9

Cole Lagrado did not trust Yiannis. He had not liked the fact that the Elder vampire would not tell him where Dominic Warren was hiding, and he did not believe for a moment that Yiannis did not know. In fact, he was almost certain that he would find the mortal mage with Elian Iannopoulos. Consequently he arrived early for their appointment and brought a dozen of his vampires with him. They separated quickly once inside the building where Iannopoulos had his apartment, dividing up all possible routes to the ground floor; elevators, service hoists, and stairs. Each was remarkably clean of surveillance, which only served to make Cole even more suspicious. Something did not smell right. 

At the top floor he paused and turned to his lieutenant, Steffen. 

“Wait here,” he said, posting an enforcer at the elevator to make sure it stayed clear. 

He did not wait for an invitation to enter the apartment. The main door was kicked open, splintering on its hinges as his people poured into the suite.

The curtains in the open plan apartment were all drawn (conveniently hiding the damage… and the snipers lurking behind them) and Elian Iannopoulos looked up from his apparently casual pose on the lounger as his uninvited guests burst into the room. 

“Coelho,” he remarked smoothly. “What a surprise. You could have called up and I would have come downstairs to greet you.”

Behind one set of curtains, Mersen crouched with Chavez at his side, both squinting down the sights of their rifles through chinks in the curtains. Clay and Rayne were poised behind the other curtain, the big black armed with a pair of hand guns and Rayne gripping a rifle in both hands to try and stop them shaking. He was painfully conscious of the fact that he had never shot anyone in cold blood before. Ripped them apart, yes, but not like this. 

Hanging from a belt that he had purloined from Chavez before they split up was another ingenious little toy, one that he preferred by far. It looked like a glue-gun but was loaded with a hollow needle filled with acid. Mersen had assured him that, injected into the base of the skull at close range it would melt the head of a vampire faster than he could heal it. Rayne could think of quite a few Undead that he’d love to test the theory out on right now. 

He knew that Jabez was out there somewhere, lurking almost silently in the shadows, waiting to pounce. The warning to be careful what he aimed for was a serious one. Now hunger was forgotten as they assessed the very real and present danger. There were at least six vampires in the room, spreading out, feeling for trouble. Cole Lagrado made seven and from the commotion they had heard lower down as the vampires made their way to the penthouse, there were probably more circulating in other parts of the building. 

He saw one of the wary creatures circle too close to the curtain hiding Mers and Chavez and suddenly an explosion rent the stillness of the room and the vampire’s scream was cut off as his skull exploded in flames. 

Even the stoical Clay turned a little paler under his gleaming blue-black skin. 

“Effective!” Rayne conceded almost soundlessly. And then he had one in his sights and he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger as all hell broke loose in the room.

Gunfire was suddenly returned, the heavy curtains were ripped down from their moorings. Cole Lagrado ignored the assassins for now, in favour of the smug Ancient. His weapon came to hand and he took aim at Elian with a snarl of hatred on his face. 

As he did so a long low growl echoed his own and something roughly the shape of a white panther and the size and weight of a Hummer sprang from the shadows with jaws and talons fully extended. It dropped onto Lagrado like a hawk onto prey, ripping into the vampire with savage hatred. 

“What the fuck was that?” Clay exhaled, taking a pop at another vamp that got too close to the alcove where he and Rayne were holed up. 

“Go Daddy!” Rayne Wylde said with a cold, fanged smile. 

On the far side of the room a vampiress pounced, shifting shape as she went for Jabez Everman’s thrashing panther form. Mersen’s rifle moved with her and she exploded into flames before she even reached the fight down on the floor.

Elian watched the battle with a dispassionate eye, carefully staying out of the line of fire. The tide had not yet turned one way or the other, and yet when he saw the gun barrel levelled at Rayne Wylde with a clear shot he found himself moving. He hit the gun hand as the shot was fired, the bullet lodging just north of Rayne’s head instead of right between his eyes. Perhaps it was merely the heat of the battle but he found it rather satisfying as he broke the neck of Coelho’s man and dropped him to the ground. 

Briefly, the young English vampire’s pale eyes met his own in a moment of silent acknowledgement. The room was a scene of total destruction. Smoke blew on the breeze from the shattered windows. Clay, grim-faced and solemn, put a terminal bullet in the skull of the creature Elian had felled but he too fought shy of raising his weapons against the Ancient. 

In the centre of the room, beyond the foot of the bed, Jabez and Lagrado rolled and snarled in a tangle of powerful limbs, talons and fangs. Both Vampires had shifted now, Coelho’s form that of a huge grey wolf, certainly larger than any found in nature. The white panther was stalking him, bloodied jaws gaping in a feral snarl, all four paws stained red with the gore of his opponent. But he was rent and bleeding himself, his handsome hide torn in the fight.

Mersen manoeuvred around them seeking a clean shot that would not also wipe out his boss. Chavez stuck to him like glue, guarding the Irishman’s back determinedly. They had already wiped out at least five of Lagrado’s vanguard and a couple had retreated seeing that things were going badly. The Hispanic youth was taking potshots at one who had shifted into a form that resembled a cross between a wildcat and a pterodactyl. She kept on dive-bombing them from the relative safety of the vaulted ceiling until Mersen lost patience with her and with Chavez for wasting expensive ammunition and swung his barrel high to fell her with two deadly shots to the head and back.

Lagrado took that moment to charge, but it was a desperate strike. What had seemed a more than ample reconnaissance group had been reduced to dust around him with alarming speed. His jaws locked onto flesh and he shook his head, ripping and tearing, trying for maximum damage. He felt the other beast bite down on him as well, only Everman’s fangs had found the more vital area of his throat. No, he did not need to breathe, even in this form, but having his throat ripped out would severely hinder him. 

He held on for one reason. Another powerful wolf was about to leap on the great cat’s back. If he got hold of the back of the neck he might snap it, that would at the very least force Jabez Everman back into human form. 

The second wolf did not get the opportunity to try for glory however. Elian caught the beast mid leap, hurling it across the room where the violence of its impact with the formerly immaculate cream coloured wall sent it quivering into the shadows with its tail between its legs. 

“No… no…” he scolded. “No ganging up! Lagrado holds this city on his own, or he dies.” 

“Why can’t you do stuff like that?” Clay asked Rayne, more bemused than afraid by this point. 

The little English vampire laughed breathlessly, leaning against Clay’s broad back to reload his weapon. “Who says I can’t? Do you feel safer now?”

His companion looked dubiously at him. But then they were under attack again as the second wolf, frustrated at being thwarted decided to go for easier meat. It sprang and brought the mortal down. Clay struggled to force one of his handguns between the creature’s jaws to stop it snapping at his neck. As they rolled together on the floor, Rayne discarded the rifle altogether as too clumsy for the task and snatched the modified hypodermic from his belt. He waited until the wolf rolled to a crouch over its struggling quarry and came in from behind whilst it was demolishing Clay’s gun between powerful jaws. 

