. Without turning his face back to Paddy, he murmured; “I dunno.”
“You are not doing this on your own, honey,” Clay told him at once.
Pale eyes the colour of new leaves flickered up to meet the bigger man’s silvery gaze. Rayne shook his head.
“Barclay, they’re fuckin’ Vampires!” he said vehemently.
“Well we get us a fire truck full of Holy Water and we go give the fuckers a good hosing,” the burly former porn star responded defiantly.
Rayne tried to suppress the smile this brought reluctantly to his lips but he could not hold it in. He looked away instead. God, he loved these guys. They were all batshit crazy, even PJ, but they were loyal as a bunch of old hounds. The idea that they’d walk into a nest of Vampires to help him out armed only with a string of garlic and some Holy Water touched and frightened him a little.
“You’re not running away this time,” PJ said mildly. “So neither are we.”
“Could you at least try to lay low?” Rayne begged him, coming back to his side and kneeling at his feet. He put his head in the older man’s lap and Paddy’s fingers ran softly through his hair.
“If that makes you happy, baby boy,” PJ whispered to him, “that’s what we’ll do. But if you need us, don’t you dare try to keep us out of the loop. We’re not spring chicks but we know a few tricks, honey.”
“Paddy, he’s not like me,” Rayne said miserably. “He doesn’t see people as… human beings. He just sees them as something to use; something to feed from. He’s dangerous, and he’s not alone in this city.”
“And neither are we, baby boy,” PJ reassured him. “Don’t you worry. We can take good care of ourselves. But don’t you get hurt, and you make sure that boy is okay. You got me?”
Rayne lifted his head and nodded wearily. “Gotcha.”
Xavier watched Steffen approach with cool, guarded eyes. He held his arm, cradling it and rubbing the place where he’d been so savagely bitten, even though there was no longer a gaping wound there. “What was that thing that bit me?”
“A vampire.” Steffen answered, one brow arched slightly, as if Xavier should know this.
“You’re a vampire. That thing…” Xavier shook his head. “Why did it look like that?”
“She was punished. Not allowed to feed, for a long time. The younger ones have difficulty keeping their forms, and their minds if they do not feed.”
“If her mind’s gone why keep her like that? Why not just… end it?”
Steffen tilted his head, looking at Xavier curiously. “Two reasons. She is useful as she is to punish others, as you have seen for yourself, and she is not broken beyond all hope. With enough time and blood she could be as she once was, whole and sound.”
Xavier shuddered. He sincerely hoped he would not be feeding her again.
As if reading his mind Steffen said, “You will not be punished again, unless you do something to earn it.”
Xavier’s eyes came up at once and locked with Steffen’s.
“Why are you doing this? What’s this got to do with Rayne? If this is some kind of… of… I don’t know what… he’s leaving anyway, probably today or tomorrow. Just let me outta here, alright? I won’t tell nobody. I swear. I won’t say a word about any of this. Who would believe me anyway, right? Please, just let me go.” He couldn’t seem to stop babbling.
Steffen had moved to the bed and now reached for him. Xavier pulled back, scrabbling backwards across the narrow mattress. Steffen lunged and Xavier evaded. It was like Steffen was moving through jello or something. Xavier knew how fast he was, he shouldn’t have been able to keep out of his reach. He caught the look in the vampire’s eyes and his confusion cleared. There was excitement gleaming there alongside the hunger. He was doing it on purpose. Playing with him like a cat plays with a captured bird. Pissed now, Xavier willed himself to stay still.
“Bet you liked to pull the wings off of flies when you were little. Fuckin asshole!”
He hit the floor so hard it felt like a truck had smacked into him. The wind got knocked out of him and he struggled to get air as he tried to curl over and protect vital areas. Steffen had him pinned flat though. He’d just managed to get a thin breath into his lungs when a rough hand pressed hard between his legs. His nuts felt lodged about mid gut and the shaky breath turned into a painful cough and gasp.
He was not surprised at all that Steffen’s next move was to claw his jeans open and yank them down. He was flipped onto his belly, one hand fisted in his hair and yanked his head back while the other groped between his legs.
Cool lips moved along the curve of Xavier’s neck in a softly malicious caress.
“The craving to be bitten will not go away Xavier, it will only get worse.” Steffen’s wet tongue licked over the marks. “You will come to beg me for this.”
