CHAPTER 13

 

You know he’s letting the boy get too close, don’t you?” Gabriel’s dark eyes were closed and his voice rich and sleepy as he sprawled on his back letting Dominic’s naked body rock slowly, astride him. It was barely dawn but his mate had always been an early riser, and when Dom was up for it no one got any sleep.

Dom’s warm, long-fingered hands massaged his breast steadily, running through the dark hair that was matted on his torso and belly. His hips moved back and forth vigorously, working the rigid member buried in his tight channel and making Gabriel growl appreciatively under him.

“Do you think that’s a bad thing?” the older man asked in a husky whisper.

“No-o-o… on the cont’ry, I think it’s good for him, but I worry about the kid. He’d let Wylde do anything to him, the way he’s feelin’ at the moment.”

“And you think I wouldn’t let you do anything to me right now, Mr Arden?” Dominic let the smile reach his voice as he ground down harder on his lover and moaned, his voice low and eager.

Gabriel’s warm hand curled around his jutting erection and began to pump steadily. Dominic made a small, aroused sound through his clenched teeth and rocked harder, fucking his lover’s fingers and riding the hot, filling presence inside him.

“Mmmm… that feels good, your Ladyship,” Gabe rumbled happily. “I know you’d let me have my way, but I’m never gonna hurt you, am I?”

Dominic put his hands flat against his mate’s hairy chest and used them to push himself back on Gabriel’s pulsing member, over and over. It felt so good just riding him this way that he sighed with pleasure.

“Why do you think Rayne’s going to hurt him?” he breathed at last. “He’s clearly head over heels with Xavier. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this with anyone before. Love normally makes him unhappy. Does he look unhappy to you?”

“He’s fightin’ it,” Gabriel pointed out, stroking his thumb pad over the leaking head of his lover’s erection. “He lets his guard down when he thinks there’s no one watchin’ though.”

“He’s in love, trust me on this one. I know the signs,” Dom purred contentedly. “You’ve seen the way they look at one another. Xavier trusts Ray with his life and Rayne… he’s almost like a child around Xav. They look after one another, Gabriel. It’s the sweetest thing.”

“You are soft in the head, you know that?” Gabe pulled Dominic down into his arms and rolled with the lean, horny mortal pressed close to his body, easing Lord Warren down under him on the bed and driving his hips between his lover’s slim thighs, making Dominic cry out eagerly.

“Ohhh… oh yes! Like that!” His arms wrapped around his werewolf mate’s neck and shoulders, pulling him down hungrily. They shared a kiss that could have melted a glacier and Gabriel thrust in him harder and faster, forcing little yelping cries from his mate’s throat in response.

“Wylde. Is. Dead.” Gabriel grunted rhythmically as he fucked the older man. “He’s not a fluffy little kitten, Dom. He’s a fuckin’ vampire. And a vampire that’s had addiction issues in life, to boot. If he needs blood and Xav is his only source, do you really think he’ll hold back?”

“I… I can’t believe that he’d do anything to hurt Xavier,” Dominic panted, shaking his head. “Just as I can’t believe that you’d ever do anything to physically harm me.”

“Oh really…?” Gabriel wriggled his eyebrows and made the other man laugh. That felt so good around his erection that he did it again. Then he pounded Dominic harder, grinding so deep inside his lover that Lord Warren cried out uncontrollably for him.

“Bet that hurt!” he whispered coarsely.

“In a good way!” Dom gasped, his long legs tight around Gabe’s bucking hips. “Sweet Goddess! I can’t believe how big you feel tonight! Maybe you should fuck his cold, dead arse a bit more often!” He lowered one hand to put a finger to Gabriel’s lips, silencing the denial before it was uttered. “Ssshhhh… you think I wouldn’t know? I don’t mind, Gabriel. I know that, no matter how much you both deny it, you like having him yield to you and he likes having someone best him in bed. It’s always turned him on, but now he’s stronger than most mortal lovers it’s a timely reminder for him that not everyone is his for the taking.”

Gabriel kissed him again, sliding his tongue into Dom’s mouth and pulling him closer. He was thrusting more rhythmically inside his mate now and Dominic rode each stroke energetically. For an old man he was immensely fit and very flexible. Gabe appreciated both traits enormously.