The needle punched into the back of its neck just beneath the cranium. For a moment nothing happened and Rayne was just scrabbling backwards on his arse, reaching for the rifle again when the wolf began to jerk spasmodically. It’s jaws flexed and it drooled a bloody mass of gore and saliva then began to shrink before their eyes. The fur contracted around slowly melting muscle and skin. It’s eyes rolled frantically in it’s head as it uttered a long, strangled howl of anguish and then the head itself began to disintegrate, falling in on itself and collapsing onto the struggling body of its astonished victim. 

Clay slapped the cascade of melting fur and flesh off his burly chest with a disgusted oath. He rolled clear and threw up at once, shaking his head furiously as if he could get the sight out of his mind that way. 

“Eww!” Rayne said in a small voice, not sure if he was appalled or impressed by the effectiveness of this new toy.

Blood poured in a fountain down the chest of the grey wolf that was Cole Lagrado; poured so heavily he was losing the energy it took to stay in this form. He was forced back into his human body, still being mauled by the white cat. His hand clawed ineffectively at the beast as he thrashed under its greater weight. The cat’s head pulled back and took the entire front half of his throat with it. 

Cole’s body spasmed, arcing in a bow on the floor. He aged a hundred years in the space of just a few moments. Now it was not simply a fight between him and the other vampire, he had to fight his own body that threatened to cast him into a state of torpor in order to begin the regeneration process. With a startling realisation he saw that he was beaten. He had lost everything. The world greyed and then turned black. His shrivelled body lay still and unmoving, even the brightly coloured gore drying and turning to dust. 

There was a single vampire left from Cole Lagrado’s contingent. He now threw himself to the floor with his hands raise for mercy, pleading; “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me…”

As the panther slowly shifted back to human form too, Mersen moved to cover him, pulling the Ancient’s long coat around his blood soaked shoulders. Jabez knelt for a while with his hands on the slowly withering body of his vanquished opponent, head down, long white hair streaked with crimson blooms. Chavez, who was taking his role as Mersen’s lieutenant very seriously, stood over the cowering survivor and probed the back of his skull with the muzzle of his rifle to make sure that he understood his situation perfectly.

As Clay picked himself up and dusted bits of melted vampire off his clothing, his cellphone began to play Kylie’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and he answered it quickly, looking embarrassed as the others rolled their eyes.

“How many came with you?” Mersen was asking their captive as Rayne sat down on the edge of the bed and put his head in his hands, exhaustion and hunger finally beginning to blur his vision.

“He did what?” Clay barked into the cell at the same time. “Where’s the bastard taken him?”

At once Rayne’s head came up again. He knew without asking that the big man was talking about Xav. His shields crumbled and as he began to calculate who was missing from Cole Lagrado’s closest followers a cold sense of dread filled him at once. Where was Steffen? Surely a creature who loved to inflict pain the way Steffen did would be here tonight? 

“What’s happened? Where are they?” he demanded as Clay closed the call, looking stunned, and relayed PJ’s news.

Elian Iannopoulous eyed the cowering vampire, then glanced at Rayne. 

“Steffen has the boy then? How interesting.” He turned his head slightly. “He must be very desperate, or perhaps he just wants to make his last victim count.” A little pause, and then he twisted the knife. “Maybe you should have let the whore stay here after all.” 

Rayne didn’t bother with personal remonstrations this time. He went for Elian with his fangs bared. After the last few days that was a jibe too far and he was not going to stand here and take it. He was just sorry that he had blown the acid dart on another vampire or it would have been in the smug Ancient’s right ear by now. Let Iannopoulos wipe the floor with him, he was past caring. 

He went for the throat, eyes blazing. 

Elian caught Rayne about the neck, jerking him right off his feet. One hand slid up his back and lodged in his hair keeping the smaller vampire from biting him. It did not stop Rayne trying and he snapped and clawed at Yiannis for almost a minute like a little dog held in the air by it’s owner but still trying to fight.

“Tch… no control at all. Is this your way of begging me to go and rescue him for you? It’s rather lacking in finesse, if you ask me.” Mindful that Jabez was still watching intently Elian did not throw the fledgling across the room, but he was sorely tempted. “You’re wasting time. How long do you think it will take Steffen to feel safe enough to stop? And do you really think he will simply sit idle and wait when he has such a pretty diversion at hand?” 

He finally shoved Rayne away, hard, but not hard enough to cause damage. Clay caught the younger vampire before he fell but held onto him not wanting to see him throw himself at Elian again. He suspected that the Ancient might not be so tolerant a second time. 

“Your blood tie is strong enough, go and find him.” Elian invited, exasperated. 

The challenge was nearly enough to make his opponent rise. Rayne closed his eyes and both Ancients felt the shimmer of energy in the room as he reached for the level of consciousness that would let him shift his form. Jabez was on his feet in an instant, catching his fledgling by the chin and lifting his head. 

“NO!”

Rayne shuddered and opened his eyes, but there was no fight in them, he was just too tired. The energy diffused and he slumped into his mentor’s bloody arms shaking his head. 

“Little fool!” Jabez said in a grim tone, but his expression told another story. There was a weary tenderness in his eyes as he looked down on his sole surviving Fledge. “Do you think I came all this 

way to see you die in your motley bird form on some godforsaken roadside?”

Elian looked at Rayne and his Sire and knew that he was asking the impossible. Oh, the Fledge might be able to track Xavier still, but not in time. If Rayne had fed before now things might have been different but Elian hadn’t let him… or rather, the Elder had given him an impossible choice to make. And so… Elian sighed heavily. 

“Fine, I will retrieve the boy then.” 

Elian Iannopoulos had quite possibility the smoothest transformation process of any vampire. There was no awkward rearranging of limbs, no melting down and reforming, it seemed as if he simply flowed from one form into another like water from a pitcher to a glass. In the few strides that took him from his living room to the balcony he shifted from human form into a large snowy owl without pause and without any hesitation between walking and flying. 

The beautiful bird of prey did not look back as it soared through the broken window, over the edge of the balcony and off into the night. The owl used little effort in its flight; large silent wings carried it along on eddies and currents of night air. He drifted over the city and out across the bay, shunning the harsh cries of the curious gulls that came close but not close enough to run the gauntlet of his fearsome talons. His wings carried him higher into a quieter, hillside area, following instinct and the soft pull of the boy he sought. 

PJ &DOMINIC:

Beyond the ruined people-carrier, in the smoke-filled basement, Dominic Warren scrambled from vehicle to vehicle to reach PJ where he lay on the concrete floor, groaning and cursing alternately. Lord Warren was bleeding from the blow to his head and also from a nasty looking bite mark on his neck, but he managed to get to his feet now as the stolen SUV screeched out of the basement carpark.