He plunged his razor sharp canines into the pulse point at the same moment he sank his cock into Xavier’s fear-clenched body, ripping his way into the terrified mortal with no regard for his pain.
Xavier’s cry of agony underscored Steffen’s groan of pleasure as he swallowed the warm, salty flow flooding into his mouth. The blood was so strong and sweet it sang along his tongue. The beautiful lithe body beneath him went slack and pliant as he fed deeply and fucked Wylde’s boy-toy with abandon.
Xavier didn’t fight. No point. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to break Steffen’s hold, and he also knew that struggling would only turn the fuckin’ bastard on. When he’d been working, he’d had guys pay him to set up a scene, act reluctant and fight a little. This asshole wasn’t getting the extras if he could help it. Besides, if he tried to relax it wouldn’t hurt as much. The bite sent ghosts of electric current through him, his dick, being shoved into the soft carpet under him, started to respond.
Steffen suddenly lifted his bloody mouth from Xav’s neck with a reluctant snarl. He wanted to finish him, drink him to completion, and only with effort did he keep himself from doing so. He slammed into the boy’s unresisting body and the ecstatic release of his seed into the prisoner’s tight channel only exacerbated the desire. He had to clench his teeth to keep from biting into the delicious column of his throat again.
Steffen pulled himself up and off Xavier reluctantly. The blond boy’s sides lifted and fell in shallow but steady respiration, he was conscious but listless from the blood-loss. Steffen picked him up, not bothering to either pull his jeans up or take them off. He dropped Xav back on the bed, semi naked and pulled the blanket over him carelessly.
When he left Xavier heard the lock click as the door closed behind him. He turned his face against the pillow determined not to cry.
Rayne took a cab back down to the studios. Chavez offered to run him but Rayne felt happier knowing that the guys were all together. He would have been happier still if he’d have been able to persuade them to go to Paris and join Mikka there. PJ argued that he wasn’t up to a journey like that, which in turn worried the singer that he wasn’t up to running from Vampires either.
And if he messed this up, they’d have to run like the devil was after their collective arses.
He made a call on his mobile as the cab nudged its way through the mid afternoon traffic downtown. It was about 10.30pm in Britain and he hoped fervently that Jabez’s tame vampire expert, Lord Warren had not taken to having a mug of cocoa and an early night since he became entitled to claim his Senior Citizens’ bus pass. When the call was finally answered it took a little while for him to make himself heard over the sound of extremely loud dance music.
“What the fuck is going on over there? Where are you?” he yelled into the slender clamshell mobile as the sound levels on the other end of the line gradually came down enough for his caller to make himself heard in response.
“Club Amnesia, I’m on Ibiza!” Lord Warren yelled back at him, dispelling any thoughts that the Vampire might have had of him retiring to a life of comfy slippers and Gardener’s World. The old bugger sounded a bit loaded as well. Trust Dom Warren to be tripping his tits off on the one night Rayne really needed him to have a clear head.
“Jesus Christ!” Rayne groaned. “Can you talk?”
“Can I walk?” Dominic sought clarification. “I’m not some stupid teenager, Wylde. I can manage a little club night, I think!”
“I need to ask you something?” Rayne shouted at him. “Oh fuck this… can’t you go through to the terrace or something and ring me back? This is important.”
He got out of the cab when the jam proved impassable and walked the last half-mile towards the studios where he had last encountered Cole Lagrado. Fear kept him alert but also fired up his natural adrenaline. He was ready for a fight when his mobile chirruped at him enquiringly and he flipped it open, swinging into a side street and leaning in the shadows of a fire-door as Dominic’s familiar, slightly aristocratic tones rambled blissfully in his ear about the delights of Club Amnesia. “Warren, shut up will you! I need to ask you what you know about a Vampire. You used to live in Frisco, didn’t you?” he cajoled.
“A long time ago, darling,” his old friend crooned back over the distant swirl of ambient house music. “I was younger than you.”
“Do you know anything about a guy called Lagrado?” Rayne pressed him. “Does the name mean anything to you?”
For a moment the only sounds he could hear were the distant pulse of traffic in one ear and the ripples of music in the other. He opened his mouth to ask if Dominic was still on planet Earth. The old bastard might be a bit spacey but he still knew more about Vampires than just about anyone living or Undead that Rayne had ever met. Rumour had it in certain circles that he had even killed a few of them. Rayne knew it for the truth, he had watched. Fuck it, he had helped!
