8

DOMINIC:

When he was dismissed from Elian Iannopoulos’ apartment Dominic Warren eschewed the offer of a ride home. He needed some air and the space to get his head clear. PJ and Clay were not going to be happy about him leaving Xavier behind. Hell! He wasn’t overjoyed about it either but the way he saw it, if he denied Yiannis, then the Vampire Ancient was perfectly capable of ensuring that neither he nor Xav saw daylight ever again. One did not argue with a vampire of Elian’s capabilities. 

So Lord Warren walked briskly back down to the esplanade and en-route he considered his options. And he made a couple of calls that he had thus far been trying to put off. 

~*~

When a City Cab finally got him back to the Happy Pig, Lord Warren had reached a decision. 

“Do you have anywhere else that we can go to?” he asked PJ seriously as he walked into the porn director’s suite without knocking. “Somewhere that no one would think to look for us?”

Clay and Chavez were on their feet at once. Clay, he noted, was armed although he did not draw the small handgun from his hip pocket right away. 

“Where’s the kid?” Barclay wanted to know. 

“We had to revise our plan,” said Dominic carefully. “He’s quite safe. And don’t keep a loaded weapon in your pants pocket, darling. It’s really tempting fate!”

PJ looked alarmed. “You left him there?”

“Yiannis wanted security on the deal,” the other man reassured him, feeling less confident than he probably sounded. “It’s perfectly understandable. And Xav was fine with it.”

“That boy would walk into hell to get Wylde out of this mess!” Clay barked at him. “This is an insane plan!”

“Yiannis has promised to get Rayne out, tomorrow. I will go back there for him tomorrow evening and bring him, and Xavier, home.” Dominic drew a long breath. “I just think that it would be… sensible to move our location.”

“You don’t trust this Yiannis guy then?” Clay was shaking his head. 

“He’s a vampire,” Dom Warren responded sagely. “A old and very cunning vampire too. One never turns one’s back entirely on the Undead, remember that Mr Francis.”

“But Rayne is one of them too,” Chavez pointed out. “You trust him?”

Dominic looked shrewdly at the Hispanic youth. For a moment he held his tongue then shrugged evasively; “I’ve known Rayne since he was Turned. He’s… unusual.”

“Unusual enough for you to fly halfway around the world to help him on the basis of a phone call,” PJ commented, pushing himself to his feet. “But I’ve known him longer than you have Lord Warren and he was kind of Out There as a mortal too” He exhaled a long, weary breath. “So… we gotta run?”

“Yiannis sent a car for us. He knows where we are,” Dominic said casually. “Put it like this, I’d rather not sit around waiting to see if anyone pays us an unscheduled visit,” 

“I have a couple of friends in the city that owe me favours,” the ageing porn director sighed. “I’ll give them a ring.”

So it was that by midnight – as Xavier was being taken by Elian for the sixth or seventh time and Rayne Wylde was curling up in the chill darkness of his cell, regretting his impulsive offer to take the boy’s place – their friends slipped quietly from the passenger doors of a cab down on the edge of the Western Addition, just off Divisadero. Silently they melted into the darkness between a pair of shadowy, late nineteenth century buildings; three of them carrying large Samsonite cases, the fourth looking warily behind to check that they were not being followed.

THE NEXT MORNING:

At 11.30 precisely the next morning two men strode through the arrivals hall at San Francisco International airport. One was short and wiry, his iron-grey hair closely cropped in a military buzz-cut and his neat moustache the same. He wore mirrored shades and a dark, close-fitted jacket and pants with many pockets, that would probably have been considered combat gear if they were khaki instead of charcoal black. The small man carried a long, narrow, black canvas bag over one shoulder. His companion drew the eye by his sheer size – and the watching eye mysteriously slipped over him and away just as quickly. He was well over six feet tall and broad in the shoulders but narrow of hip and waist, clad in a perfectly tailored charcoal grey suit, cut to show off his physique. Most striking of all was the long, straight fall of pure white hair, tumbling down his back to his waist, smooth as a freshly ironed curtain. In spite of this feature there was nothing remotely feminine about the tall man. His strong boned face was the colour of old gold, chiselled and handsome, with a prominent nose and a firm jawline. Eyes the colour of sunlit amber glittered keenly beneath a smooth, high brow. He might have been any age from thirty to sixty, it was impossible to tell. 

He had no luggage, nor did he seem inconvenienced by this. As the mismatched pair walked out onto the concourse, the smaller man hailed a cab and they headed downtown.

Just around the time that Cole Lagrado was meeting with three of his Peers, trying to assess who most wanted his allegiance and attempting to strike a bargain over the wilful Fledgling he had inherited, that Fledgling’s Sire sat down in a cafe on the Embarcadero opposite Dominic Warren. Lord Warren was trying his very hardest not to fling himself at the huge, white-maned Vampire. The hunger lurked behind his eyes like a persistent fog.

“You should have called me first,” Jabez Everman said softly as the lean, nervous, besotted mortal sitting across the table from him in a booth to the rear of the restaurant, stirred his tea for the fifteenth time. “Yiannis is a clever fellow but he has his own agenda. Not a sociopath like Coelho Lagrada-Diaz, but even so.”

He sighed impatiently. By the rear doors his mortal bodyguard Jonjo Mersen paced a few steps back and forth, describing a small triangle on the tiled floor as he kept a shrewd eye on proceedings. Dominic glanced at the smaller man knowing that, however innocuous he might seem, he was probably armed to the teeth and, given the circumstances, not just carrying weaponry that was fatal to humans.

“I needed to assess the situation before I called you,” Lord Warren argued quietly. “I have the hardware in place to take them on but my friends don’t have the tactical experience for this kind of battle. They’re loyal and brave but they’re not mercenaries.”

His gaze flickered to Mersen who was still pacing casually by the door, never taking his eyes off the principal. Hard to believe really that this small man could inflict so much damage, but Dominic had seen him in action. It was impressive.

“I understand, Rabbit,” said Everman impassively. His use of Dominic’s childhood nickname told the mortal that he was not seriously angry about being summoned although his expression remained severe. For his own part, Lord Warren only permitted a handful of people to call him by that name and most of them were family or close friends. He felt a little rush of warmth inside. “You hoped that the vampires would fight among themselves and eradicate the problem for you. Lagrada does not work that way. He will make things difficult for Yiannis if he does not co-operate. Their truce is an uneasy one. Elian Iannopoulos is an older vampire, he has no love for Lagrada-Diaz. He considers the fellow a coward, one who hides behind others whilst he extends his reach over the city.”

“Why is Elian Iannopoulos not the Master of Frisco then?” Dominic wanted to know. The question had been troubling him since his meeting with the Ancient on the previous day.

“Yiannis likes to operate alone,” his companion explained with a small quirk of the lips that softened his severely handsome face for a moment. “As do I. I could have been Master of any number of cities in my time, and so I have been. But generally such a title brings more trouble to my door than plaudits. I can live without that, Rabbit, as I am sure Yiannis would agree.”

“So he makes a show of bending his head to Lagrada-Diaz and resents him for it?” the mortal speculated. 

Jabez Everman looked back at him shrewdly. His almond-shaped, amber eyes shimmered like a desert sunset; serious and unblinking. Dominic felt himself begin to drown in that gaze, then it flickered away from him casually, watching Mersen pace his small, precise triangle of the tiled floor.

“Do you think he resents it?” the vampire asked at last. He answered his own question before Dominic could open his mouth to speak. “I believe that, to Yiannis, Coelho Lagrada-Diaz is no more than a speck of fly shit on his sleeve. He tolerates the fellow because it is his prerogative to do so. Did you know, by the way, that Coelho is Portuguese for Rabbit?”

He smiled again, pleased with this piece of deduction. Dominic laughed incredulously. 

“My Portuguese isn’t that hot, Jabez. Are you trying to suggest that we have some common ground?” he chuckled.

“It was a nickname, the same as it is for you, Lord Warren,” the Everman purred, still smiling contemplatively at him across the table, making Dominic wish with all his heart that this was a social meeting and they could forget about warring vampires and just go to bed. He wanted Jabez inside him more than anything in the world right now. Jabez Everman clearly had other matters on his mind. “Don’t you wonder how a fearsome opponent like Lagrada-Diaz came by such a nickname?”

“I presume it has other connotations in his homeland,” Dominic laughed and shook his head. “I don’t know, Jabez. Tell me.”

“His family name is Diaz,” Jabez said quietly in a tone that prompted his companion to demonstrate that he was not completely ignorant. 

“From the Latin, dies. It means Days, I know that,” Dominic sat back in his seat. “How does this have any relevance to our dealings with him?”

“When he became as he is now, he was one of those who turned his back on the light,” Jabez Everman explained patiently. “At the same time he turned away from his traditional name. Lagrada-Diaz; loosely translated it means ‘the place where the sun is launched…’ the point of daybreak, I suppose.” The vampire shrugged his shoulders slightly as if apologising for his lack of linguistic skill. Dominic nodded, encouraging him to go on, which he did. “He shunned the daylight, hiding himself away in the tunnels and passages of his family’s vast estate near Braga. There he lured others to him, and he Turned or bred many creatures that would come to serve him. In Braga they called him Lagrada daNoite, the Birth of the Night. But those who grew to hate and fear him called himCoelho, the Rabbit, because he would not show his face and he hid underground, coming to the surface only to destroy those who opposed him, and breeding others just like him.”

“Woah… woah, woah!” Dominic Warren sat forward as something occurred to him. “He’s Nocturne?”

“He will not walk in the daylight,” Jabez said pacifically. “I cannot guarantee that it will harm him. It is what he believes.”

“But if he’s spent centuries in the dark, or in artificial light…?” the mortal narrowed his eyes shrewdly. 

“Technically we only have to lure him into the light to weaken him,” his companion agreed with a wry smile. “Before we do that, I would prefer that we address the whereabouts of my troublesome Fledge.”

Dominic steadied himself with a long intake of breath. 

“I… er… I’m not altogether sure where he is right now, but tonight should hopefully be a different matter,” he said with a forced brightness that his Undead companion unfortunately saw clean through. 

“And where will he be tonight?” asked Jabez Everman coolly.

“Um… well… if everything goes according to plan, he’ll be with Yiannis.” Dominic looked uneasy again. 

“Then that is where we shall begin.” Jabez said decisively. He gestured with a raised finger in the direction of his mortal bodyguard. 

At once Mersen was by his side, still wary for any suspicious activity in their vicinity. Even through the mirrored sunglasses Dominic was conscious that the small, dangerous Irishman was giving him the evils.

“Do we have night hunting equipment?” Jabez was asking. 

“I have the night-sights, Boss,” Mersen answered gruffly. “And about five boxes of the exploding rounds.”