Fuck!” he swore with more feeling than the other man had ever heard from him. “I think he’s got the kid.”

“What do we do?” PJ had managed to pull himself to his knees but he was hurt and Dominic was torn between hotwiring a car and going after the boy, or getting him out of here. Either response meant leaving Jabez and the others to get away on their own, which had not been the plan. Furthermore, the rest of their arsenal was in the trunk of that hijacked vehicle.

“Come on,” the Englishman said determinedly, crouching to help PJ to his feet. “Where’s your gun?”

Paddy pointed back towards the spot where the SUV had been idling moments before. His rifle had skidded under a parked BMW and Dom grabbed it now and used the butt to smash the driver’s side window. 

“What the f…?” PJ exclaimed. “You can’t do that, man!”

“I just did,” Dominic was already in the car and had half the dash in pieces as he picked his way through the security wiring. “Get in!” he ordered as the 3.6 litre engine growled into life. “Oh for fuck’s sake, Patrick! This is the 21st century, the owner’s probably got more insurance than British Airways!”

XAV:

Steffen kept the rifle pointed at Xavier and drove with the other hand. The boy had put his seatbelt on and sat white knuckled as Steffen pushed the powerful SUV to greater and greater speeds, forcing it to the very limits of it’s ability. Xavier clenched his teeth and had to squeeze his eyes shut as they took a hairpin turn fast enough that he was sure they were going to roll. 

“If you wanted to keep me alive for some reason it’s not going to work if you wreck.”

“Who says I want you alive?”

“Well, you haven’t killed me yet.” Xavier pointed out, more blandly than he felt. 

“Yet… indeed.” Steffen said. “Your friends have killed Lagrado.”

That was news to him but Xavier found no time for exultation. 

“Is Rayne alright?” He asked it before he could stop himself.

“I do not know, nor do I care.” Steffen sneered. 

“Let me go. All they wanted was Lagrado dead. If you just disappear no one will go after you.”

Steffen gave a short bark of bitter laughter. “The new Master of the city will not allow the previous Master’s associates to live. You are my bargaining chip.” 

“You are a complete idiot, do you know that?!” Xavier snapped, and tried not to shriek like a girl when they clipped the front end of a parked car and barrelled through an intersection on a red light. “If you just let me go they won’t come after you. You keep me and they will hunt you down and kill you just like Lagrado.” “If they are unwilling to bargain I will indeed most likely die, but not before I enjoy killing you first,” Steffen told him coldly.

Xavier did not need to hear that. They had headed out across the Bay Bridge onto the interstate and the car was powering up into the hills now. Traffic was lighter. He saw his chances of being rescued dimming, his chances of surviving – even if the others did catch up – even slimmer. In a desperate move he grabbed the wheel and pulled. The SUV’s tires squealed in protest, the front end came around hard and the offside tires came up off the ground. For a second it seemed the vehicle would stick it, and then gravity did its thing and they were rolling into the median. 

If Xavier hadn’t been belted in he probably would have been seriously injured, if not killed. Amazingly he came out of the roll unharmed. He wasn’t going to stay that way long though, he thought as he scrambled to release the belt and crawl out of the wreckage. He had barely gotten free when a weight fell onto him from above. Steffen grabbed him and rolled him furiously onto his back. 

The vampire’s face was a mask of blood and rage. He sat on Xavier’s chest, one hand clamped on his throat and punched him with the other. Xavier might have been more interested in the explosion of pain along the side of his face if he weren’t so preoccupied with the fact that he couldn’t breathe. 

It just wasn’t fair. He had come so far, skinned by with only a hair’s width to spare so many times now. It wasn’t right that he should die like this; the life being slowly choked from him while an enraged vampire beat on him. His arms were flung out to the sides, his hands failing around in the tall grass for anything that might help him. 

Luck, or whatever powers that be, were still smiling on him. His hand closed on something cold and hard. The dark of the night sky seemed to close in around Xavier. His fingers curled around and clutched the cold metal. He brought his arm up and fired at the same time. 

The bullet hit Steffen in the side of the head, and fortunately the gun was not loaded with those nifty exploding shells. The vampire reeled back. Xavier drew great heaving gulps of air, unable to do more then sit up and point the gun with a shaky hand at his attacker. Steffen moved and Xavier pulled the trigger again, this time emptying the clip into him.

Steffen swatted the pistol away like Xavier had been shooting him with a squirt gun. Xavier was still coughing and trying to draw a decent breath as a car pulled over. A good Samaritan jumped out. 

“Hey! Are you guys alright? Hang on, I’ll call 911…”

Steffen stood and the guy’s eyes grew big as he looked over the tall vampire and really took him in. The vampire smiled, reached out and snapped the guy’s neck without a moment’s hesitation. He grabbed Xavier by the back of the neck and hauled him up, shoved him into the unfortunate man’s car, and moments later they were speeding down the highway again. 

Xavier slumped in the seat, too battered and dazed to even think about escape at this point. The vampire still drove recklessly, but after a short while he slowed, heading off the main highway and onto a secondary road. Xavier recognised the area. They were heading toward a vast area of state land. It was the type of place people went camping, stepped off a trail, and a week later helicopter crews found them. If they were lucky. 

Steffen parked the car and got out, pulling Xavier out too. He shoved him along toward the dark trees and underbrush. Even had Xavier not just been in a car wreck and a battle for his life this would not have boded well. He was a city boy; the first root snagged his foot and sent him to his knees. Steffen yanked him up and pulled him along another couple of feet before a fallen branch tripped him. With a short impatient growl he grabbed Xavier and slung him over his shoulder, making haste deeper into the woods. 

Xavier did not take this docilely. He kicked and struggled, cursing colourfully. It seemed like a long time had gone by, but it was hard to tell, and even harder to tell how far they’d come. The vampire moved remarkably fast despite the underbrush and Xavier’s struggles. He finally came to a halt and threw Xavier to the ground. 

Xav landed with a huff of breath as the wind was knocked from him. He tried to get up and found it was an effort just to roll to his side. Steffen stood a short distance away, he was kicking the ground and only when he bent and pulled open a rusted metal door did Xavier realize he was uncovering some kind of underground hidey-hole. That did not even bear thinking about. He was so not going down into that hole. No fucking way!

Calling on his last reserves of strength, from who knows where, Xavier shoved himself to his feet and bolted. 

Steffen watched him go, grinning. He let the boy run, unable to deny himself the pleasure of a chase, and then he was off after his fleeing gazelle. 