“Do…?” he began again, but the older man’s voice cut him off, suddenly very serious.
“Coelho Lagrada Diaz?” he queried, his accent suddenly more Spanish than upper class English, although that could well be the Ibizan influence. “He is in San Francisco? I thought he was dead.”
“He is. Just not dead enough!” Rayne said grimly. “He’s calling himself Cole Lagrado. He’s taken someone I…” the Vampire swallowed, suddenly feeling his throat tighten at the thought of Xavier with that cold hearted bastard. “He’s crossed a line, Dominic. I need to know something, ‘kay?”
“Fire away,” Warren called, a little less cheerily than before though. The pall of gloom cast by mention of Lagrado seemed to have crossed oceans and continents and even ruined Dom Warren’s night.
“If I… If I had marked someone, left my bite on them so that other vampires could read it and then some Vampire took that person… took them and… you know?”
“Fed from them?” Dominic prompted diplomatically.
“Yeah… if they did that. What can I do about it?”
“Hang on… you marked someone?” his friend demanded, suddenly distracted by this revelation.
“It was an accident,” Rayne said evasively. “I didn’t mean it to go so far. We just got a bit… hung up on one another. This Cole guy, he warned me off when I first got to Frisco, gave me that ‘King of The Vampires’ spiel and I told him to fuck himself, like you do. I figured I’d be gone before he could get too pissy with me.”
“And you figured wrong?” Dominic finished for him. “And now he’s taken your boyfriend as payback, huh?”
“How come you always figure it’s a boy?” Rayne asked dryly.
“Well then!” Dominic cleared his throat. “You know that technically you can haul his arse over the coals for what he’s done, don’t you?”
“In what way?” Rayne was perplexed.
“He’s violated your blood rights,” Dominic said practically. “You’ve got the right to declare a blood feud against him.”
“Oh yeah, me and whose army, exactly?” Rayne laughed humourlessly. “Dom, he practically warned me off his territory when I got here. He’s hardly going to run away screaming if I tell him I’m declaring a blood feud.”
“I’m sure he’s not the only Master Vampire in San Francisco, darling,” Lord Warren intoned loftily. “You need to track down others, be nice to them. I know you find that difficult but try. Get them to feel sorry for you. If you can find one that likes the look of you, all the better! They’re venal creatures on the whole, no offence.”
“None taken, I think…” Rayne squinted incredulously at the ‘phone then put it back to his ear.
Warren was saying; “Play for the sympathy vote. Get them to help you take him on.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of, ‘Find his lair, get in there, remove some skulls and burn the place down’!” Rayne said a little recalcitrantly.
“On your own?” Dominic sounded sceptical.
“I’m not totally incompetent,” Rayne protested, more defensively.
“If you succeed and he survives he’ll hunt you to the ends of the world,” Warren pointed out. “If you actually manage to kill him, then other Vampires will hunt you for the same reason. Why do you imagine that Jabez does not involve himself in the affairs of your kind? You will live longer if you leave well alone.”
“He’s got Xavier,” Rayne yelled into the phone. “Are you fucking listening to me? I can’t just leave the kid there and walk away. It’s my fault he’s in this mess to start with.”
“Wait for me to come out there. I’ll help you,” Warren promised.
“No time,” Rayne exhaled. “The longer I wait the more chance he’ll be dead by the time I get in there. And the more chance Lagrado’s gonna think I’m chicken shit! I’m not gonna give him the satisfaction, Dom.”
“I’m still coming out there,” Warren said coolly.
“Good, well when you do, track down a place called the Happy Pig up in Oakland and ask for Pat Goodfellow, tell him you’ve got something for the bites.” Rayne said, itching to make a move. “He’ll know you’re a friend that way.”
“My friends are undercover. Lagrado knows about them. If he can go after Xav, he can go after them as well. Pat Goodfellow is PJ McNamara. You know who heis, don’t you?” Rayne asked sarcastically. He could imagine how Warren’s mouth was watering from here. Dom was certainly old enough to have watched and appreciated Paddy’s movies; the ones he’d starred in as well as the ones he merely directed! “He knows what’s going on and where the studio is that Lagrado bases himself at. He’ll help you if he can.”