Dominic rose to his feet with a grave smile. 

“Gentlemen,” he said with a magnanimous gesture. “I think I may be able to raise your contribution there.”

XAVIER:

Xavier woke not knowing he had fallen asleep. He hadn’t meant to, but he had been exhausted. He shifted on the bed and realised his wrist was chained to the bedpost. 

Great! He seemed to have traded one prison for another, albeit a more comfortable one. He shouldn’t have come here with Dominic. Lord Warren could have convinced the Elder vampire to help Rayne without him. He was supposed to have been just eye candy, not the deal-sealer. He snorted, guessing that it had been rather naïve of him to think so, but Dominic had seemed like a nice guy and he hadn’t been thinking about anything but doing what ever it would take to get Rayne away from Lagrado. 

Little irritants began to make themselves known. He had to piss. He was sticky with dried sweat and semen. He was hungry and thirsty. 

He tested the give in the chain. He could get off the bed but that was all. Goddamn it, it would serve the smug bloodsucker right if Xavier pissed on the floor. Bastard! He pulled on the chain, tried to compress the bones of his hand in order to get it through the manacle but the cuff was too tight. The chain actually led behind the mattress and the idea occurred to Xav that he might be able to somehow get the bed frame apart and maybe slide the chain off that way. 

He shoved the mattress off and flipped the box spring up. The frame was made of solid cherry, the joints screwed in place. Unless the vampire had a screwdriver hidden in the nightstand he wasn’t going to get the frame apart. He didn’t get a chance to look. The door came open and the burly vampire that had been guarding the door last night came into the room.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Redecorating. What the hell d’you think I’m doing?” 

The big vampire stared at him, not knowing how to respond to sarcasm. Xavier was guessing he was hired muscle both before and after he was turned. 

“You got the key?” Xavier asked, looking innocently at him. “I gotta piss.”

The big guy’s expression changed slightly, the confusion clearing as his eyes slid over Xavier’s naked body. Xav sighed; he was not going to do this guy any favours. If he wanted it he was going to have to fight for it. The vamp came closer, but didn’t try anything, he just took the key out of his pocket and slowly unlocked the cuff on Xavier’s wrist. Must have had orders from Elian to behave, Xavier thought with no small amount of relief.

He was allowed to use the bathroom, and the vampire even let him take a shower, although he wasn’t allowed to do it unobserved. When he asked for something to eat and said he was thirsty, he was out of luck. Apparently Elian hadn’t expressly told his guards whether he could have food or not, so it was not. Xavier tried to reason with the bonehead and then cussed him and called him an idiot, but got nowhere. The best he could do was grab a drink from the sink faucet in the bathroom before he was hauled back to his new prison. Then he was chained back to the bed, the box spring and mattress were replaced on the frame and he was left alone. 

He watched the day go by outside, wondering if Elian had got Rayne free or not. He also finally let his mind touch on something he’d been avoiding. The revenant, the starved rotting thing that had fed from him… Elian said they were starving Rayne. Was that what he meant? That Rayne would be like that thing? Would he bring back a crazed decaying corpse? 

Xavier shuddered. No! No, he couldn’t do that again. 

He touched the cross that hung around his neck like he was a devout Catholic. He wasn’t. He wasn’t even Christian. But this was one cross he could believe in, or rather what was tucked away inside it. Xavier shook his head. He could not let something dead and rotted touch him again, not even if it was Rayne. 

RELEASE:

Lagrado’s men shackled Rayne for the journey back to his new keeper’s lair. Tight iron bands were fastened around his ankles over the thin, supple leather of his boots, attached to one another by a very short length of chain so that his stride was no more than a foot in length. His arms were wrenched behind him and laced from the elbows to his slim wrists into a sheath of something that felt like kevlar, strong, bullet-resistant material that would hold his struggles for the time it took to transfer him. A double cuff was then locked into place around his wrists and another chain attached from this device to the hobble between his feet. 

Rayne thrashed and hissed at them as the burly pair held him down and secured him. In turn they taunted him with threats of the things that Elian would do to his ass once he was naked and chained to the Elder’s bed. Rough fingers seized a handful of his dark hair and jerked his head back hard. When he opened his mouth to scream abuse, the other thug forced a rubber-clad, iron bit-gag between his teeth, hooking it behind his extended fangs and buckling the restraining straps tightly at the back of his head. His curses were muffled and incoherent from then on but no less vehement. 

When they blindfolded him he felt cold fear grip his heart. Nothing freaked him out quite so much as not being able to see. His other senses, whilst enhanced by Turning were never quite enough to compensate. Rayne pleaded with them now, begging them wordlessly to take the blind off but he was ignored. 

Strong hands pulled him to his feet and he was walked, slowly and awkwardly from the room. He could hear that his fate and Warren’s were still being discussed. One of his guards asked a question and Elian answered it; “Take him to the car and put him in the trunk. There are restraining rings welded into the chassis there. Secure him from his collar and fetters, that should be sufficient to hold him for a short journey.”

Then he was dragged, stumbling and muttering wordless venom, from the audience chamber and out into a long corridor. At one point, from the disorienting sense of movement even though he was standing still, he knew that they were taking him up – he thought it felt like up – in an elevator. Then suddenly he was stumbling on a short flight of steps and a door opened letting him feel the momentary relief of cool, fresh air on his face. 

He heard a bleep and then a solid ‘thunk’ as the car was unlocked and the boot lid rose smoothly, almost inaudible to mortal ears, but he was conscious of it. Rayne struggled as they pulled him towards the vehicle and in the end they hefted him off his feet and dumped him unceremoniously in the broad, deep trunk of the car. Chains were hooked onto his collar and attached to a loop in the bodywork of the vehicle so that he could not get up again. His feet were restrained in the same way and then the lid was slammed down. 

Rayne felt the vibrations run through every nerve and fibre. He was conscious of the change in light and atmosphere as they locked him down in the darkness. A sick wave of claustrophobia and fear ran through him and he retched uncontrollably, unable to swallow properly with the bit between his jaws.

As he lay there, struggling with the wrist restraints, thinking that if he could get them off then he might get loose, he heard faint voices and the car lurched; doors slammed and the engine was gunned into life. Rayne fought the wrists cuffs and the sheath around his lower arms even harder. The thought of Xav and Dominic suffering for him was a constant waking nightmare now. He could not just lie here and accept his fate – all of their fates – he had to do something.

They did not seem to have been driving long when the vehicle came to a halt and he felt movement as the occupants got out. He heard someone say; “That should do it, we’re far enough from ABC now, get him out.”

He panicked for a moment, suddenly convinced that they were just going to drag him from the car and execute him. Then the lid of the trunk opened and he was released from the restraints inside and lifted out. Firm, gentle hands untied the blind as he was set on his shackled feet and he blinked against the sudden incandescent flood of light. 

It took him a few minutes to focus on the face of Elian Iannopoulos, who was observing him gravely. 

“Put him in the back,” he said smoothly and walked around the immaculate cream coloured limo to get in the other side. One of his thugs pushed Rayne towards the car and forced him in the rear passenger door then got in after him. There was another of Elian’s goons at the wheel already. 

“Take the gag off,” Elian said impassively and was obeyed without question. 

The vampire Cole Lagrado had addressed as Yiannis was tall but not overly muscular. Next to the two who accompanied him he looked slight, but it was clear from their body language who was in control. The two gorillas did his bidding without a moment’s hesitation. 

Rayne huffed for breath as the bit was removed from his mouth. He was shuddering with combined anger and terror, caught between the two older, stronger Vampires with no way of running. 

“What do you want?” he croaked, struggling to speak with his fangs still fully extended. “What do you want… to let Xav go and leave the others alone?”

Elian reached out and touched his cheek, looking into his eyes, his dark grey gaze solemn and mesmerising. Somehow that was even more frightening than Cole’s threats and hostility. 

“You are so hungry, aren’t you Rayne?” he whispered almost tremulously. “Don’t worry, child. I will let you gorge yourself before I take you. I want you at full, beautiful strength in my bed. Our lovemaking will break all records for passion and longevity. Who knows, if the human boy survives your hunger I may even let him watch as you give yourself to me.”

“You are sick!” Rayne hissed at him, struggling to breathe. 

“It is our nature to feed,” Elian purred in a soothing tone. “You should not fight it, Rayne Wylde. You will not be long for this world if you do. I am not the sadist that Coelho is, but he is correct when he states that humans are beneath us. They are fun to feed from and to mate with. Sometimes they even have other uses but they are not our equals, Rayne. The Everman must have told you this. Surely?”

The singer shuddered, his voice heavy with contempt as he snarled; “Well I’ve lasted long enough without using them as fodder the way you bastards do!”

“And you hurt when they are in pain, don’t you?” Elian murmured, still stroking his neck and his body tenderly. “It hurts you so much to see them suffering. And when you let yourself feel that way it leaves you vulnerable to older, smarter vampires like Coelho. You have to cut yourself off from them, Rayne. If you want to survive there is little point in you binding yourself to a mortal. They will fade and die in the end and you will be alone. What use is that to you?”

He sounded so sane, so rational that for a moment Rayne just stared at him, unable to even draw a breath. When Elian said the words they made perfect sense. He had already watched beloved friends die, unable to do anything to save them. And it did hurt. Fuck it! It hurt so much that he wanted to die with them. 

Rayne closed his eyes, fighting the tears that came with that release of emotion. He turned his head away, letting his lank, dark hair screen his face. He could feel the cool weight of Elian’s hand on his belly, stroking lower and lower. 

“Shhhh!” the Elder sighed in his ear. “Don’t cry, sweetling. It will be all right. I will take good care of you, just wait and see. We will drain the pretty boy together and make gentle love to him so that his last moments are so sweet, so filled with tenderness. It will be a merciful ending to a sad young life, Rayne. A life filled with so much pain and fear. Boys like him, they have no idea how to escape that cycle of pain on their own, as well you know. Don’t you, Rayne?” His hand slid down between Rayne’s thighs, caressing him more intimately through the filmy material of his brief, tight shorts.

Rayne squirmed helplessly, his head falling back against the soft leather rest as Elian fondled him to full erection through the silkiness of the insubstantial garment. He felt hypnotised. The Elder’s words sent a ripple of horror through him but at the same time he longed for that gentle touch to continue. He wanted the strength and security of those strong arms around him. If they let Xavier go, wouldn’t he just stumble back into the clutches of men who would only abuse him? 

“No!” he panted desperately. “I can’t!”