“I love you so much, Lady Warren,” he growled when their lips parted wetly. He kissed and licked the hot, sweat damp skin of his lover’s neck and throat and Dom cried out huskily as his slim body bucked and tightened, his balls emptying their payload copiously against Gabe’s bare belly. His clenching channel milked the were’s long, hard cock and Gabriel thrust into him hard, bursting deep inside him with a rumbling growl of desire.

For a little while they sprawled easily on the bed, still locked together at the hips and lips. Gabe held still until his sensitive cock head stopped throbbing, then knelt up, easing out of Dominic slowly. His lover sighed and rolled onto his side, letting the handsome Roma snuggle up against his bare back. They spooned up close, still kissing and cuddling as Gabriel eased his length back in and started to thrust slowly again.

“Mmmhhh… you are amazing,” Dominic murmured happily. “I am such a lucky girl.”

“You are, that!” Gabe chuckled in his ear, as they snuggled together comfortably.

“You know,” Dom mused as his mate slowly and tenderly made love to him again. “I think that if I’m going to teach Xavier anything, we need to divide and conquer with him and Rayne. When they’re together discipline goes right out of the window.”

“So you want me to keep his boyfriend occupied tomorrow? Is that what you’re sayin’?” Gabe whispered in his ear.

“Do you have a problem with that?” Dom half turned to look at him curiously.

“Nope,” Gabe replied with a horny grin.

“Well then!” Dominic snuggled down in his arms once more. “We’ll get cracking once breakfast has settled, yes?”

“You can be bloody ruthless when it suits you, you know that?” Gabriel chuckled in his ear.

“It’s a family trait,” Dom said casually. “One of the very few I inherited from my father.”

“Bet he’s turning in his grave if he can see you now!” Gabe Arden laughed wickedly, rubbing up against his mate with more enthusiasm.

“Good!” Dom said with relish.

He and his gypsy lover settled down to fuck hard again as the sky beyond their window slowly grew lighter and outside the sun began to rise.

Xav woke to morning light seeping through the windows. He blinked slowly, feeling more groggy then refreshed. At least he’d gotten some sleep last night after being woken up by that nightmare. His head was pillowed on Rayne’s shoulder and his lover was still, quite literally, dead to the world next to him, one arm wrapped lightly around him in a protective embrace. A small smile touched Xav’s lips. He had gotten used to falling asleep with Rayne and then waking up on his own. It was kind of nice to have him still here. He must have been utterly exhausted last night.

The memory of why he’d been so exhausted, at least in part, made his smile widen. His hand was laying on Rayne’s chest and he moved it upwards, letting the pad of his index finger bump very lightly over his nipple and watching it form a tiny peak. The tip of his tongue came out to flick over the nub and blow a cool breath over it, watching it contract even further.

“Mmmhh… fuck’n insatiable…” his lover murmured drowsily, his eyes still closed against the brightness spilling into the room. He pulled Xavier closer though, bending his head to nuzzle the younger man’s blond hair.

“You wouldn’t want me any other way.” Xavier breathed, pulling the nipple he’d been teasing between his lips and sliding his hand down Rayne’s belly into the well of his groin.

“Now I know why you wanted a vampire,” his mate chuckled contentedly, writhing under him and running his hands up and down Xavier’s naked back. “It all makes sense. You’d have killed an ordinary guy long before now!”

He was not unresponsive in Xav’s clever hands though. The boy knew which buttons to push and just how hard to push them. Rayne squirmed against him easily, making a low, humming noise in the back of his throat.

“I can’t help it.” Xav murmured, kissing his way down the centre of Rayne’s chest. “You make me horny.”

Rayne sprawled back easily in the pillows, stroking lazy fingers through Xavier’s blond curls.

“Course I do,” he answered with a small, fanged grin. “Only natural, innit?”

Xavier had made his way down to Rayne’s navel, his hand lifting his stiffening sex and his tongue swiping languidly over the crown. “Mm-hmm, it’s your innate sense of modesty. It’s such a turn on.” Xav grinned up at him before licking around his cockhead like he had the most delicious lollipop in his hand. Which from his own point of view, he did!