“Happy Pig?” Lord Warren repeated incredulously. “Lord and Lady, Rayne. If I didn’t love you like a son…”
“Cut the crap, you’re after my arse like all the rest!” Rayne forced a laugh. “I’ve got to go, Dominic. I need to find out if Xavier’s still alive.”
“Take care, darling,” the voice on the other end of the line said, mellowing now. “I don’t want to have to go looking for your remains with a dustpan and brush. Be polite. Don’t give them cause to take you down. Vampire honour is a curious thing. They’ll probably draw the line at killing you outright but that’s not to say they won’t be tempted.”
“I’ll be good as gold,” Rayne promised sweetly, with his fingers firmly crossed.
He ended the call before Lord Warren could get mawkish and turned off his phone. Then he crossed the road and walked two more blocks to the public foyer of the ABC studios, took a deep breath and walked up the steps and into the building.
Once within the cool, claustrophobic environs of the studio Rayne made enough of a fuss at reception that three clones he recognised straight away as Undead were sent down to pacify him, or failing that, he presumed, just get rid of him. He resisted fairly strenuously and from their reluctance to get too close he figured they’d already heard about his tangle with their Mr. Blond at SFO. He wondered if the smug cunt had made it back in one piece, but not enough to ask.
“I just wanna talk to Lagrado, okay?” the singer kept shouting at them now whilst they avoided his attempts to make physical contact but still blocked his frequent efforts to get to the office door before them. “What? Is he running scared now?”
Rayne looked up and around for the security cameras that he presumed must be in place in a building like this. He put his hands on his hips and yelled; “Lagrado! I know you can see me. Stop fucking about and let me in or I’m gonna mess these kids of yours up so bad they won’t know which end to shit out of!”
The male went for him then, but Rayne was half expecting it and he dodged the barrel run and stepped right into the path of one of the females. She bared her fangs and hissed at him and he returned the snarl with venom, lifting his hands and backing her to the wall where he rested them on her breasts with a deliberate sneer.
She knocked him across the room for his audacity. He was picking himself up as the cool voice came across the intercom; “Bring Mr Wylde to my office.”
Rayne dusted himself off and looked daggers at the bitch who’d floored him.
“Well!” he prompted. “You heard the man.”
Cole Lagrado watched on the closed circuit monitor as Rayne Wylde threw his temper tantrum. Monette, Jason, and Audren had him penned up in a room and were managing to keep him there. It had taken some doing to get him there, he fought like a little demon. Even now, if he got desperate enough, Cole had to wonder if the three would be able to keep him pinned down there. He was half tempted to do nothing and find out how resourceful the other vampire proved. However, he was more curious to find out exactly why Wylde hadn’t just got on his plane and left.
One human, even a favoured one, was not worth the monumental risk that Wylde seemed willing to make. He had fully expected the little Englishman to gnash his teeth a bit at the airport, but ultimately to leave feeling disgruntled. However, the younger vampire kept surprising him.
He pressed a button on the intercom unit. “Bring Mr. Wylde to my office.”
Rayne was unceremoniously herded into Lagrado’s suite. It was much the same scene as the first time he’d been there, with the only real difference being the number of vampires in the room. Cole Lagrado dispensed with any pretence of pleasantries on this occasion.
“After your little stunt at the airport I’m surprised, to say the least, to find you here, Rayne.”
The singer managed a cold smile that looked suspiciously like a sneer. There was a flicker of fire in his vivid green eyes though as he stalked towards Lagrado, close but not quite close enough to touch.
“You thought that fey piece of shit you sent after me would frighten me off, did you?” he laughed humourlessly. “Oh come on! What do you think I am, Mr Bigshot? You wanna play games, then play them with me… don’t pick on kids that don’t know any better. You know damned well why I’m here!”
Lagrado gave him a chilly look and a smile that flashed a bit of fang, the only hint of his annoyance with the Englishman.
“You came to get your boy back? How sweet, that you care so much about your mortal plaything. And he has been insisting so strenuously that you don’t give a damn; that he wouldn’t lure you back. Yet, here you are playing the unlikely paladin.”
Rayne’s back teeth came together with an audible click. His pale eyes narrowed to feline slits and the little hiss of fury would not stay in him.