“He will thank you for it, Rayne.” Elian leaned over him, kissing his throat above the line of the collar. His deft fingers stroked the silk and lycra slowly up and down over Rayne’s throbbing cock. “He will look into your eyes with such gratitude as you release him from the suffering he has known all his life. He will understand then, that although you have compassion for him, he is not worthy of your heart. That you are not like him, so much as you both might wish it was otherwise.”

A slow tear ran down the younger vampire’s cheek as he writhed under his captor’s touch. It was horrible but so true. He could feel when they were together how much Xav’s life mirrored his own. The boy had been used and abused so much. If they could not be together, how would he survive alone? 

And something curious happened then. It was almost as if he could feel Xavier in his head. And being aware of him there helped. Until it happened he had not been able to explain the listlessness he had been feeling. Whilst he was trapped in Lagrado’s cell he had felt so lonely, so hopeless. And suddenly that emptiness was filled as if a door had been opened into a dark chamber in his mind filling it with light. 

“Stop that!” he exhaled, a little more forcefully, opening his eyes. 

Elian sat back, looking at him curiously. The vamp bodyguard on his right was grinning from ear to ear, clearly enjoying watching his boss arouse Rayne Wylde.

“You don’t like it?” the Elder purred. “Your body tells me otherwise.”

“I won’t help you to kill him. Xav’s tough and he’s brave and even if his life has been shit, he’s come through it!” Rayne growled softly. “He’s not complacent like some of you old bastards! And even if I’m going to lose him one day soon, I’d take Xavier to be by my side above a hundred of you!”

Elian looked stunned for a moment, then recovered quickly. He snorted softly through his nostrils, sitting back in his seat, his hand withdrawn from Rayne’s trembling body. 

“Well then…” he exhaled as if coming to a decision. “If you wish it to be so, you shall have your chance. I will give him back to you. You may be with him, once I – and a selection of my most trusted and best-endowed followers – have fucked you for a night. I promised your sweet boy after all that I would let him watch as I used you the way you and your moviestar friends used him.”

The sarcastic edge in his voice was undisguised. Rayne rolled his eyes. 

“Do whatever you want to me, but leave him alone,” he retorted wearily.

“Oh I will leave him entirely to you,” Elian laughed coldly. “But if you will not feed from him, Rayne Wylde, you will feed from no one. Do you understand? He can watch as you starve and soothe you with his sweet body until the day comes when he can no longer bear to look on you.” 

Rayne’s eyes widened as the true horror of what the Elder was telling him hit home.

“You… you can’t!” he protested. 

But the car swung down into the subterranean parking lot under Elian’s apartment building at that moment and the darkness swallowed the rest of his argument.

XAVIER:

Xavier heard movement in the outer rooms of the apartment. Some short time ago he had determined it was pretty much useless to continue the mental shielding. Elian had already taken what he wanted from his memories and it was only keeping him from feeling Rayne. He let it go and reached out, almost immediately touching the cool presence he knew was Rayne Wylde. It made him smile. At least he knew he wasn’t dead. Well, not really dead anyway. 

He sat up on the bed and the door opened. The relief he felt at seeing Rayne made him grin even though he knew they were still in trouble here. The relief that he wasn’t bones and rotting flesh actually made him a little dizzy. 

“Rayne!” There was a lot more happiness in that simple declaration then the situation warranted but Xavier couldn’t help it.

It didn’t even matter right now that Rayne appeared to be dressed as a stripper. The singer was chained and looked exhausted and a little grey around the edges but his smile came on automatically at the sight of Xavier alive and to all purposes unhurt.

“Alright sweetheart?” he asked huskily. “They’re not treating you too bad are they?”

As Elian let him shuffle closer to the bed Xav could see other little differences. His pale eyes were bloodshot, almost colourless, and red-rimmed as if he had been crying his heart out. The normally smooth line of his jaw was unshaven, not a full two days worth of stubble but definitely a hint, and there was a peppering of silver in his shaggy black hair that had certainly not been there before. He looked almost twenty years older.

And the weary smile had fangs.

Xavier’s smile faded around the edges with concern, but not fear. 

“I’m alright,” he answered breathlessly. 

The changes in Rayne were disturbing, but not entirely unexpected. They had starved him, and Elian hadn’t let him feed yet either. Xavier reached and traced his fingers lightly along Rayne’s cheek. He had far more confidence in the vampire’s control than Rayne himself did. 

“I made a deal to get you out of there. He said he’d let us both go…” Xav trailed off, realising how stupidly naïve he sounded, but he had to offer the explanation anyway. 

Rayne made a small hopeless sound that was part laugh, part sob and turned his head away. He looked imploringly at Elian even though he knew that it wouldn’t wash with the older vampire. His new keeper chuckled softly, strolling to the bedside and kneeling on the edge of the mattress. He leaned across to stroke Xavier’s hair.

“Now you be a good boy,” he said in a mildly patronising tone. “Your poor little friend is exhausted and extremely hungry, Xavier. Because I’m an absolute angel I’m going to give you and loverboy a little time together and I want him in better shape by the time I come back here. Do you understand that?”

Xavier controlled the impulse to knock his hand away. Not yet. They just needed a little time and they would think of something. And Rayne needed to feed. Xavier nodded his head, keeping his eyes lowered; the very picture of submission. Actually he just didn’t think he’d be able to hide the anger in his eyes. 

When Elian left them, Xavier reached automatically for Rayne again. “I’m sorry! It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Dominic said I just needed to sit there and look pretty, I wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal. Neither were you.”

To his distress, Rayne pulled away from him. Although his arms had been released from the sheath his wrists were still cuffed in front and his ankles remained hobbled. He shuffled towards the full-length window at the far end of the room and sank down on the low, deep, cherry-wood sill there, resting his cheek against the cool glass. Rayne forced himself to concentrate on that and not the alluring warmth of Xavier’s body or the quickening rate of his young heart. Even with half the width of the room between them he could smell his lover’s blood and feel the urgent drumming of his pulse. 

“Dom shouldn’t have brought you here,” the vampire said huskily, at last. “I thought… hoped he had more sense than that. Now we’re all dead, Xav.”

“Hey…” Xavier called softly, but was ignored. Desolation and desperate need emanated from his companion in waves so strong Xavier wouldn’t have needed an empathic bone in his body to pick up on it. As it was he was having a hard time not getting sucked down into that resolute depression along with him. “Rayne, c’mon… don’t give up. You just need to feed, and you’ll feel better. Don’t let that asshole get to you. You can control it, and just take a little at a time like before,” he cajoled. 

As Rayne turned his face back towards the boy the tears that rolled down his cheeks were tinged as red as his hungry gaze. Thin trickles of watery blood ran from his lips where he had bitten himself in his hunger and frustration. He shuddered like a caged animal, knees drawn up to his chest and his manacled arms hugged around them, fighting the impulse that raged at him to pounce and to bite and take all that he needed. 

“What if I can’t control it?” he panted, shaking his head slowly. “I can’t do that to you, Xav. I can’t take that risk. If I knew that I’d hurt you… Wouldn’t be the first time…” 

Words failed him and he lowered his forehead to his knees disconsolately.

“And you think it’s going to be easier a day or two from now, is that it?” Xavier demanded dryly. He let out a slow breath. “I don’t want to die Rayne.” His throat felt dry and tight as he said it. “You think that bastard is going to be content to just wait until you break? He’s not going to just let you stay curled up in a ball over there. When he comes back he’ll up the stakes. He’ll punish me… and push you until you can’t take anymore.”

For a long time it seemed that he would get no response at all. Rayne remained hunched like a bird of prey in the window refusing to look at him, much to Xavier’s frustration. When he finally did lift his head however there was more control in his voice and the craziness in his eyes was quieter.

“If Dom comes back here for you he’s a dead man,” he said atonally.

“Oh, he’ll come back alright, but not for me.” Xavier laughed bitterly. “He’s the one that made the deal with Elian. The Everman’s gratitude and influence in San Fran, in exchange for getting you away from Cole Lagrado. And who is this Everman dude, anyway? I was just… icing.” Xavier shrugged. “When I realised that, I tried for damage control. I got Elian to agree that he’d only keep us two nights. He’s obviously reneging on that deal, but Dominic doesn’t know that. He’s got no reason to think Elian won’t hand you over tomorrow.” 

Rayne sucked in a quick breath through his clenched teeth. Concern flickered across his exhausted face and was gone just as quickly.

“We have got to get out of here,” he exhaled. “It’s more than just you and me. Elian’s promised to give Dominic to Lagrado in exchange for me. If he really has been in touch with my Sire then all hell’s gonna break lose when Jabez Everman gets here. If he was bluffing and we can’t help him then he’s dead. I have to feed and from more than just you, sweetheart. I don’t doubt that Elian’s taken from you and I can’t heal you from even a small bite. I can’t even heal myself properly right now. If I bite you this minute I might have drained you by the time I’m strong enough to stop the bleeding.”

Xavier looked for a moment like he wanted to argue the point a bit more, and then slowly let it go, looking defeated. Across the room from him Rayne rattled the wrist cuffs irritably. Even at full strength the restraints would have taken some breaking. Now his gaze roamed the room distractedly, searching for something…

Xavier watching him knew he was looking for a way to get out of the cuffs, just like he himself had. Only this time an idea occurred to him that hadn’t before. He took the cross from around his neck and pressed the hidden catch that released the blade. “Can you use this?”

The gaze that fixed him was one combined hunger and profound admiration. Rayne was on his feet almost before he remembered that his ankles were virtually cuffed together. He crashed to his knees but crawled hurriedly across the floor to the bed and put his fettered hands in Xavier’s lap.

“Can you pick a lock, sweetheart?” he asked hopefully.

“Maybe.” Xavier murmured. “It’s been a few years.” He set to work on the lock. He had to wonder, even if he did get it undone, what good it would do? They were still stuck in this room, and they might be giving away their only weapon. Oh well, it felt better then doing nothing. 

The cuffs may have been reinforced steel, but the lock was a simple one. After a few minutes and a lot of finesse and concentration Xavier had it. A few more minutes and he had the ones around Rayne’s ankles released as well. It was harder to work on his own. Not only did he have to work one-handed but also it was a newer lock, harder to pick, and the longer it took the more nervous he got. He kept feeling that any second Elian would come through the door… and then he got it, the lock clicked open and the cuff fell free. 