Xavier hauled ass as fast as he could, darting blindly though the trees that slapped and tugged at him. In the back of his head he knew it was a futile effort, there was no way he could out run the vampire and no way he could hide from him. He was only delaying the inevitable, but it wasn’t in him to just go docilely to his fate. He jumped over a fallen log and skidded in the dried leaves, scrambling to change direction. He kept running, legs moving as fast as he could push himself and lungs burning. In the dark he nearly ran into a large branch that had fallen, almost impaling himself on the jagged end.

He had to stop for a second, hands on his knees, gulping air. He felt a faint cool presence brush feather light in his mind and knew immediately it was Rayne. Not that he had any time to really think about it, but there was the same sense of relief he’d felt earlier when he’d stopped shielding and known Rayne was alright and was comforted by it. It wasn’t like telepathy, they couldn’t actually communicate this far apart, it was just a feeling and Xavier took what momentary comfort he could from it. 

The branch sticking out of the ground gave him an idea. He couldn’t keep running, Steffen was bound to catch him sooner or later. He grabbed the branch and broke it free. 

Something heavy dropped from above almost directly behind him. Startled, he bolted again, only this time he didn’t get nearly as far. A heavy hand hit his shoulder, spinning him around. Xavier swung the branch like a Louisville Slugger and it impacted with the side of Steffen’s head. 

The vampire grabbed the makeshift weapon and ripped it out of his hands. Despite being injured and exhausted his prey actually gave him a good run for his money, Steffen thought. Which made it all the sweeter when he finally brought him down. The boy tried to run again when he tore the branch out of his hands. Steffen grazed Xavier’s hip with his powerful fingers and spun him around before he dropped atop him, pinned him to the ground. Steffen was hard and excited from the chase and his prey’s struggles beneath him only exacerbated the situation. He ground his hips down, biting lightly at the boy’s slender throat. 

“Get off me!” Xavier panted, chest heaving with the effort. “Get the fuck off me!”

The boy’s voice was high and afraid and only fuelled Steffen’s desire further. He clawed his tight pants open and pulled them down his narrow hips. 

Xavier shoved and hit him, bucking his body and trying desperately to fight free. When he had been locked in a room with this fucker, wounded and terrified, he’d though his best chance of survival was to be passive and offer no resistance that would only excite the monster. Now he knew others were looking for him. Knew they would find him if only he could stay alive that long. He hadn’t managed to run far, and his attempts to fight him off only seemed to amuse and inflame the vampire, but they did buy precious time. But now he was caught, and his time was running out. His captor hit him hard with the back of his hand and the world seemed to tilt and spin madly. 

Steffen flipped Xavier over, shoving him face down in the dried leaves and dirt. He did nothing to muffle the boy’s screams and curses, there was no one out here to hear them except for him and he delighted in his victim’s cries of rage and pain. 

A warm flow of blood ran from Xavier’s nostrils down his chin. A hand fisted in his hair and pulled his head back sharply to hold him still. Xavier struggled and as he did he knew he couldn’t prevent what was about to happen. He stilled suddenly, and tried to reach for the calm Dominic had been trying to teach him so he could shut Rayne out, he could do that at least. But he’d waited too long and his thoughts were too scattered. 

Steffen opened his fly and eagerly rubbed his excited cock over his captive’s smooth pert buttocks. He shoved his hard member savagely into the boy’s rectum and laughed cruelly at the scream that tore from his lips. 

DOMINIC:

In the hotwired Beamer, PJ was clinging to the dash and the suit hangers in an effort to stay alive as Lord Warren floored the accelerator. The mad old bastard drove like such matters as speed limits and traffic lights were an irrelevance. Busy interchanges, Give-Way signs and pedestrian crossings were ignored as he forced the unfortunate vehicle through impossible gaps in the evening traffic.

“Have you any idea which way they were headed?” he yelled at Warren, freaked out by the Englishman’s singlemindedness. 

“This way,” Dominic said, his gaze narrowed as he swung the wheel and the car banked sharply left into a one way street. 

“I… uh… I don’t think we have the right of way down here,” PJ ventured, shaking his head. “How the fuck do you figure they came this way?” 

“Same way a vampire would track his victim, I can see aura traces from the kid,” Dominic told him mysteriously. “But more importantly, the SUV got hit and it’s leaking oil or water or something… leaving a trail a blind grandmother could follow. They’re not going to get far.”

A light began to flash on the dashboard as the stolen BMW headed out on the I80 towards the Bay Bridge, still following the intermittent stream of fluids from the SUV. Warren had the headlights on full beam and was blissfully immune to the barrage of horns and abuse this attracted from fellow road users. 

“Buggery!” he muttered to himself, letting the speed drop to a rather less hair-raising 70 mph as they cruised across the Bay in the gathering darkness.

“What’s up?” PJ was still scanning the road ahead for any sign that they were getting closer. 

“There’s no fuel in this bloody car,” Warren cursed, slapping his hand against the steering wheel. “We’re not going to get much further. Where the hell are they going?”

He put his foot down again, impatient with the lack of pace. PJ reached into a pocket for his cellphone and called Clay’s number, deciding that it was only fair to let his buddies know what was happening.

*~*

Some three or four minutes later, a black BMW with a broken window executed a perfect U Turn on the Interstate, nearly causing several different accidents as it swerved back down the highway in the wrong carriageway to the point where the trail of fuel left the road and vanished into the scrub. It was there that Dominic and Paddy had their first real shock. 

Even discovering that the body lying sprawled next to the abandoned vehicle was not Xavier did not totally alleviate the heartstopping sensation. PJ slumped against the flanks of the upturned SUV as Dom crawled around peering into the wreckage for any signs of life. 

“They’ve gone,” he huffed at last, looking irritated. 

“On foot?” Paddy speculated. 

“I doubt it. This poor bugger didn’t walk out here all the way, he’s not dressed for a hike. He got out of a car and…” Dom pulled a finger across his throat indicating a teminal outcome. “I reckon they took his wheels.”

He wrestled with the catch on the trunk and managed to force it open. Several boxes of ammo fell out and he jumped back like a startled rabbit, but fortunately none of it exploded. Resolutely he gathered as much weaponry as possible and threw it into the Beamer whilst Paddy stared at him incredulously and made a point of checking his watch.

“Well… better to go prepared than show up unarmed and get wiped out like this poor sod,” Dominic argued defensively. “Look… if he was going to kill the kid he’d have done it in the parking garage! The only way we can help him is to keep chasing.”

By the time Dominic had rigged a contraption from the hoses and spare gas canister on the SUV to siphon fuel into the BMW PJ was practically ready to rip the other man’s throat out himself. 

“He could be dead by now!”

“If you would give me a fucking hand, this would not take so long,” Dominic reminded him, struggling to lug the heavy canister across to the Beamer. 

“This is America, there’s probably a Gas Station about five minutes down the road,” Paddy argued. 

“And if there isn’t, we’re royally fucked and so is Xav!” Dominic tilted the can and transferred the contents into the fuel tank of their stolen vehicle.