“He’s not some fucking pet for you to play with and patronise!” the smaller Vampire growled. He was still on the move, prowling restlessly, conscious of the fact that Lagrado’s small entourage were watching him and waiting for him to make a move, just as he was waiting for one of them to move on him. “He’s got a mind of his own. Just because he’s not clung onto life for a few hundred years, that doesn’t make him your inferior. Quite the fuckin’ opposite, I’d say! Just let him go and we can sort this out between us, yeah. Vampire to Vampire. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
His relentless pacing brought him around to stand just in front of Lagrado, facing the Ancient and looking up into his dark eyes. It was a source of minor irritation that the bastard was taller than him, but then, most people were. He could take that.
Cole was silent for a little while, studying him as if he was an insect that had crept out of his salad during lunch. At last he sighed wearily and told Rayne, “I’ve already given the boy to Steffen, and he is enjoying Xavier far too much to just let him go.”
One of the vamps standing to one side, a tall blond who had not been involved in trying to subdue him in the foyer, stirred slightly. His smile turning into a taunting leer when Rayne glanced his way. He stroked the tip of his tongue suggestively down one elongated fang as if still savouring Xavier’s taste.
Rayne’s lips curled around an answering sneer. He did not take his eyes off the bull male whom he presumed must be Steffen, but in a low tone he murmured; “We’ll he’s just going to have to find himself a new toy, isn’t he? The boy is mine. There are people who know I’m here, Lagrado. Not just stupid mortals, either! People who know the score here.” He turned his head now so that he was facing the Vampire Master again. “I’m not looking for an all out war between Vampires in this city, Mister Lagrado. But we can go that route, if it’s what you really, really want.”
He held his ground defiantly, and held Cole Lagrado’s dark, emotionless eyes, refusing to flinch. If he looked away, or faltered at all now he and Xav could both be dead within the hour.
Cole’s eyes narrowed and again there was a pause as he regarded Rayne with curious interest. If their situations were reversed, if someone had dared touch what was his, dared offer him insult, no matter the provocation, he would have rained hell on that person. Retribution would have been swift and merciless; a matter of personal honour and a demand for the utmost respect. He could not have allowed even the slightest grievance to pass or his enemies would see it as a sign of weakness, use it as a crack in his armour. That ruthless cunning was what made him a powerful Master of this city.
Lagrado could have made a declaration of war for such an infraction, and with so much at stake. He did not understand why this whelp that had nothing to lose, except perhaps a little pride, would be willing to throw his Unlife away over a lover he had already cast aside.
He was either stupid or… or, he really did believe the drivel he was spouting. Was he foolish enough to love this mortal, perhaps? Cole thought, perhaps he might be. It was the only logical explanation for his presence here, and it gave Cole a huge advantage. Any motivation other than power or survival was superfluous to a Vampire, and he was going to enjoy teaching Rayne Wylde this lesson.
Lagrado’s face changed, the skin seeming to thin down over the handsome, Mediterranean features revealing something skeletal and monstrous, and very, very old. The hand that grabbed Rayne’s throat was simply there, tightening around his windpipe in a motion that was so fast it was as if the other vampires in the room were mere mortals. Rayne did not need to breathe but having his throat ripped out would still hurt like hell and take a good while to heal.
Lagrado’s open-mouthed snarl, like the jaws of a ravenous wolf, suddenly hovered too near. His eyes bled to black and the tangible sense of his power beat down on Rayne like hammer blows. The weaker vampires in the room cowered back in discomfort and subservience.
“Threaten me again, in my lands, when you are at my mercy, and I care not who comes. They shall take only your remains with them, if they live to do so,” Lagrado snarled.
He threw Rayne aside like a child’s toy, flinging him back into the waiting grasp of his enforcers with a casual flick of his wrist.
“Bring him!” he snapped, and his face and eyes smoothed swiftly back to normal as he strode to the door. “You wish for your mortal playmate’s release, Wylde? Then as Vampiric Law dictates, I will release him, but you shall take his place.”
As Rayne stumbled back from the Ancient rubbing his throat and blinking the stars from his eyes, only just keeping his feet thanks to his innate sense of balance, he was not sure if he imagined it but did the awe-struck lackeys hesitate to lay their hands on him? He wondered if the smug blond from the airport had died and hoped sincerely that he had.