Rayne had been massaging the life back into his hands and feet as Xavier worked on the last cuff, his hungry gaze moving constantly to the door then back to the naked blond youth on the bed. As soon as he was free the vampire was on him, nuzzling his neck and throat and pressing him down onto the mattress. He licked his way almost tenderly to Xavier’s ear. A hot bolt of desire flashed through Xavier instantly. He slid his arms around Rayne, a soft mewl of pleasure humming in his throat. Rayne’s body, his touch, and his scent were all so familiar, and his own flesh responded with thrumming eagerness to be with him again. Xav’s lean thighs parted to accommodate him and his right leg slid over Rayne’s left almost automatically, his foot sliding down the back of Rayne’s calf in an inviting caress. Xavier’s face turned into his shoulder to kiss and nuzzle him in response as his hands caressed the length of Rayne’s smooth back comfortingly. He could feel the hard knots of tension there as Rayne struggled to suppress the instinct to bite. His lover’s skin felt like fine tissue paper, cold and slightly loose under his hands and lips.

Even so, the lean, exhausted Englishman answered his touch with lingering caresses of his own. His chilly hands slid eagerly over Xavier’s heaving torso and down to his slender hips, his own pelvis moving in time with the slow undulations of Xavier’s body. The thin, flexible material of his black shorts did nothing to hide the automatic response to this brief, sweet intimacy.

“Did you miss me, then?” he murmured hoarsely into Xavier’s ear. 

Xavier chuckled softly. “Oh yeah.” He caught Rayne’s eyes as he lifted his head to look at him and he swallowed, his own eyes becoming more serious. “Yes, I missed you.” He kissed him, his soft warm lips feeling very hot against Rayne’s cool mouth.  His lover’s sharp little fangs nicked his lower lip as they kissed softly. Rayne pulled away from him at once, still tense, his expression profoundly sorrowful.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he muttered, shaking his head as if he could throw off the hunger like a dog shrugging off water. “We have got to get out of here, Xav before I kill you or he does. I think I’ve got an idea.”

“Well… fill me in, hun.” Xavier said, trying for a light tone, but he was tense too and still full of need. 

Rayne touched his fingers to the silver crucifix delicately. 

“Can I have this?”

“What are you going to do with it?” Xavier asked, even as he was handing it over. A fleeting thought went through his head about the pills it also contained. He had thought about them when he had wondered whether he would be confronted with a rotting corpse again. If whatever Rayne had planned didn’t work, if Elian kept them and kept starving Rayne, he was giving up that last option. 

“Let him think I drained you. When he comes in for a closer look I’m gonna cut his fuckin’ ice-cold heart out,” Rayne Wylde said vehemently. “Then I’m gonna fuckin’ eat it.”

Xavier looked dubious but said nothing. He did not want to put any doubt in his lover, but even at full strength Elian Iannopoulos was stronger. He was ancient, and someone did not survive that long without considerable power. Xavier was more then a little afraid of what might happen if Rayne tried to kill him and failed.

As the vampire moved to touch the blade to his lips he remembered something. “Wait, Dominic said there was some gunk on the blade.”

“What’s it tipped with?” Rayne asked, eyes widening as he lowered the crucifix automatically.

“Fuck, I don’t know. Some shit he said would paralyse a vampire. Worm guts or something.”

Rayne looked sceptically at the sharp little blade in his hands. He sniffed at it cautiously then sheathed it again and looped the chain over his head. With shaking hands he removed the collar that Lagrado had put around his neck. It took most of his strength to pull off the dogtags and snap one of them into two ragged halves. 

“I’m not taking any chances,” he said, wielding one of the jagged pieces of metal determinedly. “Don’t look at me like that, it’ll only be a surface scratch. It should heal itself in no time. I need to get your blood on me, then I want you to put the cuff back on, unlocked, and play dead.”

Xavier was even more sceptical. The Elder vampire might, and that was a slimmight, think he was dead when he walked in the room, but even a cursory examination was going to blow the ruse. Oh well, it was the only plan they had so he was going to have to go with it. 

Xavier tried to hold his arm steady for Rayne to slice him. “Alright, just hurry and do it.” 

To his consternation, Rayne caught him gently by the hair, tugging his head sideways and jabbed his neck with the point of the broken tag, twice in quick succession. 

It did not create the same shivery sensation being bitten did. It just fucking hurt.

“Ow… goddamn it!” He automatically reached up to cover the wound but Rayne grabbed his wrist before he could touch it. Twin trickles of bright scarlet were running in rivulets down his neck. Xavier watched Rayne staring at the trickles of blood and for the first time was uneasy with the vampire. 

His lover’s mouth was twisted in a painful rictus grin, lips pulled back and teeth clenched tightly. The pupils of his pale eyes looked like pin-pricks, they were so focused. 

“Rayne…” Xavier implored softly. He tried to gently dislodge himself from Rayne’s grasp. His lover made a sound that was almost a keen of anguish and pulled him closer, his grip tightening until it grew painful. “Rayne! Stop!” Xavier gasped and he was suddenly looking up at the ceiling, pressed down into the bed with Rayne on top of him breathing like a freight train. Xavier’s heart was pounding in his chest, the pulse in his throat leaping like a small, terrified animal trying to get out of a cage. “Ray… stop! Please…” 

Rayne’s soft, cold mouth fastened onto the twin wounds and he began to suck gently, ignoring Xavier’s protests as the blood washed over his tongue, into his mouth. He grappled for the wrist cuff and looped it back around the blond boy’s wrist without closing it. One knee moved between Xavier’s thighs, pressing higher, spreading him as he yielded to the call of his mate’s blood. 

“Ohhhh… Good!” the vampire panted, his body shuddering as he licked his young lover’s neck with long slow strokes of his tongue. “Need you so much!”

Xavier shivered as Rayne’s lips roamed across his cheek and down along the line of his jaw. As his tongue caressed over the twin marks on Xav’s neck, a soft moan escaped him despite his fear that Rayne might lose control at any moment. He could feel the vampire’s ravenous hunger like a beast just waiting to turn on its master and maul him. He feared the strength of that instinctive pull to bite and feed at will that he felt in Rayne, and at the same time he was seduced by it… longed for it. His own tenuous grasp on his self-control loosened and he pressed his hips harder against Rayne, rubbing his erection against the one barely contained behind Rayne’s thin shorts. The tension in Xav’s body seemed to drain out of him and he became more pliant under Rayne’s hands. 

“Mmm…” he hummed softly, “…alright then, if you insist.”

Rayne was already nuzzling and licking ravenously on his neck and throat. The vampire could taste his lover’s frantic pulse and it drove him on. The kissing and slow, insistent rub of Xavier’s naked body only fanned the flames of need higher. At the same time he was conscious of what Elian had told him in the car. It was true, boys like Xavier returned time after time to men who would use them and hurt them for their own ends, just as he wanted to do right now. After the time they had spent together at PJ’s house Rayne could hardly believe that Xavier didn’t know what he was. And yet here he was, having been exposed utterly to the brutality of vampires at their worst, lying on his back and begging for more. 

He felt sick with longing and with horror. Maybe, just maybe, Elian had been right. Boys like this were used to feeding the machine. 

Boys like you! his subconscious reminded him and he felt the surge of nausea again. 

Rayne curled into the seductive hollow of Xavier’s slim neck and pale, golden shoulder, breathing him in, trying to keep the breaths slow and controlled. If he lost control then he would lose Xav. It was as simple as that. He would feed and he would fuck and he would not stop until the boy beneath him was dead.

“I want you,” he whispered huskily. “I want to be in you. I want you so much.”

Once Xavier stopped struggling, Rayne’s grip on his wrist loosened and Xavier brought a hand up to cup his cheek tenderly, the fingers moving of their own volition into his hair to caress soothingly. He wanted Rayne too, but part of him was still trying desperately to tell him it was utter madness at the moment. They needed to get out of here! They needed a plan! Rayne did not need to have his willpower tested, weak as he was. 

The hell of it was, Rayne had been ready to leave him a couple of days ago. Xavier had walked away first. There was no real reason they should both even be here, other than the impossible circumstances that had thrown them back together. 

“I want you too.” Xavier whispered, turning his head to softly kiss below Rayne’s ear.

He could feel that Rayne’s need was genuine. The way he rubbed insistently against Xavier over and over was a constant poke in the side (quite literally). He was hard and hungry both for blood and sex, his hands running seductively up and down his lover’s warm, smooth flanks as if he could absorb Xavier’s life force just by touching him. Rayne was caressing him like he was a delicious morsel just waiting to be gobbled up. 

His cool, pale lips parted and Xavier felt the rapid huff of breath against his skin when Rayne’s mouth stroked slowly down from his neck to his chest, roaming the flat, open spaces where it was harder to bite accidentally. His studded tongue flicked at Xavier’s left nipple teasingly and he straddled the younger man, letting his crotch rub slowly over Xav’s exposed groin as he lifted his lips (and his teeth) away from the temptation of that stiff, enticing bud of flesh.

Xavier shook off the manacle circled loosely around his other wrist and brought both hands up to caress and stroke over Rayne’s soft cool skin. He knew without any doubt what Rayne had been through at Cole Lagrado’s hands. The abuse and violence he had been put through himself would have been enough to make most people wonder how they could be so passionately entwined just then. Xavier couldn’t have explained it, other than to say that he needed this connection right now almost as badly as Rayne did. 

Though he did not hunger for blood, he craved this simple intimacy, and he understood with crystal clarity how much it was costing Rayne to be so very careful with him right now. His head practically ached with the weight of that knowledge. 

Rayne’s hands traced the curves of his delicious backside as Xavier writhed around him, touching him almost tentatively yet with a powerful desire that he could almost taste. The vampire swallowed, feeling his mouth start to water at the idea of losing himself in the boy’s hot, abundant body. A gentle finger stroked down Xav’s soft, warm channel and Rayne circled the tactile nub of his tightly puckered ring. 

“Does it hurt?” he whispered, letting his lips move back to the boy’s earlobe and lipping at him gently there. “Are you still sore?”

Xavier’s face was turned in profile; his eyes shuddered behind long silky lashes. 

“Only a little.” He lied, because he didn’t want Rayne to stop now. It was nothing he couldn’t work through, and the tender concern was enough to make him melt inside.

“I’ll try to be gentle,” Rayne promised breathlessly, his lips describing silent words on Xavier’s cheek as he nuzzled the fragrant softness of his lover’s blond hair. “But I’ve missed this… missed you so much.”

One hand snaked down between their colluding thighs and he tugged at the waistband of the tiny shorts that barely restrained him, freeing himself with a short, fervent sigh of delight. His cock was a heavy, silken weight on Xavier’s bare belly, moist and restless, moving against him almost relentlessly as he sought Xav’s mouth again, kissing him so hard that those sharp little fangs nicked the softness of his lips. 

Xavier framed his face with his hands and yielded to the fierceness of that desire with languid sensual kisses. He lifted his knees higher, spreading his thighs invitingly. His fingers slid into Rayne’s hair and his kisses took on a fierceness of their own. He could taste the bloody hint of copper on his lips and could no longer tell if it was his own or Rayne’s blood. He supposed it didn’t matter. Whether it was the blood or the passion he managed to convey how much he missed and wanted Rayne as well. 