“That poor kid!” PJ growled at him. “Christ that vampire bastard could have done anything to him by now.”

“If he was going to kill him he’d already have done it,” Dominic reiterated with a shake of his head. “Load the weapons if you’re not going to help with the gas, Patrick! I am not going to drive into another ambush unprepared. This time that fucker is going to eat some lead… or whatever the fuck it is that Mersen puts in these damned cartridges!”

PJ looked at him incredulously and stomped back around to the trunk to punch exploding bullets into the breach carriages of the guns. 

“Carefully!” Dominic’s voice piped back at him. “Jesus, Paddy!”

Within fifteen minutes they were on the move again but to Paddy McNamara it felt like half the night. Fortunately, Dominic no longer had any reservations about putting his foot down and he pushed the Beamer to its impressive limits now. For once, his companion had no complaints. 

The BWM pulled off Interstate 80 without warning and took a backroad, curling up into the hills. PJ had stopped asking how Dom knew where he was going after the first attempt at an explanation bewildered the bejaysus out of him. Something about colours and airwaves and some mystical bollocks that the big Irish American would have laughed out of town if there wasn’t a young life at stake. 

When the road they were following became little more than a dirt track leading to an abandoned vehicle, Dom stopped the car and reached wordlessly for one of the rifles. The other vehicle stood with it’s doors still open, the engine pinking as it cooled down. Warily, the two men eased out of the Beamer with their weapons primed, ready to shoot anything that moved. Unusually Dominic had not even bothered with instructions this time. They both knew what to expect. If the vamp was still here they would have to fight him. He was not going to leave them for dead a second time. 

Once Dom could be sure that his quarry was no longer in the vicinity of the stolen car he waved PJ back, conscious that the other man was exhausted and still hurting after his clash with the vampire back in the parking lot. 

“Stay with the car,” he whispered. “If anyone friendly follows us up here let them know I’m armed. If anyone else follows us, you know what to do? Don’t let them take the car, we still need to get him back.”

“You’re sure you can do this alone?” Paddy was sceptical. He had seen Dominic’s determination but the Englishman was one little old guy… hell they both were, he conceded. “What if he gets you?” 

“Get out of here,” Dom told him. 

“But the kid…?” 

“Just get out of here! If I’m not back in an hour, and there’s been no trouble, get the hell out of here and let the others know where we went down.” The expression on his face warned against any further arguments. 

PJ bit his tongue and let him go. Then he phoned Clay again, from the inside of the car, without putting down the gun and tried to explain where they were. 

SHOWDOWN:

As Lord Warren came to a wooded area halfway up the steep incline, the owl glided through the trees overhead, silent as a ghost. He passed over the lean figure of the English sorcerer as he made his cautious way through thick underbrush, his weapon cocked and ready. They were following the same thread of course. It wound through the trees like a softly glowing ribbon, warm and pulsing with life. The trail was almost a scent in the air… spicy cardamom and rich vanilla. 

If the owl could have grinned, he would have at that thought. Xavier wasn’t veryvanilla but that was his scent all the same. The warmth of that aroma was suddenly interrupted by sharper smells; the hot musk of the rutting male and the copper tang of spilt blood. 

Elian dropped from the air and was walking in his human form before he had even lost momentum. Steffen had the boy pinned down in the dirt, his arms pinioned behind him so sharply it would have dislocated the shoulder of a less flexible person. His jaws were buried deep and working hard at the crook of the boy’s neck as his hips pistoned above Xavier’s naked buttocks. He was feeding as much from the dancer’s pain and terrified struggles as he was on his blood. 

Steffen’s head suddenly came up, eyes wild and fangs bared like a dog on the scent, turning toward Elian with a bloody snarl. Their eyes locked and Steffen saw his own death in the handsome face that stared back impassively at him. The Ancient’s smile was as cold and cruel as his own. He had been found and the desperation of his plans were all for naught. He was going to meet his true death here, of that he had no doubt. With that thought foremost in his mind he flung Xavier’s shuddering body aside and hurled himself at the older, stronger vampire fearlessly.

Elian caught him mid-charge. They twisted, and Steffen tried to lunge for his throat. Elian grabbed his face with one hand in a crushing grip, feeling the skull crack under his powerful fingers. 

“I wonder, Steffen…should I toy with you, as you like to toy with your victims?” he growled low, lifting his hand so that the younger vampire hung like a rag doll, his kicking feet barely scraping the ground. “Should I prolong this torture for days, or weeks even? Break you, as you have broken so many others; so many sweet-tasting mortal boys?” He looked coldly into Steffen’s dark eyes seeing defiance there and a little resignation, but no fear. That was good. He made up his mind quickly. “Or, perhaps not.” 

In an unimaginable demonstration of strength he tore Steffen’s head clean from his shoulders with a twist and flick of his bare hand. The younger vampire’s truncated heart-cry echoed in the hills for little more than a handful of seconds as he met his end. 

Dusting his hands together as Steffen crumbled like ashes from a fire, Elian heard the sounds of Dominic Warren approaching through the undergrowth now. The fellow travelled softly but not soft enough to elude a vampire’s sharp ears. Elian moved to Xavier’s side as the mortal came into sight, hurrying a little more at the terrible cry he had just heard. 

Elian reached down to help the human boy to his feet but the moment he touched him Xavier flailed at him. 

“Don’t touch me! Get the fuck away!” Xavier yelled in a choked voice as he tried to get to his knees and pull his clothes back on at the same time. 

Elian hesitated; softly coaxed; “Let me help you, Xavier.”

“No! Fuck off! I don’t need your help.” He had managed to get his pants up and he lurched to his feet. Blood was seeping from the deep and terrible bite at his neck, soaking into his shirt, but Xavier didn’t notice it. He just wanted to get out of here. Get away from these people. Find a place he could curl up alone and sleep. He was so damn tired. Elian glanced at Dominic. “You have a vehicle nearby, I assume? You did not fly here on your broomstick little witch?” 

Dominic treated him to a wary look. He had not lowered the rifle in his hands but now he nodded acknowledgement and Elian returned his attention to Xavier.

“I did not come all this way to watch you stumble around in the dark and die slowly,” he told the boy.

“Fuck off. I don’t need you.” Xavier had managed a few steps, but the effort was taxing. He hurt, everywhere. Another step and he stumbled, going down to his knees.

Elian reached for him again, this time not letting the child swat him away. 

“Lemme go! Get your hands off me!” Xavier twisted in the vampire’s grip. “Get the fuck off of me!!” 

Xavier twisted in Elian’s grip, struggling to pull away as Elian brought him in close. The double click of the safety catch on Warren’s rifle was loud in the stillness of the mountain night. Quietly the old man said; “Put him down, you heard the lad. He doesn’t want your hands on him. And I don’t quite blame him.”