Then, making up their minds, they seized him and almost towed him off his feet. He put up a fight at once.
“Hey! Cut that out! I can walk, just show me where to fucking go!” he barked at them, struggling uselessly as they carted him down the corridor after Lagrado.
Xavier lay on the bed unmoving. It hurt to move. Bruises decorated his supple body in vivid splashes on his face, ribs, arms and legs. Being dragged down a flight of stairs, smacked around, shoved and kicked all had left their mark. He certainly had not been treated in anyway gently since being thrust in the back of that car outside the club. Even if he hadn’t ached so badly, he still felt weak and dizzy. When he sat up his head swam and nausea gripped him.
After that first time, when Rayne had drunk too much from him, he had been careful to not bleed Xavier so far, only taking a few mouthfuls each time. When he was finished the punctures from his sweet little fangs healed almost instantly, the holes closing and becoming small red dimples in his flesh. The bites he’d received from the other vampires had closed over but were not healing so well.
The one at the crook of his arm where Jeanette had ripped into him still looked like a rabid dog had attacked him. It was an angry claret and purple mess, the skin swollen tight over the wounds and hot to the touch. The others were also vivid red, some looking like the vampire had not just sunk fangs into him but bitten down, like they had wanted to take a chunk of his flesh along with the glut of blood. Those had been agonisingly painful and still hurt to the touch. None of the other bite marks gave him that shivery feeling of tail-tingling pleasure that he got from touching the marks Rayne left on him. They just hurt.
He still didn’t know exactly why they had taken him, but he was smart enough to figure it was in retribution for something. The cruelty was methodical, the intent both to hurt and terrify him, and it had worked remarkably well.
He heard the lock on the door turn and struggled to sit up, pushing himself as far back as he could, huddling uselessly against the wall. Spilled blood and semen had dried on his skin and scented the room. Blood, sweat, sex and fear hung like a heavy perfume in the air around him.
His heart was beating too hard, too fast. There was more than one coming into the room this time and his spirits sagged. He was already weak from blood loss, how much more could they take from him before they killed him? Then Rayne stepped into the room and his heart gave a sickening, yearning lurch. He was still here; he had not gone after all. The oddest mix of surprise, relief, and anxiety raced through him at the familiar sight of his beautiful mate.
Rayne could feel the others at his back as he was shoved into the dimly lit cell. The only light in the small room came from outside on the corridor and he seethed at the idea that these bastards could treat another living creature this way, shutting him up in the darkness like an animal. But then, they were not alive, in any normal sense of the word. The fact that neither was he escaped him for the time being as he went down on his knees beside the rough pallet where his naked lover was sprawled.
It was instinct, his mouth moved at once to the bite marks all over Xavier’s lean, bruised young body, kissing him tenderly and running his tongue over the rents and puncture marks inflicted by cruel teeth and what looked, in the case of the wounds on his arms, like claws.
“What the hell have they done to you, angel?” he breathed at last, his lips coming to rest by Xavier’s ear.
Xav turned his face into the crook of Rayne’s neck; all he could do, despite the desire to wrap his arms around him and cling like a frightened kitten. He didn’t need to tell Rayne what they had done. It came to him in little flashes through the traces of blood he’d cleaned from the wounds. Snapshots like flipping through a photo album. The hurried pack up at PJ’s, thinking Rayne would appreciate not having to put up with a long maudlin good-bye. Going out to get drunk and lose himself in the beat of music and writhing bodies, Steffen’s cool hands and sharp smile. The car; that first hard crack of being hit and the flood of panic that came with it. Being dragged into the basement; the rotting thing they let feed on him there. Steffen’s fist twisted in his hair, teeth and cock both sinking into his struggling body… It took only a few brief seconds for the last twenty-four hours of horror to sink in.
Rayne’s expression slowly hardened as he processed the bombardment of images.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Xavier whispered hoarsely. “They are fuckin’ bat-shit, Ray.” His lips brushed Rayne’s cheek, almost as cool as the skin they touched for a change. Even as he spoke the words, the profound mix of relief and anxiety Xav felt washed over Rayne.
‘Please, please don’t leave me here.’ whispered in his head.