Steffen had taken him brutally, Elian had been less vicious but he had still taken what he wanted. Xavier hadn’t given them anything. He gave to Rayne though, he gave himself wholly without barriers and that was something he’d never really done with any partner before. 

Rayne moved up over him, planting his hands either side of Xavier’s ribs as he stared down on his lover, aroused and amazed by the boy’s indomitable willingness to be with him. He licked his lips, painfully conscious of the taste of Xavier’s blood on his mouth. Redness glistened like a new coating of gloss on the younger man’s soft lips and Rayne’s pupils dilated hungrily at the sight. 

“Ch-rist!” he exhaled forcefully. “I can’t hold onto this, sweetheart. I’m gonna lose it. Do something for me, yeah?” 

He reached for the discarded wrist cuffs, passing them to Xavier as he rolled off the blond and flopped down on his back on the bed, struggling to breathe normally when all he could smell was blood and cum. Turning his head so that those green eyes stared helplessly up at Xav, he groaned; “Cuff me to the bed. It might not be enough but I’m willing to chance it if you are.”

Xavier shifted on the bed and, a tad reluctantly, took the cuffs. Reluctantly because he was going to have to work on the lock again to get him loose, and they had no way of knowing how long before they were interrupted. Ah well, they’d already risked this much this far…and he wanted Rayne so badly. He straddled Rayne’s hips and clicked the cuffs in place above his head. He leaned in to kiss him again, soft and hungry, in a reversal of where they had been a moment before.

Xavier moved downward, kissing a slow line over Rayne’s throat and the centre of his chest. His hands caressed down his body in a slow sliding motion. He took his time and he could feel the tension in Rayne the moment the cuffs were back in place. He knew his lover, unlike himself, did not care at all for being restrained. Maybe he could make Rayne forget about that for a little while, he hoped, as he let his lips stroke wetly over Rayne’s taut quivering belly and stone-hard cock. 

Rayne froze for a second as the manacles clicked back into place. He tugged on them experimentally but the exhaustion of the last few days meant that he would probably have to push himself to the limit to break free of the shackles. The sight of Xavier crouching over him, gently kissing and caressing his trembling body, was distraction enough. His fingers curled around the chain connecting his wrist cuffs and he writhed between his lover’s slim thighs, crying out with a pleasure that was only slightly tempered by regret at not being able to touch Xav as they made love together.

“Oh Jesus! That feels so…” He lost the rest of the sentence as the touch of Xavier’s mouth drew the air from his lungs in an ecstatic rush.

Xavier hummed his agreement as he worked his lips and tongue down Rayne’s shaft. He moved slowly up and down, drawing on him with gentle suction as he fondled and caressed the heavy globes of his balls. Rayne’s little sounds of pleasure and the way his hips rolled let him know how much his efforts were appreciated by the little vampire. So did the little salty bursts of fluid across his tongue as he continued to nod up and down on him. 

Rayne turned his head into the crook of one pale, bare arm, biting himself to keep from crying out as Xav’s soft mouth alternately drew on him and drenched him, giving him more joy with those simple, oral caresses than he had known in years. He ached to feel the young man’s body moving in time with his own. When Xavier released his cock from the tender suction that held it captive and prowled like a hunting cat along the length of his caparisoned body, Rayne pulled on the cuffs for all he was worth. He was on fire, ravenous for the taste of his sweet, naked mate. The lust for blood was like an ache in his empty veins. Rayne wanted to throw him down and plunge into him like a diver into a clear, warm, welcoming pool. 

When Xav had Rayne wet and slick with saliva and cum he moved back up his body, kissing a trail up his torso until he straddled his hips again. Teasing his tongue across Rayne’s lips he reached back and angled that turgid cock between his cheeks. As hot and ready as he was he still felt the burn as he pushed down and the head of Rayne’s dick pushed past his ring. He stopped, his limbs trembling slightly and his eyes closed. After a moment or two he moved again, breathing deep and going slow as he impaled himself inch by slow inch.

As he felt Xav begin to slowly slide down on his throbbing shaft Rayne bucked like an unbroken colt, working his hips eagerly between the younger man’s legs, driving his bolt deep and hard into the receptive heat of his mate’s enticing body. 

“Oh… oh my… oh motherfuckin’god!” he groaned, in awe of the spell Xav’s tight, sexy arsehole worked on his twitching cock. 

Fingers gripped the chains tightly and he used them now to brace himself as he thrust upward hard from the gut, moving his body in unison with Xavier’s slow, smooth descent and rise on his aching dick. Rayne caught his breath, so overwhelmed by temptation that he could have wept. His eyes closed and he bit down hard on the cool flesh of his own arm once again.

Xavier’s eyes opened so he could watch his beautiful lover. He had no doubt the cuffs were a good idea now, he didn’t think Rayne would have been able to resist feeding on him if he were free. 

His hands swept over Rayne’s bare chest in slow gentle caresses, fingers fanning out over his nipples as he rose and fell. He always felt like he was dancing in this position and he did so now, making each heated squeeze and thrust count for all he was worth. He slid a hand down his own torso, fingers lightly playing over the achingly hard rod jutting straight up from his groin. Any more and he was gonna cum too quick. 

His lean thighs gripped Rayne’s hips and rode him with consummate skill while he looked on with hungry eyes. After a while he picked up his pace, coming down harder to met Rayne’s increasingly desperate thrusts. He leaned forward slightly, changing their angle and letting his lover get deeper still. Every thrust hit up against that sweet spot inside. Xavier’s hands fisted into the sheets on either side of Rayne’s heaving body, his toes curled and his head dropped between his shoulders bringing his lips close to Rayne’s again. 

“Uhhh… so-o-o close, I’m so close,” he whispered, his lips just barely brushing over Rayne’s. His lean young body tightened. “Ohh, I’m gonna come…uuhhhn!” 

“Hold it! Hold it! Hold it, please!” Rayne was surging furiously against him, painfully close but also ravenously hungry. His eyes glittered through the sweat damp cascade of his heavy forelock as he stared up into Xavier’s slightly unfocussed gaze. “I want you to cum in my mouth,” he exhaled, as the glint of his tongue stud flickered like a shooting star between slightly parted lips. Xav heard it click against his extended fangs as he whisked it back into his mouth. 

Xavier bit his bottom lip hard and squeezed his eyes shut, holding himself back by a thread. He ground against Rayne’s thrusting cock harder and faster, his breath coming in short panting gasps until he felt Rayne’s whole body go taut beneath him and he drove up so hard it made Xavier cry out. He barely managed to keep from blowing it as the warm pulses of Rayne’s cum spurted deep inside him. He lifted off him far sooner then he normally would have, crawling two hurried paces on his knees until he straddled Rayne’s heaving chest. 

Three quick hard strokes over his lover’s soft, cool lips was all it took. Xavier’s head tipped back, his teeth clenched tightly together to hold back the ecstatic cries of relief that rose from his chest. 

Rayne collapsed back into the soft caress of the mattress and pillows, his body quaking violently, hands shaking too much to grip the cuffs. He was spent and starving, thrown to the far extremes of hunger. When Xav shimmied up astride his chest he longed to run his hands slowly up the blond boy’s thighs and pull him into an embrace that would end in ecstasy for both of them. 

Almost clumsily Xav managed to manoeuvre himself into position; although nothing that boy did could ever truly be described as awkward or clumsy. Still, they tumbled together and Rayne’s lips parted to receive and embrace him, drawing him in, sucking long and slow on the delicious, salty heat of his sex. 

He could hardly refrain from whimpering with pleasure as he felt Xavier’s gorgeous cock lurch and swell in his mouth. The waves of frantic relief emanating from his lover echoed his own as Xav spilled violently between his jaws, moving delicately between the pillars of his extended fangs. He was almost guided into the chasm of Rayne’s throat by those two glistening, white dogteeth.  “…uuhhhh!” Rayne gulped ravenously, his eyes closing blissfully as the sweet/salt gift of his lover’s cum rolled over the back of his tongue and down his throat. It soothed an itch inside him, not quite enough to take away the craving for blood, but it left him feeling less hungry; less nervy. 

He sucked on Xav gently now, like a sleepy child on its comforter, as his lover clung to the rail of the bed head above him, groaning ecstatically. 

Xavier’s sides rose and fell like bellows and a sheen of perspiration made his skin glisten. The only thing keeping him from collapsing was his grip on the headboard. He’d been fucked raw all night, in just about every way imaginable, by a creature with hundreds of years’ experience behind him, and Rayne was still better. Mind blowing! 

He didn’t have a whole lot of time to contemplate that, however. Reluctantly he disengaged gently from the caress of Rayne’s mouth, and with shaking fingers took the pendant back from around his neck. His kissed his lips once, sparing one more tender moment and soft smile before he set to work on getting Rayne out of the manacles yet again. 

Rayne’s fingers curled around the rail above his head, clinging to it like a lifeline as his lover worked on the locks for the second time that evening. His eyes were closed but he could still feel Xav on his skin; breathe in his hot, delicious, well-fucked scent and sense the turbulent whirlpool of emotions churning in his breast as his heart pounded away. 

The lightly salty taste of Xavier’s ejaculate was still swirling around over his tongue and in his mouth. It kept him from the edge of a violent blood-hunger, but he knew that before long he would still have to feed, no matter what happened. 

“You are so good to me,” he growled huskily as the blond youth crouched over him, frowning sweetly at the stubborn lock.

Light blue eyes the colour of clear summer skies flicked to his, a curiously unreadable expression there for a moment before he gave him a small smile. His eyes moved back to his task and the lock clicked open. Xavier breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled the iron bracelets free and bent to kiss Rayne lightly. 

With a renewed sense of their dire situation Xavier lay back and let Rayne arrange him once more against the pillows with the manacle around his wrist but not clicked closed. He kept his worried thoughts to himself, there was no need to express the anxiety when Rayne was well aware of the precariousness they faced. Focusing on what little plan they did have Xavier slowed his breathing and relaxed back on the bed as much as possible. It was going to be very difficult to just lie there and play dead, but he was determined to try. 

Rayne slipped the manacles back onto his own wrists and loosely around his ankles. The anxiety in his face softened as he ran a hand slowly over Xavier’s chest and belly, moving downward. 

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured huskily. “I really didn’t want it to come to anything like this. And I know what fuckin’ bastards they can… we can be. I’m such an idiot. And you’ve been so smart, so strong for me. Jesus!” 

He lowered his head, eyes closed, concentrating on the feel of Xavier’s heartbeat. It was steadier now but still too fast under his caressing hand. Rayne felt weak and dazed. In his cold heart he had almost accepted that they were going to die here but sitting with Xavier’s earnest, rapid pulse against his palm he could not let that happen. 