Elian turned his head and looked angrily at the mage. He had not released his hold on Xavier but he said; “The boy will bleed to death before you get him back to the city. I cannot carry him there in my shifted form but I can help him now, if you will trust me.”

“Give me one good reason why I should do that?” Warren demanded, circling him with the rifle still trained on the Ancient vampire. “When you were prepared to sell me off to Lagrado in order to get your jollies!”

“I trusted in your supreme cleverness to see a way out of the situation, and you did not disappoint me,” Elian purred, shaking his head. “If you shoot me now with those lethal bullets of yours you will kill the child also.”

Xavier slapped and pushed at him again, cursing almost incoherently. Elian caught his hands and restrained him gently. 

“Let me heal him,” he said coolly. “I give you my word upon my Unlife and the bloodline that created me, in the eyes of your Sacred Goddess, Lord Warren. I shall not bite him.”

“If you try it, I will kill you,” Dominic answered, to his credit his voice only trembled very slightly. “Heal him and step away from him. Let me take him back.”

“It will be so.” Elian returned his attention to the young man in his arms. “Stop your struggles. You are bleeding too much.” He lifted Xavier up, holding him tight against his chest as he bent his head toward his neck. He could feel the boy’s heart pounding like a wild and trapped thing as he touched his cool lips to the wound.

“No! Don’t!” Xavier’s struggles became frantic, but he had neither the strength nor the energy to sustain it long. He whimpered as the vampire’s gentle tongue lapped at the ragged punctures and tensed for the pain of fangs sinking into him, but it did not come. 

Elian kissed and licked the wound until the blood stopped and the rents mended. It took several minutes and the task did not seem to displease him. He made a pleasurable sound in his throat as he lifted his head, licking his lips to savour every sweet drop. Xavier hung limply in his arms. He panted raggedly and was trying hard not to sob. Elian shifted him easily, sliding one hand under his knees so he cradled the youth in his arms like a child. 

He turned to Dominic who was still pointing the rifle at him. “Let me carry him back to the car,” he said softly. “I am stronger than you and it has been a long night for us all.”

He could see the mistrust in Lord Warren’s moss green eyes but the man knew he was being held at bay. All the time that Elian had Xavier in his arms he was effectively safe. He trusted that Dominic would not shoot him whilst the boy was still at risk. Elian took the lead, back down the hill, following the traces of Dominic’s passage from the car and the mortal followed, keeping him carefully in his sights. At the edge of the tree line just before they reached the car Elian stopped, looking back at Dominic seriously. The sorcerer sensed a shimmer in his aura as if something had just happened but so quickly and subtly that he was not aware of it. He blinked like a man coming awake after a power nap.

“The news of Coelho’s death will spread very quickly,” Elian said in a low tone. “There will be a power struggle over his place as Master here. More death is coming, and on a much vaster scale. Be sure you and yours do not get caught in the crossfire, Lord Warren,” the vampire advised now. It was a very diplomatic way of telling him to leave, and leave quickly. 

Elian set Xavier on his feet and the boy gasped in pain. The fresh bruises, overlaying ones only days old, were just beginning to bloom. In the momentary distraction Elian moved, seeming to simply vanish for a second then re-emerge someplace else. Before Dominic had time to even draw another breath the ancient vampire grasped him from behind, gripping his arms so tightly that he could not even raise his weapon. Elian nuzzled softly at his throat, letting the sharp points of his canines scrape ever so gently over the skin. “Unless you would like to stay… and be my guest…” he chuckled warmly, and then he once more disappeared, this time seemingly for good.

Dominic exhaled softly, hardly daring to look around. Then he was beside Xavier, helping the boy to stand up.

“Oh sweetheart,” he sighed heavily. “Dare we hope that a peaceful night and a comfortable bed can be ours before the sun rises? Let’s get you back to somewhere warm and familiar and check you for damage, and maybe get something chronically alcoholic to drink? How does that sound?”

Xavier just nodded woodenly and followed as Dominic led the way out of the trees. 

PJ was out of the car as soon as he saw them coming and wrapped his arms around Xav, overjoyed to see the boy alive and able to walk. 

“They’re moving out,” he told Dominic over the top of Xavier’s head, still stroking his hair fondly. “Lagrado’s dead, and most of his cronies. Clay’s gonna meet us at the Marriot Courtyard down in San Bruno, he’s already booking flights for the morning and it’s handy for the airport. I think it would do us all the world of good to get out of Frisco for a little while. But at least we can relax for tonight, yeah?”

“I think so, yes,” Dominic nodded, relieved.

Xavier picked his head up from PJ’s chest. “You’re leaving?” It was the first he’d spoke since giving in to Elian and his voice was low and hoarse, his throat felt scraped raw.

“We figured it was for the best,” the bigger fellow answered amiably. “You know you’re welcome to come with us. My friend Aldo has plenty of space at his place in Italy. And he’d love you, I know it already.”

“Oh…” Xav breathed, still in that softly resigned tone. “Um, I don’t have a passport.” 

“Let us worry about that,” PJ chuckled, “I’m sure the Lord will intervene on your behalf if you ask him very nicely.” 

He winked at Dominic and the Englishman managed a weary smile. 

“We’ll think of something,” he said, reaching over to ruffle Xavier’s hair as if he was a child (which compared to himself and Paddy the lad practically was!)

Xav let himself be guided to the car and PJ settled into the two seater BMW. Xavier was going to have to sit in his lap, but he didn’t mind. He lowered himself stiffly, a low groan passing his lips as he touched down. He turned slightly, getting comfortable, or as comfortable as possible anyway, and leaned back against Paddy’s solid chest putting his head on the older man’s shoulder. They had hardly gone two miles before Xavier was asleep.

PJ was not too far behind him and Dominic patted his arm from time to time, keeping him awake. He said nothing but the big fella’s condition was worrying him and he just wanted to get Paddy and Xav back to civilisation as quickly as possible and get a doctor to check out the pair of them. He pulled out onto the highway and floored the accelerator and they ripped away into the California night. 

~*~

The suite of rooms at the Marriott Courtyard which had already been allotted to Mr McNamara’s party when they turned up in a couple of taxi cabs, faced inward off the road and onto the floodlit gardens. Clearly PJ’s people had used the hotel before since there were staff on hand bringing food and running hot baths when they arrived and the hotel management did not turn a hair at their dishevelled appearance or the fact that they appeared to be carrying weapons. Clay later explained that he’d told the hotel bookings clerk they were running late off a movie shoot and had to come as they were in order to make their flight to Italy in the morning.