“And there I was thinking you were just hungry,” his lover purred, tilting his head back with his eyes closed and wriggling delightedly as Xavier’s tongue did wonderful things to his insides. “Ooohhhh… that feels so-o-o-o good, sweetheart!”

Last night the mood had been all about sensual teasing and drawing out the pleasure as long as possible. This morning Xav was in a more direct mood and he didn’t waste much time on preliminaries before getting down on Rayne for some serious cock sucking. Rayne didn’t seem to mind at all judging by the way he bucked steadily into his lover’s warm wet mouth and crooned with pleasure as Xav bobbed up and down on him.

“Mmmmhhh… yeah… c’mere!” Rayne panted, beckoning Xavier back up into his arms before the sexy blond took him past the point of no return. He practically towed Xav’s soft, salty lips onto his and kissed him ravenously, then rolled him onto his back on the rumpled duvet, his submissive mood turning rapidly to something more aggressive as they writhed against one another.

Xav was more than happy to settle back in the tangled sheets and let Rayne spread his thighs. His fingers slid into Rayne’s hair as their tongues sparred and he undulated against his lover. In turn, Rayne reversed their roles, wasting no time in pushing into his mate, firstly sliding his fingers into Xavier’s mouth as they kissed and tangled, then easing the wetness of those same digits between his pert cheeks. He rubbed his eager shaft between their bellies as his tongue worked into Xavier’s mouth once more. Then he was up, on his knees, pressing himself into his mate slowly on the bed.

“God that feels good!” he exhaled forcefully as he felt Xavier yield to him willingly. Xav’s fingers tightened on Rayne’s shoulders and his head tipped back. His eyes were half closed and dark with desire as he looked up at his lover.

“Ooohhh yeah…!” He pulled in a deep breath and Rayne pushed slowly but relentlessly into him. “Uhhhhh, baby, that’s so-o-o good!” It was too, so verygood. As much as he had enjoyed the night before, Xavier had missed this.

Rayne wanted to be gentle but at the same time his body wanted more and he yielded to that impulse now as he pressed Xavier into the bed, his mouth roaming over the softness of his lover’s neck and throat as he pulsed harder and more wantonly.

“Rrrrrrr… yesss, that feels so much better already,” he growled contentedly, feeling Xav lock around him like a crab, pulling him in deeper. “No more bad dreams last night, huh? You’re certainly full of energy this morning!”

“No, you must have… uhhhh” Xavier groaned as Rayne sheathed himself entirely inside him. “…chased them all away,” he finished breathlessly, rocking his hips enticingly against Rayne’s groin.

His lover moved up over him, thrusting hard and long within the cradle of Xavier’s loins. It was amazing just how perfectly he fitted in there, as if even Xav’s tight little arse was designed with his cock in mind. Hot and snug, the boy always felt fantastic around him and Rayne simply couldn’t get enough. He wished with all his heart that he could just concentrate on the pleasure of fucking and not worry about the horrible night visions his mate had been suffering, but it was plaguing him even now.

Xav must have been carrying the knowledge of what happened to him in Paris around for ages, unable to unburden himself. Little wonder that he sometimes seemed sorrowful and distracted. When they first arrived in London, Rayne had worried that he was homesick for the sunshine of California, but now he suspected that his partner’s malaise was something much darker than simply pining for the beaches. He bucked hard and fast to try and distract both himself and his lover from thoughts of the nightmare. It was over and they had both survived it. Now their primary concern was just to make the most of what they had, surely?

Rayne laughed to himself, shaking his head at the realisation that he could even think such a thought after everything he had been through. Himself and Xavier? Jesus! It was real. Maybe Aldo had been right back in Italy and he wasbeginning to think of Xavier in that kind of way. And that in itself was scary. But exciting too!

At that moment Xavier was neither fretting about the nightmares he’d been having nor homesick for his sunny native climate. He had the rare ability to let things go when he wanted to, which was often a good thing, but not the best for him when those things he didn’t want to deal with insisted on coming back up to haunt him. For now though the only thing he was enjoying dealing with was the way Rayne’s cock felt pulsing deep inside him, the feel of his lover’s arms around him, and the silken feel of his lips gliding over his skin.