“When we get out of here I’ll let you make it up to me.” Xavier murmured back, a tender smile touching his lips. “I’ll take you to bed and won’t let you get up for a week.”

Rayne’s sorrowful expression said if we get out of here but he was good enough at least to keep the words to himself this time. 

The door opened and it was a good thing Rayne blocked him, it gave enough time for Xavier to close his eyes and let his expression go slack. He had no idea if his little act would be convincing, but lying absolutely still and hardly breathing was the best he could do.

Rayne dipped over him briefly, licking at his neck again then rising and half turning to face their nemesis, his expression carefully schooled to a perfect approximation of contrition.

“What have we here?” Elian murmured, bending to kiss the blood from his cold lips. “You started without me after all. He must be truly irresistible.”

“You can do as you like with me,” Rayne told him in a low voice, a hint of a warning growl there in spite of his resolve to be good. “But Xavier is mine. He carries my marks. Warren had no right to give him to you and you had no business using him like you did.”

He shifted around, uncomfortable in his chains. Elian touched a fingertip to the crucifix around his neck. 

“He gave you a little gift before you drank from him?”

“I took it, to show how useless it would be against our kind,” Rayne sneered, shaking his head. His hand still rested possessively on Xavier’s chest and he willed the boy’s heartbeat to slow even further now.

Yiannis cast a coolly appraising eye over the limp form of the beautiful blond boy on his bed. It was a pity really; the dancer had been very satisfying. He would have liked to enjoy him for a bit longer. 

“I think the matter of whom he belongs to will be a moot point shortly.” His eyes came back to Rayne. “If you drank from him as deeply as I did, he’s already dying.” 

He reached for Rayne, already dismissing the mortal boy’s imminent death as unimportant. “Come Rayne, forget the child. I’ve freed you from Coelho’s not so tender mercies. It’s time you showed a little gratitude.”

Rayne turned his face away, unable to look at either of them. His tongue flickered across his lips, still tasting Xavier’s blood there. He felt sick as he let the older Vampire paw at him. Defensively he drew up his loosely manacled hands to his chest, covering the crucifix that hung around his neck. He could still feel Xavier’s urgent heartbeat and taste the boy’s fear as he was certain Elian could too.

“I can’t win, can I?” he responded bitterly. “I’m still a fucking slave no matter who claims to own me.”

Elian looked at him as if he’d said something precious. 

“Of course, that is the way it has always been,” he answered gently as he moved over the smaller vampire. “The strong always subjugate the weak. Isn’t that how you treated your mortal boy? As if he were merely useful to you, taking what you needed, and he so sweetly offered? And when his life was what you needed, you took that too…” Elian slid his hands over Rayne’s hips and thighs, moving in to fondle and stroke the growing bulge beneath the thin shorts. “Perhaps a few centuries from now your perspective will change, and we might have this conversation again with a different conclusion.”

Rayne slumped back against the softness of the mattress and pillows beneath him. Already aroused by the contact with Xavier, he struggled now to shut out the touch of the Ancient’s too-gentle hands on his body and the insidious promise of his words. He could not imagine being so callous that he could think of another living creature as dispensable. 

But then he was not a living creature. And everything the older Vampire did reminded him of that. He had to put an end to this, as soon as possible. No matter how kind Elian pretended to be towards him, if he yielded it meant the end for him and, more seriously, for Xav. At the same time he knew that if he let Elian push his knees back to mount him his line of attack would be compromised. And if he begged the older Vampire to unfasten the shackles on his feet Elian would know that they had already figured how to pick the locks. 

Fear and rage took over and weakened by torment and hunger he panicked and slipped the cuffs, snatching for the heavy pendant that lay on his breast. 

Rayne had the element of surprise. The stiletto blade was sprung and arcing toward Elian’s chest before the Elder vampire reacted. The blade penetrated, sinking between his ribs an inch before he grabbed Rayne’s wrist and sunk another half inch before he halted the progress. The gash opened, pouring blood as he yanked Rayne’s wrist away. In a blink he had a snarling thrashing mass hurled at him and they tumbled off the bed and on to the floor. The Elder vampire could still hardly believe the attack. Or that the fledgling had been canny enough to try and trick him, the unlocked cuffs falling away as they fought.

Even more shocking was how close he had actually come to succeeding! Elian was crushing Rayne’s wrist in his grip, trying to break his hold on the blade. His guards had heard the commotion and now burst through the door. They were immediately on Rayne. 

Xavier had bided his time, he knew he was more likely to get in Rayne’s way than actually help him, but when the body guards came in it was time to act. In the corner of the room an ornamental table stood holding a vase. Xavier grabbed the table and swung it like a bat at the back of the head of one of the large vampires. It connected beautifully and smashed into pieces. 

Unfortunately it did not do the damage it might have to a mortal man. The vampire turned on him, snarling with fury and flung Xavier back with a casual sweep of his arm that sent him crashing into the far wall. 

Fury drove Rayne now and though he could not see what was happening on the other side of the room, he sensed it. Stupid of him to believe that they would be alone in the penthouse really. He saw that now, but reason was beyond him. The hilt of the knife was still wrapped in his tightly curled fingers. As the bodyguard tried to pull him off, and Elian fought to push him away, he struck out again and again at the older creature, screaming with a bloodlust he could barely contain each time the blade punctured soft tissue.

“Gonna fucking kill you! You are fucking dead! Dead!” he shrieked as the blows landed. 

Elian punched him, hard, in the face and the bodyguard wrapped one beefy arm around his neck and hauled him off. Rayne’s teeth sank instinctively into the forearm across his throat and he was slammed to the floor, the heavy weight of the guard landing squarely on top of him. Elian aimed a hard kick at his side and then stepped on the struggling Fledgling’s hand, grinding his heel and cracking bones until he released the crucifix. 

“Shiiiiiit! You miserable fucker!” Rayne cursed at him, still struggling for all he was worth, but there were two heavy, strong bodies holding him down now. Elian bent and picked up the blade. 

With an almost dismissive flick of his arm he brushed the two bodyguards off Rayne and flipped the little vampire to his back, falling on him like a hawk diving onto its prey. His handsome, serene features were twisted into a mask of black rage. 

“I should kill you,” he hissed furiously. “Cut your pretty little head from your scrawny neck, ever so slowly.” 

Rayne went for him again, snarling like an animal and Elian backhanded him hard, rocking his head back on his neck with a blow that certainly would have killed a mortal. The older Vampire looked distastefully now at the cross with the bloody blade protruding from its end. 

“Treacherous boy,” he growled, though his tone was suddenly milder. He held Rayne down tightly. “Bring me the mortal. I will show him what I think of this pathetic little rat-sticker.” 

“NO!” Rayne screamed at him, and his struggles renewed tenfold, but Elian had the upper hand. One of the bodyguards snatched Xavier up from where he lay crumpled by the wall. The world spun in dizzying circles for the blond boy as he was dragged over to Elian, and if he’d had anything in his stomach at all it would have come up. 

The burly vampire guard held his arms behind his back and Elian grabbed his very exposed parts none too gently. Xavier yelped in pain and fought the blackness that swam behind his eyes with desperate panic. 

“Seems you are not so near death after all. Maybe you will not be so clever as a eunuch, eh?” Elian pulled the tender flesh in his grasp forward and brought the knife up to meet it, keeping one knee firmly planted on Rayne’s chest. 

“No! Nononononopleasedon’t!” Xavier almost squeaked. “Please please don’t!” 

Elian hesitated. If he followed through with this threat the boy would die of shock and blood loss within moments. He should not let his anger deny the pair a proper punishment. He slowly withdrew the blade. The tight squeeze he held Xavier’s balls and cock in loosened slightly and became a rough caress. 

“I told you to make sure you took care of your lover Xavier. You failed to do that. Since you don’t seem to want him, I will give you one more chance. Please my guard, Mikhail instead. Now!” 

Xavier gasped as he was shoved to his knees, fighting back the tears of pain that stung his eyes. With shaky hands he reached to unfasten the pants of the man that a moment ago had held him still while his boss threatened to castrate him. The vamp leered at him showing a lot of long, sharp teeth.

“NO!” Rayne bellowed at him again, finding the vocal reserves that had once stood him in good stead as a mortal. “Leave him alone! Xavier, don’t! Don’t do it.” 

His groping hand found the chain and the wrist manacles that had slipped from his arms during the struggle and now he swung the heavy iron cuffs with all his remaining strength at Elian’s head. They struck home with a solid crunch and he renewed his resistance at once, trying to grab for the crucifix, determined to hurt their captor even if he could not kill the bastard outright.

Xavier had only a second to decide what to do, and although his rational mind warned that only more pain and possible death would come from continuing to fight, the instinctual side was faster to act. He jabbed a fist into the vampire’s vulnerable crotch. Apparently not even being Undead made a difference when it came to getting punched in the nuts. They guy went down with a wheeze clutching his crushed testicles. 

Xavier immediately scrabbled backwards. His hand landed on the crucifix at the same time he saw the other bodyguard leaping toward him. Xavier did not have time to wonder why the burly vampire seemed to be moving at mortal speed. Everything just seemed to happen at once.

The cuffs Rayne swung connected with Elian’s head. Xavier turned towards them. The bodyguard leaped. Xavier raised the blade clutched in his grip and plunged down toward Elian’s back. The heavy body slammed into Xavier from behind like a train wreck. The blade slid smoothly between Elian’s ribs to the hilt and a hiss of fury escaped the Ancient Vampire’s lips as he tried to twist around to find out what impertinent insect had attempted to sting him. Blood was streaming from the deep wound already slowly healing in his scalp. And then the wormwood injected into his heart kicked in.

The next several moments Xavier missed; he couldn’t have said what happened. He was flat on his back on the floor. Rayne was out from underneath Elian. The bodyguard was holding the twitching, thrashing body of his employer in his arms, sucking on the wound in his back and spitting out the residue as if it was snake venom.

Rayne caught hold of Xavier and hauled him back towards the tall, narrow window, keeping himself between the boy and the trio of vampires. The one Xav had nutted was now glaring at them with real hatred in his eyes as he curled around his pulsating bollocks on the floor. 

“Nice move!” the breathless Englishman panted, casting a glance at his young partner in crime. 

Xavier was looking for an escape route. The three vampires were between them and the door. The balcony offered no way out either, unless they planned to jump to their death. Rayne might survive it, Xavier wouldn’t. 

“They’re gonna kill us,” Xav murmured. 