Rayne’s lips strayed to meet his, kissing and silencing him. He ran his hands gently up the boy’s slender arms and burned inside as they reached the tight iron cuffs around his wrists, holding him on the bed, chained and accessible for his cold-blooded keeper. Lagrado’s threat was still fresh in his mind whilst he kissed and soothed Xavier as gently as he could, trying to shield the boy from his rising fury.
…you shall take his place!
‘Well, if that’s what it takes to get you out of here!’ Rayne sat back on his heels, stroking his fingertips tenderly over the young man’s tear-streaked face. ‘Maybe that bastard won’t be so hot for another Vamp tho! Let’s see how he likes it cold!’
He half turned to look over one shoulder at his fanged escort in the doorway.
“Give us a minute here, will you? If we’re not gonna see one another for a little while we ought to say goodbye in private, yeah?”
There was a round of tittering laughter and jeers but Cole actually granted Rayne his request, sending the others back with a short gesture of his hand and closing the door.
“Rayne, you gotta get out of here. They’re going to hurt you.”
Rayne bent over him and kissed him again, long and slow, taking his time. This might, after all, be the last time. He shuddered at the idea but pushed it away quickly, not wanting Xavier to feel his nerves.
“Don’t worry about me,” he whispered into the dancer’s soft, cold, bruised mouth. “Let’s just get you out of here, okay? I can take anything they wanna give me, but I won’t let them hurt you any more, I promise.”
He licked and kissed the boy’s wounds incessantly, determined to heal him as well as he could before they were parted. The fitter Xav was the more likely he was to get away from here, to make a full recovery.
Xavier’s lips curled in a little smile. He had barely the energy to move and yet the soft brushes of Rayne’s lips and his tongue were sending little tingles of excitement through him. When Rayne brought those soft lips back to his again there was more heat in Xavier’s response. He tried to bring his hand down so he could sink his fingers into the dark silk of the singer’s hair, momentarily forgetting about the shackle on his wrist that jerked it back just short of its target.
“I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye.” Xav gasped between breathless kisses. “Just… not good at that stuff, you know?”
Rayne smiled; a genuine twitch of his lips this time. He rested his forehead against Xavier’s, drawing himself up so that he could put his arms around the boy. It would be good to get the cuffs off him but they were deadlocked, not just fastened with a ring and screw like some of the play-manacles. These guys were serious if they’d chain a slim, beaten human boy like that. Unless they were expecting someone, or something, to break him out! He ached inside for the simplicity of his first few days with Xavier. Why did being Undead have to be so fucking complicated?
“It doesn’t matter, sweetheart,” he breathed now, exhaling his words into the boy’s mouth under cover of another kiss. “I’m not that hot at them either. And I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet, but fingers crossed we can get you out of here, yeah? And when we do, I want you to get as far away as you possibly can. Don’t go to Switchbacks, don’t go to your apartment, don’t go to Paddy’s place okay? They’re not at the house. Do you understand me, Xavier? These bastards mustn’t find you again.”
His lips lingered briefly on the younger man’s slightly open mouth then moved back to his neck, kissing the rawness of the bite mark beneath his ear lobe.
Rayne didn’t bite him, not deep. The tip of one sharp fang scratched him and the warm tingle of pleasure became a hot wash of desire. Xavier moaned softly with it. The door opened, and as the light filtered into his cell Xav got a mental flash of something.
It was a road sign; a motel he knew off the interstate. A jovial image of a cheery looking Hog, belly deep in muck, jaws parted in a porcine grin.
The Happy Pig.
Rayne’s head came up sharply and he turned to look over his shoulder as if he heard something beyond mortal ears. The scratch he had made was gone, as well as almost all sign of the other scratches and bites. The only ones left were the original marks Rayne had made and the bruises, which were slowly fading.
They came back in force. Six, including Lagrado and Steffen, who looked very unhappy. He moved toward Xavier, key in hand.
“Throw the boy out.” Cole Lagrado said as he smiled at Rayne. It was not a pleasant expression. “You’ve bartered your own freedom for his, Rayne. I hope it makes you happy. You shall be my servant until I say otherwise.” A nod of his head and four vampires converged on Rayne with shackles in hand.
“What?” Xavier demanded as his own cuffs were removed. “Wait…”
Steffen hauled him up and shoved him toward the door.
“Wait a damn minute!”
Not one of them paid him any attention.