For now Rayne did not care what anyone thought, he just wanted to feed and sleep, in that order. No… first he wanted to know that Xavier was okay, andthen he could feed and sleep. Since the aftermath of the fight at Elian’s apartment he had been restless. Every time he reached out for Xavier he met a wall of fear, except for the last time when – most disturbingly of all– there had been nothing. Even knowing that Clay had spoken to PJ on the phone and been assured that they were bringing Xav home, he could not relax. Something bad had happened and he would not rest until he saw the truth in Xavier’s eyes. 

So when a comely, young, blond man turned up in his room and proceeded to remove his shirt with a most inviting smile, Rayne was initially rather perplexed. 

“Who exactly are you?” he asked warily. 

“I’m Troy, honey” the lad replied, lying down on his bed and looking up at him expectantly. “Mr Francis said you like to bite, is that right?”

Rayne blinked at him. Right now he was just about disoriented enough to take the kid up on that offer but he stepped back and poked his head around into the next room off the courtyard instead. Clay was just stepping out of the bath, his blue black skin glistening invitingly. 

“There’s a half naked kid on my bed says you sent him,” the vampire remarked atonally. 

“You need a good bath and a massage and you need to feed,” Clay responded, making no effort to cover himself. It was nothing Rayne hadn’t seen before in any case. 

“I’ll wait for Xav, thanks,” Rayne swayed as he spoke and Clay was under him before he went down, scooping him up and carrying him through to the tub. 

“What’s he gonna think if he shows up and you look like you’ve been pulled through hell backwards by the nuts, huh?” the big guy growled, shaking his head. “Come on, let’s get you undressed and in that hot tub and Troy can rub you down. He’s real good with his hands.”

In the end he did not have the strength to argue. It was easier to let Clay strip him and get him into the bath. Rayne sank down under the water and switched off there. He nearly gave Troy heart failure. The poor kid thought he’d drowned until Clay stepped in and helped to get the singer upright again. There was room for all three of them in the tub and once he was in proximity to the mortal pair it was harder to resist what they were offering. As Troy worked on the knots in his back, he bit down deep into Clay’s muscular neck and succumbed to the call of his blood. 

It would have been easy to relinquish all his self-control and just gorge himself but having Clay there held him in check. He took enough but not too much, switching back and forth between the pair once he had enough strength in reserve to heal the bites he inflicted. Troy was deliciously compliant; seemingly of the opinion that if Mr Francis figured it was okay then it was okay. But when the lad’s hand moved lower, clearly keen to offer more than just a Welcome Break, Rayne stopped him. 

“It’s okay… I don’t need you to…” He caught his breath and Troy did too, the disappointment all too clear in his dark eyes. 

“If you’re sure, honey,” he murmured, rising to his feet as Rayne got up too. “I’d be more than happy to.”

“Some other time, maybe?” Rayne managed a smile. 

“I’ll go see if your friend wants any help,” Troy grabbed a towel and winked at him playfully. “See ya later, maybe?”

“That was… not like you,” Clay remarked, climbing out of the tub after him and towelling himself down slowly. 

“Yeah, well I’ve not exactly been myself lately,” Rayne murmured, still sounding a tad preoccupied. He pulled on a complimentary robe that virtually drowned him and wandered out to the courtyard, looking up and down impatiently. “What the fuck is keeping them?”

He got no reply because Clay had stretched out on the bed in his room and was already drowsing, finally exhausted by the feeding session in the tub. Rayne’s hand went to a pocket he didn’t have, looking for cigarettes he didn’t have either and he cursed colourfully. The sound of a lighter flickering behind him made him turn and Mersen passed one of the pair of Players he had just lit up across to the little vamp. 

“Feeling better?” the Irishman asked. 

“I will when the others get back with Xav,” Rayne sucked on the filter and paced irritably again. “Where’s Jabez?” he exhaled, glancing at Mersen whose close cropped hair still glistened from the shower, though his wardrobe was just another version of the stuff he had been wearing when he burst through the window; a fresh tee shirt and neatly pressed combat pants. 

“Across the garden in the room at the end with the Hispanic kid,” Mers responded with a half-grin. “He took a bite off me but the boy seemed pretty determined to give him the rest so he packed me off to make a few travel arrangements. That Chavez is a good kid; a fair shot as well.”

“He’s full of surprises,” Rayne said cynically. 

Mersen glanced up at the vampire’s drying hair. “You’re keeping the silver streaks, are you?” 

Self consciously, Rayne stroked a hand through his unruly mane. He hadn’t even looked in a mirror since he arrived here, to be honest. He probably looked a sight and the idea of confirming it was still a bit scary. 

“They haven’t gone?” he asked. 

Mersen pulled on his cigarette and shook his head gravely. “It looks good on you though. Kind of celtic.” He winked and turned away as a commotion began in the hallway that led back down to reception. 

Rayne was on his feet and running before he had even stubbed out the smoke in his hand. 

~*~

Xavier woke as they were pulling into the parking spot at the Marriot. He came awake reluctantly and felt every single muscle in his body as a dull ache. Being tossed around and beat up by vampires was so not healthy. He got out of the car and caught his reflection in the mirrored doors of the parking garage elevator. Fantastic! Nothing like being conspicuous. His shirt was torn and had dirt and blood all over it. His face was dirty too and one cheek was a lovely shade of eggplant. The pants were missing the top button and the knees were stained dark. He didn’t even want to look at his eyes, they looked far too hollow and guarded. They would be lucky to get to their rooms without someone calling the cops. 

Dominic seemed unconcerned with appearances, he was more interested in seeing if they could find a doctor that would make a house… or rather, hotel call, with no notice and without questions. Good luck, Xav thought, none too optimistically.

“I don’t need a doctor, I’m fine.” Xavier told him numbly. “I just want a shower and bed.” 

And to see Rayne.

He got that wish as they were being escorted through to the rooms. PJ seemed dead on his feet, just ready to collapse onto a bed and close his eyes. Dominic was using a tone of voice that said he was not used to being argued with on the Maitre d’. Lord Warren stated imperiously that he would need a medic on hand, and also someone to return his car to the parking lot in Elian’s apartment block before he flew back to England in the morning.

A small tornado in human form came whirling down the corridor towards him and Xavier barely had time to register it as friend or foe before it wrapped itself around him and a familiar, comforting London accented voice was crying out his name.

“Xavier! Xavier! Christ almighty, what happened? Are you okay?” Rayne demanded, pulling him close as if he never intended to let go

Xavier groaned as his bruises protested the exuberant welcome, but he hugged him back and buried his face into the curve of his neck. 

“I’m okay,” he lied, although he neither looked nor sounded precisely okay. “Areyou okay? You look better.” Rayne looked well fed, actually. The redness was gone from his eyes and that junkie stare, though his black hair was still streaked with silver. Xavier felt a momentary stab of jealousy for his ability to heal so quickly. 

“I’m fine.” Rayne answered, which also wasn’t precisely true.