Rayne gritted his teeth. The younger vampire was looking seriously unwell. The blood was still streaming from his nose and upper lip from the beating Elian had given him; the wounds resolutely refusing to heal. Still he was reluctant to concede defeat. Pulling himself to his feet, using the long, heavy drapes for support, an idea came to him and he hauled harder on the curtain, bringing the whole shooting match down on himself and Xavier, drapes, metal curtain pole and all. 

As the groaning bodyguard recovered and came limping after them with murder in his eyes. Rayne turned back to face him, swathed in dark material and wielding the broken curtain rail in both hands. 

“Stay behind me!” he yelled at Xavier as he ran towards the attacking Vampire, using his own impetus and that of the bodyguard to impale the creature through the chest on the jagged pole. 

It went down with a crash, taking Rayne with it as he struggled to get his weapon free. Already the second Vamp was on his feet, standing over the writhing body of his employer and Master and glaring at the pair who had caused so much devastation in such a short space of time. These guys were clearly not used to being disobeyed. 

The light seemed to dwindle in the room as Rayne wrestled on the floor with the felled Vampire and his colleague moved towards Xavier with bloodlust in his glittering eyes.

Xavier saw what Rayne was doing, the charge was meant not only to take one of their obstacles out but to move them toward the door. If they had one less against them this might have worked. The door was right there, just a short dash… and they didn’t have a chance to make it. 

Xavier threw his arms up defensively as the vampire came at him. Teeth sank into the muscle of his forearm and the vampire shook his head like a vicious dog. Xav screamed with the sudden pain of it. 

Rayne was fighting the pole free even as the second bodyguard went for Xavier, fangs bared. He let go of his weapon and struggled to his knees, trying to get to him before he struck. And as he did so the world exploded around them. 

The windows burst inward from beyond the balcony where he suddenly saw the reason for the fading of the light. It was not the sun going down, there was a window-cleaner’s hoist poised on its guy ropes just outside. Clay and Chavez were manning the ropes whilst Dominic and a small but achingly familiar figure trained a pair of incredibly futuristic looking assault rifles on the scene inside. He barely recognised his old friend; gone were the pristine suits replaced by pale jeans and a dark tee-shirt. Lord Warren’s usually immaculate wave of silver hair was windblown into unruly curls. A smudge of grease smirched his handsome face and the customary teasing smile was replaced by a grim look of pure determination. There was a hard edge to his mouth and his eyes were screened by mirrored shades, as were those of his companion in arms. 

Rayne felt a hot wave of gratitude and relief wash over him when he set eyes on Mersen. And then he looked beyond the small, Irish psychopath who had his rifle sights trained on the vampire attacking Xav, to the tall, white-haired, semi-messianic figure between Mers and Warren. 

Jabez!

He had never in his life been so relieved to see his Sire as he was tonight. 

“Shoot the fucker, Mers!” Rayne screamed at him. “Do it now!”

The blast from the high-powered semi-automatic in his hands not only blew the bodyguard away, it sent him crumbling to dust in moments. Rayne stepped forward, taking Xavier in his arms and shielding him as Dominic opened fire on the other bodyguard, struggling to rise from the floor.

Elian Iannopoulos suddenly rose from the ground like he was pulled up on strings. He did not look well. His pale skin was a mottled gray and his veins were visible just under his skin, black and writhing with the poison coursing through his system. The flesh on his face had thinned back into a tight mask over his skull. 

Yiannis smelled death in the air, the possibility of his own, final end. The possibility was as interesting a thing as had happened in centuries. And all for the sake of one mortal boy. It was too ironic not to laugh.  Xavier shuddered in Rayne’s arms. Blood was pouring from the gashes in his forearm where the vampire had bitten him but he didn’t feel it yet. He was still on the idea that he was not being ripped to shreds. Rayne held the boy tightly, whispering consoling nonsense in his ear the whole time, stroking him and feeling the shudders course through his lean, nude body. He closed his eyes.

Jabez would be furious with him, but hopefully not as furious as he was with Iannopoulos.

A hush settled on the room as the dust of the two extinguished vampires settled with it. Now the tall, white maned Ancient stepped down from the hoist and picked his way through the broken glass like a white panther (which Rayne knew to be one of his shifted forms). He ignored his trembling Fledgling and the naked boy completely. 

“Yiannis,” he said in a deep, sonorous tone that carried throughout the vast bedchamber, “You have something that belongs to me. I have come to retrieve it.”

Yiannis laughed again, a rueful chuckle, sharp around the edges with bitterness. “It took you long enough to come and claim him, Jabez. Take the ungrateful wretch then. For once I will agree with Coelho, he is more trouble than he is worth.” The words were not spoken with venom, they sounded tired, and maybe slightly disappointed. Elian had after all gone to the trouble of procuring him, and not even gotten to try him, except for that sweet mouth. That reminded him…

As Rayne moved past Elian with his arms still protectively around Xavier he snagged the boy’s arm, lightening quick. It was certainly a risk with those weapons trained on him, but he was betting they wouldn’t risk hitting Wylde and the kid after going to the trouble of mounting a rescue. 

“Not him. He stays.” He glowered at Rayne. “He still owes a debt for my freeing you from Coelho.” 

Rayne’s head came up and he glared at the older Vampire, fangs extended again. He pulled Xav back towards him, perhaps a little more forcefully than he had intended and a tug of war ensued over the boy. 

“You’ve got a fuckin’ nerve after what you promised Lagrado!” Rayne snarled. “He’s mine and he’s coming with me! I didn’t make any deal with you, Elian. And you’ve had your fun with Xavier already. Enough is enough!”

There was another tense moment in the room. Elian’s eyes flicked to the assault rifles, as if debating, and finally he released Xavier’s arm reluctantly. The boy immediately wrapped his arms around Rayne again.

“You can hardly blame me for wanting to keep him.” Elian said mildly. His reaction showed that unlike Lagrado this wasn’t about pride or territorial rights for Yiannis. It was all just a game. Something to keep him amused. 

“You’ve ‘ad your fun!” Rayne was still glaring at him. “Don’t push it!”

“We shouldn’t hang around up here,” Dominic called from the window. He was still watching the door in case there was any further interruption from one of Elian’s guards. 

“That’s right,” Rayne sneered, his eyes still fixed on the older Vampire. “Cos you’re expecting a visitor, aren’t you Yiannis? An old friend, coming to get what’s owed him!”

Elian’s indolent smile became more calculating. “Ah yes, the Sun is almost down… Coelho will be here soon… are you sure you don’t want to stay? You and your boy can reminisce with Steffen. Perhaps he will bring Jeanette on a leash too. He won’t come here without a sizeable entourage.” And now it became very obvious just how calculating and manipulative this master Vampire could be. He had planned this, to a degree, guessing that Dominic would not trust him, would come back with force. If Dominic was still here when Coelho and his group arrived, there would be a blood bath, the outcome of which did not matter at all to Elian Iannopoulos. If Coelho was killed it would be a coup. If he killed Dominic Warren instead Lagrada-Diaz would crow about it for a long time, and likely remember who had delivered the sorcerer up to him. 

Even if they left this minute Elian stood to gain, as Coelho was certain to give chase.

At the mention of Steffen and Jeanette Xavier had gone very still, a soft sound catching in his throat. He had no energy left in him to think about the possibility of revenge. He had no desire to face the man that brutalised him or the one that ordered it. He couldn’t even make his mind think about being near the rotted corpse thing that was Jeanette. He’d had enough, he wanted out of here. His clothes had been tossed onto a chair in a corner and he slipped from Rayne’s arms to go and get them, literally preferring to walk across glass than stay another minute in a room where Cole Lagrado was expected. 

“Let’s just go. Can we go now?” Xavier said rapidly as he shimmied his bruised body as quickly as he could into his clothes. “Rayne? C’mon, let’s leave…” He was still shaking, couldn’t seem to stop. He was hurt, and scared. The pleading note in his voice though was because he had the sneaking suspicion that Rayne was now actually thinking of staying to face Lagrado, and Xavier wasn’t about to leave without him again. 

“Are you going to explain that remark, or do we have to speculate until Lagrada Diaz arrives and attempts to mow us down?” Rayne’s tall, imperious sire asked coolly. He had said very little thus far and now all eyes in the room moved towards him at once.

His Fledgling shrugged awkwardly. 

“Cole’s coming here for him,” he said, pointing at Lord Warren with a serious look on his exhausted face. “Elian made a deal with him. Lady Warren was my bride-price, if you like.”

Dominic caught his breath, a short sound that was half gasp, half laugh. Jabez was not laughing though, there was imminent thunder in his narrowed amber eyes.

“Is this true?” That gaze moved to Elian’s cynical face at once.

The wormwood poisoning his system had metabolised already and like a man smoothing the lapels of his suit Elian was just as suddenly normal and healthy looking again, his smile making his handsome face attractive. 

“That Coelho knows Warren is in the city, yes, that is true. That he is paranoid and mistrustful of me enough to come here instead of waiting for me to bring the mage to him, most definitely true,” Yiannis said, unperturbed. 

A soft snort came from Xavier. “Figures. You’re lucky you’re a vampire you slimy bastard. If you went around reneging on all your deals in the street someone would’a put a cap in your ass an tossed you in the Bay a long time ago.”

Despite the tense mood there were a few snickers. 

Surprisingly, this muttered comment was the first to put a dent in the cool façade Elian had been projecting. “And what would you know of honour? The get of a whore! A drug addict! A stripper and a catamite yourself. There is no dishonour in not keeping a deal made with a mortal, or an enemy.” 

Xavier’s eyes were hot with hatred, not for the words he said, but because Elian had raided his head for that information and they both knew it. Then his expression smoothed, and he tilted his head slightly. 

“At least I’m honest. I can say I’m afraid. You, on the other hand, are stalling us hoping these guys will stay and kill Cole Lagrado for you. You’re not just a slimy bastard you’re chicken shit too!” 

Elian’s smile was very sharp, almost a snarl, but he did not move. His eyes flicked from the impudent boy to the guns and back and then slowly his expression changed to one of surprise as he took in Xavier’s stance and bearing. Not one of aggression, but braced, ready… anticipating. 

“You’re baiting me,” he said, and almost sounded delighted about that. “My, but you really are a treacherous boy. You would do well as a vampire,” he chuckled. 

Rayne moved between them again, shaking his head slowly. 

“Don’t even think about it!” he warned, his voice lowering to a growl that said, weak or not, he would fight to the death to prevent Elian Turning Xav.

Jabez had already returned his attention to Lord Warren. 

“You should get out of here,” he advised gravely. “Take the boy and go back with McNamara in the car. We will wait for Lagrada-Diaz.”

“No. No fucking way. I’m not gonna go sit it out and wait to see who lives and who dies.” Xavier said. 