They rocked on the bed together, thrusting and grinding in a frantic heat that was no less intense for all that it was hurried. Xav had his legs wrapped around Rayne’s backside, his knees bent and pushed up to accommodate him. Morning time was never his best for stamina and he could already feel the climb, feel the need building toward a quaking explosion. He hadn’t really exaggerated when he’d been stroking Rayne’s ego along with his cock. The vampire did make him fabulously horny!

“Uh uh uh, yyesss… oh god, baby… that is amazing!” he breathed, his voice pitching slightly higher as he drew closer and closer.

“Awww… come for me,” Rayne purred, nursing him higher and higher, stroking into him long and hard as he kissed and nibbled his mate’s neck and shoulder, letting his lips and teeth run up to the lobe of Xavier’s ear then down to his collarbone as he ground his lean hips between Xavier’s sleek, golden thighs. “You are such a sweet, sexy boy… oh yeah! Yeah… gonna burst so hard in you, angel.”

Xav’s breath was hitching in little gasps, his eyes sliding closed and his back arching. The rhythmic little sounds he made as Rayne pounded into him suddenly lengthened then dropped away sharply.

“Uh uh uh uhhhhhhh… oh!” His cock twitched and drooled where it was trapped between them and then pulsed with the spurts of his hot cum.

Rayne caught his breath as he felt Xavier go tight around him, then relax and begin to milk him in vigorous spasms that were practically impossible to resist. He groaned enthusiastically and pressed deep, holding himself inside his mate as he felt his answering salvo fire off vigorously in Xavier’s flexing channel.

His lips were pressed to Xavier’s ear as he whispered; “Lady Warren’s going to be very pissed off. You’ve still not mastered holding it back, have you, sweetheart? Still… means I get a little breakfast!”

Grinning breathlessly he kissed his way down Xavier’s heaving chest and began to lick playfully at the wetness on his belly.

“I wasn’t thinking about holding it back.” Xav said, grinning back at him as Rayne lapped at his cum like a cat with cream.

The mention of breakfast must have woken Xav’s other insatiable appetite though because his tummy made a little rumble as Rayne was finishing licking up his spilled spunk. He needed to take a shower too, he felt so sticky he was surprised he wasn’t glued to the bed sheets.

Having given him a tongue bath, Rayne actually came with him into the shower as well and thoroughly enjoyed the spill of hot water all over his skin as he washed Xavier down. He was playful rather than teasing now, sensing that his mate was hungry for more than just sex and only wanting to enjoy the extra moments of nakedness with him.

“You are beautiful,” he whispered tenderly, as they curled around one another under the steaming cascade.

Xav kissed the soft wet skin just below Rayne’s ear, smiling. “So are you, and you are so good to me.”

The slippery tangle of their bodies was starting to tempt them both by then, but Rayne laughed and shook his head, breaking the spell before they got carried away yet again. Xavier was cheerful enough about it, he knew there was always time later and he was getting rather hungry for other things now. When they got out of the shower Xav wrapped a towel around his waist and dried his hair with another before they headed back into the bedroom. They left the tangled well-used mess of the bed and returned to their own room to find clothing.

The bedroom door was still closed when they got there, and Xav hesitated before knocking, not wanting to wake Gabe and Dom up if they were still sleeping. A rumbling call from the other side the door let him know that although their hosts were still in there they were awake, and Gabe had sensed them even without a knock. Xav opened the door and slipped in, looking fresh and well satisfied in his still slightly damp skin and towel. Dominic was curled around the powerful, hairy body of his shape-shifting mate as they lay on the bed, naked and uncovered, both clearly contented with their lot. Gabe’s arms were wrapped easily around Dominic’s upper torso, holding him close and Lord Warren’s head rested on his shoulder in the tangled spill of Gabe’s long black and white hair. They were both sweat slick and drowsy with postprandial pleasure but not upset to see Xav looking so fresh and obviously satisfied.

“You’ll be wanting feeding then?” Gabriel rumbled knowingly. “Gotta keep your strength up for him.”

He nodded towards Rayne, who was leaning in the doorway, stark naked, his arms folded across his chest. The vampire bared his teeth in an expression that certainly wasn’t a friendly grin.