Rayne was on his feet although he did not put up a fight as they caught his arms and put the irons on him. There was a keen, desperate look on his face for a moment as he called Lagrado’s name.
“Hey! Cole! Slow down… Are you gonna give the kid something to wear? I mean, I know it’s not the middle of winter or anything but those night mists are a bastard! And you don’t expect him to get very far with bare feet, huh?” he prompted scathingly.
The Ancient looked for an instant as if he would have liked to melt Rayne with his stare but in the end he merely snapped his fingers at the Vampire called Steffen and growled; “Bring the mortal suitable garments. Wylde clearly has belated concerns for his whore’s modesty.”
The singer’s lips parted on a fanged snarl and he would have gone for Lagrado then but the pair holding his chains yanked him back like a vicious dog on a short leash.
“He is NOT a whore!” Rayne growled at him.
“Oh forgive me!” Lagrado sneered in response. “A whore gets paid for his services, doesn’t he? My mistake! Get Wylde’s pet slut dressed and throw him out. Now!”
Rayne was seething but somehow managed to keep his cool as Xavier struggled to pull on the clothing they brought for him, desperate to cover his body, especially from Steffen’s leering, hungry gaze. He tried to get to the boy but was pulled back once again.
“I want your word that you won’t follow him once he’s out of here?” he panted, still straining against the shackles and the chains that his gaolers clung to valiantly. He knew Vampires this well at least. They would hold to a promise but you had to word it correctly or they would jump on any loophole like terriers on a rat. “You’re not to kill him. I’ll do what you want but you’ve got to let him go, alive, do you swear to me? On behalf of all of your… people? He won’t be followed and he won’t be harmed?”
He thought that Steffen and Cole exchanged a look at that but the older Vampire finally nodded his head.
“The boy will not be followed by any of my… people,” he said with only the slightest disdain.
“And you’ll let him get out of here alive? Unmolested?” Rayne persisted, shaking his hair back from his eyes. There was a suspicious glint in them now. Trust had never come easily to him and he saw no reason to trust this particular serpent now.
“Agreed.” Cole said simply.
“May I kiss him goodbye?” The singer’s voice was suddenly husky and he coughed quickly to clear it.
“Is that not what you were doing before we entered?” Steffen snarled at him, clearly unwilling to prolong the charade. “Or was that a farewell fuck?”
“I dunno about you, mate but I last a fair bit longer than that!” Rayne flashed back, licking his fangs as Xavier tried to run to him, clearly distressed now and wanting to be held.
As the boy’s arms folded desperately around him he snatched a kiss, and lightly snagged Xav’s lower lip, sucking briefly on it to heal the hurt. ‘Front pocket. Take it.‘ The impulse flashed through Xavier before their lips parted. He pushed a hand into the pocket of the singer’s tight jeans and made a bold show of groping him as they kissed again. When his fingers slid out, they were curled discreetly around Rayne’s slender cellphone and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his own pants right away, hiding it. Rayne Wylde managed an appreciative chuckle and winked at him as he was yanked back from Xavier for the last time.
“Go.” he breathed. “It’s been a blast, Xav but when you get out of here I want you to forget I ever lived. Run like hell, and don’t try to get back in. Got it?”
Xavier nodded because he had precious little choice at the moment.
Steffen grabbed Xavier again and hauled him out, back down a different corridor. He was literally thrown from the building, shoved out the back-alley door so hard he stumbled and dropped to his knees. The door was slammed shut and locked, and Xavier was on his own, free.
He looked up at the building and tried to put thoughts of what they might be doing to Rayne right now out of his head. He didn’t run, but he didn’t hang about either. He did not trust a bit that he wouldn’t be followed. Not that there was a whole lot he could do about it if he was. It wasn’t like he would be tailed by a regular human; he’d probably never see them coming, or even be able to lose them if he were being followed. Still, he took the minimum precautions; zigzagging his path and switching cabs three times before settling in for the drive up to Oakland. He hoped PJ would not be too mad at having to stump up for the cab fare.
There was no way Xavier was just going to leave Rayne there. He knew he couldn’t do it on his own, but maybe if he had help. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and flipped through the contacts, found PJ’s number and pressed ‘call’.
It rang once. “Rayne?”
“It’s Xavier.” And now, just how was he going to explain all this?