Rayne caught his upper arms and shook him, possibly the first time the younger Vampire had ever been rough with him, outside of their lovemaking.

“This is very simple,” he yelled. “You go. You live. That should be all that fucking matters, Xav. You know these guys don’t fight clean. Go down with Dominic to the car and let us sort this out.”

Xavier ignored the way Rayne’s grip sent shards of pain through his injured arm. The vicious bite Elian’s goon had given him had stopped gushing blood, but the wound wasn’t closing. He brought his hand up to brush his fingers along Rayne’s cheek. 

“Haven’t we already played this game? You’re not going to toss me out while you take the fall, again.” Xavier said stubbornly. “Have you noticed you’re not healing either? You need to feed. The only way I’m leaving is if you come with me.” 

His mate’s forehead touched his own and Rayne leaned into him as he absorbed the words. The vice-like grip on the boy’s arms slackened and the Vampire pleaded with him; “Xav, I can’t protect you here. I can’t even protect myself. If anything else happened to you and it was my fault… I feel sick thinking about it, sweetheart.”

“All the more reason for you to come with me.” Xavier said. “Either come with me, or they can give me a gun and I’ll stay. I’m not leaving you behind again.”

Across the room another argument was breaking out to add fuel to the fire. 

“I’m staying right here,” Lord Warren was insisting. “If it comes to a fight, you guys need someone who can shoot straight!”

Mersen gave him a look that was, fortunately for the older man, shielded by his mirror shades. The Irishman said nothing but he didn’t need to. 

“Both of you. Quiet!” Jabez intoned crisply. 

The tall, long haired Ancient put a hand on Xavier’s shoulder, not pulling him away but making it plain from the firm gesture that he expected to be followed. Now he looked up at Dominic seriously. 

“The boy needs someone to protect him,” he declared. “Someone who has experience of fighting the Undead. We brought arms in the lift contraption. We have enough to defend this position. You still have weapons in the car. Take Xavier down to the basement and keep him safe. We will join you there as soon as the situation with Coelho has been stabilised.”

Dominic opened his mouth to argue but Jabez had already turned away from his mortal lover and was staring intently down at Xavier. His eyes were the colour of newly forged gold, blending darkness and light simultaneously. The expression on his handsome face was tolerant yet impossibly solemn.

“Child, you will go with him,” he said purposefully. “I will carry no passengers with me here tonight. If you cannot fight you will die. And the dead will be disposed of. When our kind declare war we leave no traces for the mortal law enforcers to pick over. Do you understand?”

Xavier stared back, wanting to say…something, but he couldn’t seem to get his tongue unglued from the roof of his mouth. He looked into the vampire’s eyes and was drowning in pools of molten gold. His own eyes looked back like a doll’s eyes, pretty and blank. He nodded as if his head was on a string. 

Rayne knew what his Sire was doing and he was powerless to stop it happening. He tried his hardest to smile as Xav let himself be ushered out into the lobby, for the kid’s sake as much as his own. It was for the best, he really did believe it. But he could not get over the horrible feeling that this might be the last time he ever saw Xavier’s face. As the door closed he shut his eyes, cursing silently.

“I’m doing this for him,” Jabez said frostily, breaking his contemplation. “And I meant what I said about passengers. Bailing you out is becoming trying. This time you keep up or you get left behind.”

“I didn’t ask you to come here,” Rayne said atonally. 

“No, but you phoned Warren and you knew what would happen if it came to an all out war,” Jabez turned his back on his Fledgling, his expression unreadable. 

Mersen was on the hoist, already explaining to Chavez and Clay how the guns operated. As Rayne walked out to the broken window, still seething silently, the little Irishman thrust a weapon into his hands. 

“The kickback is minimal but the ammo is frickin’ lethal,” he said curtly. “Designed it me’self. It’ll explode on impact so make sure that what you hit is what you intended to hit.”

“Explode…?” Rayne looked a question at him. 

“Aim for the head,” Mersen advised. “Try not to do it at close range though, it’ll probably take yours with it.”

“Jesus!” The little vampire peered down the sights speculatively. 

“You ever fired a gun before?” Mersen was loading another weapon, slotting the long, clear-glass bullets into the breach carefully as if they were solid gold. 

“Apart from on the funfair as a kid?” Rayne shook his head, feeling sick. He had killed Vampires before but not like this, not in such a clinical, production line fashion. 

“It’ll be a short learning curve then,” the terse little mercenary flashed back at him. 

And then, outside their window, darkness began to fall and the waiting was brought to an end.

GOING DOWN:

Xavier lost time again, like he had at the club. One minute he was in the bedroom, and the next he was standing with Dominic at the door of the apartment. He struggled hard against the drowning feeling that wanted to suck him down, the compulsion that carried him forward like a docile lamb. He managed to stop and look back over his shoulder by sheer force of will, his worried eyes seeking out Rayne and locking with his for a moment. He managed to convey in that one glance how immeasurably unhappy he was about this, and then he was in the elevator, stepping out into the cool gloom of the parking garage with Lord Warren. 

“Damn it!” He cursed on a sharply indrawn breath. He felt like he’d just broke the surface from a long dive. 

“I love him to bits, but I fucking hate the way he does that!” Dominic almost put the words into his mouth as he swept the arm not occupied by a weapon around Xavier’s shoulders and scooped him out of the elevator. Somehow the profanity sounded out of step with his cut-crystal accent.

Xavier didn’t pull away but he stiffened slightly. He hadn’t exactly forgiven Dominic for offering him up as bait, even if he had gone along with it. The older man’s expression told him that Dominic was conscious of his feelings but Lord Warren did not try to apologise or make any excuses. He too seemed irritated at the way in which Jabez so casually dismissed them. They walked down the row of parked cars to a black SUV with equally black tinted windows. As they approached, the driver’s door opened and PJ stepped out. Xavier brightened a bit, offering a wan smile, genuinely glad to see the older man. He took another couple steps and threw his arms around him in a spontaneous embrace. 

“Good to have you back, Tiger!” Paddy sighed into his hair, holding him tightly for a moment or two. “We missed you, honey.”

Xavier’s lighter mood did not last long. They got into the car and Xav immediately tried to talk them into letting him go back up. He might as well have saved his breath; neither man was going to let him out of their sight. 

“You heard what Jabez said,” Dominic told him seriously as he slipped into the driver’s seat before PJ could claim it back. He was playing with the ignition and getting a feel for the controls as PJ hopped up into the third of the front seats by the passenger door and offered Xav a look of quiet solidarity. 

Xavier was so fed up with being treated like a kid he was choking on it. He had survived the horror and brutality that Cole Lagrado had put him through, let Iannopoulos treat him like a piece of meat to get Rayne free, and had made a decent showing in a fight with three vampires armed only with some furniture and the equivalent of a pen knife! Yet he was sent away like he was less than useless and was being babysat by Nanna and Pop! Despite being very glad to see PJ again he sat sullenly in the car and seethed silently at having to sit like an old lady while his friends might be dying. He was so angry and frustrated he could almost cry, as if it would do any good. Instead he held out his arm while Paddy used the vehicle’s first aid kit to clean and bandage his wound. 

There was a pistol lying on the dash in front of him that Dominic had given him as soon as they got into the SUV. PJ finished strapping his arm. And then they had nothing to do but wait, mostly in silence, Dom and PJ occasionally making polite small talk, each surveying the low-lit basement carpark through the tinted windows, alert for the slightest movement. 

Xavier said nothing after having given up trying to convince them to let him go back. It must have been at least twenty minutes, maybe longer, since they’d come down to the car. Xavier was trying hard to pick up any little bits he could from Ray, but he got nothing. He was not to know that his friend was shielding his own thoughts and emotions in order to be virtually invisible to the intruders on the upper storeys of the apartment block.

A sound outside the car drew his attention, his head turned toward the passenger side window just as the driver’s side exploded inward in a shower of glass. There was a short burst of gunfire from the muzzle of Dominic’s rifle, but the assailant was too close. A hand grabbed the muzzle of the gun and yanked it out of his grasp. Lord Warren swore virulently and powered up the engines of the heavy black car, throwing it into reverse and sending the SUV backward in a cloud of tyre smoke and exhaust. 

They travelled about twenty meters in a straight line, then something heavy landed on the roof, buckling it inward. Xavier grabbed the pistol next to him as the butt end of the rifle smashed down in a clean arc through the broken window, slamming into the side of Dominic’s face. The older man crumpled over the steering wheel with a grunt of pain and surprise. 

PJ fired past him through the window before Xavier had a chance to take aim and then the door was jerked open and Warren was pulled from the vehicle. It happened so fast! They couldn’t risk a shot with Dom in the way. Xavier and PJ both scrambled out the other side, using the still smoking SUV for cover. 

The vampire dropped like a stone from above them, no sign of Dominic. Steffen grabbed PJ by the throat, as he was closer to the back of the car. Xavier brought the pistol up but he already had PJ in front of him, blocking his shot. It was only then that Xavier realised who it was that had his friend. He felt the air seep out of his lungs. 

Steffen had Warren’s assault rifle in one hand, the muzzle jammed up under PJ’s chin. Xavier pointed the pistol at the vampire’s head. They were only a few feet apart. 

“Drop your weapon.” Steffen snarled. 

Xavier stood frozen, his hand remarkably steady considering the stark terror gibbering inside of him. 

“Do not be foolish. I will kill him.” Steffen said evenly. 

“Ignore him Xavier. Shoot the fucker!” PJ said grimly.

Xavier didn’t move, but his eyes slid to Paddy’s serious blue-grey eyes for just a second, long enough to register the dread and also a sense of resignation in his gaze, and then they flickered back to Steffen. 

“Let him go. Let him go and I’ll put the gun down.” 

Steffen’s laugh sounded more like a harsh caw. He jammed the muzzle of the shotgun gun harder under PJ’s chin. 

“I’ll kill him and take my chances. Decide now. Drop the weapon or he dies this minute.” 

There was tense moment of utter stillness. Xavier could hear his own uneven breathing and the beating of his heart. He looked at PJ again and then back at Steffen. He believed the vampire would kill his captive, and he was not ready to see his friend’s brains blown out with a high-powered rifle. He swallowed hard and lowered the gun, dropping it from nerveless fingers. He couldn’t let PJ be killed. 

Steffen flung PJ away from him, sending the big man sailing several car lengths as if he were no more than a small child. In the blink of an eye he grabbed Xavier by the arm and shoved him into the SUV.

Xavier struggled to get away, reaching for the door handle in a nightmare déjà vu. Steffen levelled the gun barrel at his head. 

“Don’t move!” he snapped as he revved the engine violently and pulled out of the parking bay with a squeal of tyres. 

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