Neither one seemed inclined to let the other go anytime soon, but Dominic gently pointed out that they should at least move out of the hallway, and ushered PJ past. They followed, making their way down the hall and into the suite where Clay and Mersen were waiting. Xavier had a smile and a hug for Barclay; smirked when he heard how Chavez was otherwise preoccupied and was infinitely grateful that Dominic and Clay had PJ to fuss over. 

Rayne followed him quietly into the bathroom when he said he was going to take a shower. Xavier stripped out of his clothes, bunching them up and throwing them into the corner. He was quiet as he adjusted the water temperature and stepped under the spray, just standing there, letting the hot water pour down on him relentlessly. Rayne almost seemed to sense his reservation and he hung back for once, but when Xav slumped exhausted against the wall of the shower cubicle he murmured; “Do you need some help in there?” 

If Clay had asked, or Dominic, or even Chavez, he would have said no. He looked at Rayne through the steam and streaming water and nodded his head. 

“Yeah…” he said softly. He’d been running from one emergency to the next for hours, days actually. The blood loss wasn’t helping but he hadn’t lost that much to Steffen, it was mostly battle fatigue that had him so weary he could hardly stand.

Steady arms were around him almost immediately. Rayne did not even bother to shrug off the oversized hotel robe. He pulled the younger man into his arms and curled about him, more gently this time. Xavier put his head on his shoulder, closing his eyes as everything seemed to catch up to him at once. 

“Iannopoulos killed Steffen,” he said flatly. He’d never been glad someone was dead before, even now he wasn’t really glad, just relieved that the ordeal was finally over. He’d also never seen anyone killed before his eyes, and in the space of little more than an hour he’d witnessed Steffen brutally murdering a man on the roadside and then watched as Elian killed Steffen in much the same manner. Those things were going to stay with him for a while. So was what Steffen had done to him. 

He shuddered in Rayne’s arms at the water poured down on his back. There had been several times he had wanted to break down since this all started and he’d pretty much held it together. His breath hitched in his throat as another shudder ran through him. 

“You wanna lie down?” Rayne whispered at last, touching his lips to Xavier’s ear. “We don’t have to do anything. I just want to hold you, if that’s okay?”

Xavier nodded again, his head moving against Rayne’s shoulder. He took a deep breath, swallowing down the tightness in his throat. 

Rayne helped him finish washing and turned off the water. He was wringing out the ruined robe and Xav was towelling off when the boy said, “I could have shot Steffen, in the parking garage. I had the gun pointed at his head…but he had PJ. I was afraid if I shot him it wouldn’t kill him before he killed PJ. I couldn’t let him… you know, blow his brains out. So, I dropped the gun.” He said it almost apologetically. An explanation for why he’d let Steffen get the drop on him.

For a moment the small English vampire looked back at him seriously, shaking his head that he thought that he had done the wrong thing but Rayne only said; “We shouldn’t have put you in this situation. None of us should. It’s not your fault, sweetheart. You’re both alive, that’s all that matters right now.” Xavier just nodded and followed Rayne into the bedroom. It felt incredibly good to lie down. Even better when Rayne slid next to him. He thought he would fall right asleep but now that he could he found it easier to hold off. For a few minutes he lay facing Ray, his fingers lightly tracing over his face, his neck, his shoulder, and back up. He lifted a tousled lock of Rayne’s hair, streaked with a glint of silver. “Is it going to stay like that?” he whispered.

“What, you don’t fancy the more mature looking bloke then?” Rayne pretended to look hurt, but he couldn’t stop the twitch of his lips that gave the game away. “Honest answer? I’ve no idea.”

“I like it.” Xavier decided. He kissed Rayne’s lips gently.

His mate responded, with evident relief. Rayne had been holding off from too much intimacy too quickly, unsure how Xavier would react. He did not have to ask what had been done to the boy, the shields were down between them now and had been since he knew Xav had been taken. It was why he could not concentrate on feeding or personal grooming or anything at all until he knew for sure that his lover was safe.

Jabez would give him grief tomorrow about not feeding properly but it was a secondary concern right now. So long as he was no danger to Xavier, Rayne was content for the time being. 

His mouth took possession of Xavier’s and he curled gentle arms around the young man, stroking him ever so tenderly, afraid of hurting him where Elian had been unable to heal the deeper bruises and muscle damage.

“I was so scared for you,” he whispered hoarsely into Xav’s mouth. “I wanted to come after you, but…” He looked away, hurt and embarrassed that he had not been able to help his young mate after everything Xavier had been through for him. 

“You’re here now, that’s what matters, right?” Xavier said, almost echoing his own words from earlier right back at him. 

He closed his eyes, snuggling up close to Rayne. Sleep pulled at him but his mind kept skipping and jumping to odd bits and pieces of the last few days; trying to put things in order and make sense of illogical things. Cole Lagrado was dead. Steffen was dead. He and Rayne had somehow survived it all and they were free. 

So was Elian Iannopoulos. 

That could be a problem. A very big problem, especially for him. Xav hadn’t really given PJ an answer when the older man had invited him to go to Italy with them. He didn’t have much of a choice though. When Elian had held him in the woods and touched his lips to the wound on his neck, he had felt the ancient vampire’s ravening desire for him. The hunger was more than just wanting to feed from him or fuck him. There was an almost grudging admiration that the vampire had let him feel, and he had somehow conveyed through the blood contact, that after many centuries alone he would not have been opposed to making Xavier as he was. He showed Xav how it would be to have a strong and beautiful companion forever at his side; to Turn him. The idea was both seductive and terrifying. 

All the way back to the car as Elian carried him in his arms, still dazed and in shock, the Ancient had whispered in his head a seductive enticement, a vision of how it would be to live eternally as his mate. And all that way Xavier had silently resisted. The vampire’s last thought, as he set Xavier on his unsteady feet, was that if Elian Iannopoulos wanted to Turn him, Xavier didn’t have any more choice in the matter than if he had wanted to kill him. 

It had chilled Xavier to the core. He’d stood weaving on his feet. Dominic just stood there looking at them as if they were still walking, nothing amiss, and cold panic gripped Xavier’s heart. He reached for the only defence he could think of. 

“You can’t. I still have Rayne’s mark. That means I belong to him, and you can’t touch me!” He had said it with far more confidence then he’d felt. 

Elian chuckled softly and Dominic seemed to wake from wherever he’d been as the handsome Elder turned his head to look at the Englishman seriously and issue his suggestion that they should leave right away. 

As afraid as he was, a tiny smile tugged at Xavier’s lips now when he thought of certain other things. Rayne had made some awfully possessive comments back at Elian’s apartment and whilst he was Lagrado’s prisoner. He wondered if they were just for the benefit of listening vampires. But then, here he was tonight, with eyes for no one but Xavier. His smile broadened at that as finally they drifted into sleep, twined easily around each other.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10