“And, we have some work to do this morning,” Dom reminded the blond lad, mock-sternly before hostilities were reopened.

“I’ve been working on it, I swear,” Xav said, fixing his pretty blue eyes on Dominic with feigned innocence.

That got him a snort. “Yes, and during all that practice how hard have you tried, hmm?”

Xav just grinned at him unrepentantly. “Should I even bother getting dressed then?”

“You don’t particularly have to, no,” Gabe said.

Xavier chuckled at him but he did find a pair of jeans to put on. He took his time wriggling into them too, knowing without a doubt two sets of eyes from the bed and one from the doorway were watching appreciatively. He didn’t begrudge them though, he was in a good mood this morning, happy and playful and full of energy despite not having been sleeping well lately.

“You’re not gonna be too long are you? I’m like…starvingto death!” he chirped as he hunted for a clean tee shirt.

Gabe was eyeing him wolfishly but Dominic pushed at his lover’s shoulder as he sat up.

No. We’ll leave you two to dress,” Dominic said, and as they went out Rayne went in to find something to put on as well.

A little over thirty minutes later the unconventional group of housemates had assembled around the vast kitchen table where Rayne and Xavier had entertained their host the previous day. Xav was inhaling the delicious aromas rising from the cooking range whilst Dominic poured freshly made coffee and orange juice and his lover juggled the various plates and pans containing breakfast. Rayne was fiddling with his phone, a new toy, since he had a tendency for breaking and losing them that made their possession an expensive habit.

“Have you tried switching it on, darling?” Dominic asked, kissing his damply tousled hair as he peered over the vampire’s shoulder.

“Don’t get smart. I think it’s dead,” Rayne pronounced gloomily. “I only bought the damned thing just before we came up here!”

“You haverecharged it, yes?” Lord Warren looked at him sceptically.

“I forgot to bring the charger,” Rayne admitted, rather more sheepish now.

“It’s a similar model to mine, you can try my charger after breakfast,” the older man offered now, and was the recipient of a grateful smile. He knew how Rayne hated to be out of the loop for too long and Matt would get fractious if he couldn’t raise a response after a day or two.

The vampire tucked the slimline phone into a back pocket as Gabriel set a plate laden with crisp bacon and plump brown sausages, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes topped with golden cheese and sizzling potato cakes on the table in their midst. He used the distraction to slip outside for a cigarette, feeling slightly nauseous all of a sudden. Xavier’s eyes tracked after him for a moment before returning to the food being placed on the table. For just a second there he had felt slightly queasy himself, but he knew he was only picking it up from Rayne and the feeling passed almost as soon as it came on. Thoughtfully he unburdened some of the serving platters onto his own plate.

Since he’d developed this problem with picking up on everyone else’s emotions he’d been pretty much able to tell what was his emotions and what was coming from outside and influencing his mood. Except when it came to Rayne. That line was blurred a bit more. It was getting harder for him to know what feelings were really his, and what belonged to his lover. That thought was a little scary. Close was one thing, but how close was tooclose?

Not only that, but Rayne’s moods weren’t exactly the most stable in the world. Just this morning alone he had gone up and down and sideways a half dozen times between what was in his own head, and what he was picking up from not just Rayne but Gabriel too.

Dominic at least seemed neutral, or closed off to him, thank god. He didn’t know how much more of this roller coaster he could take.

Dom glanced across the table at him now, fork halfway to his mouth.

“You okay?” he asked, sensitive as ever to his guests and their moods.

Gabriel snared a sausage and bit down on the end of it enthusiastically.

“Wylde’s got the blood hunger, it’s makin’ his little sunbeam a bit queasy,” he said, too knowingly, with his mouth full.

Dominic frowned at his lover impatiently. “Don’t chew and talk at the same time, it’s not your most alluring trait.”

Xav hid a small smile behind a drink of orange juice. They were cute together when Dom was scolding and Gabe was completely unrepentant.

“I can answer for myself, you know,” he felt compelled to add, although his tone was mild.

“Did you have any more… troubling dreams?” Dominic asked him.

The little smile faltered and vanished from Xav’s face. He licked his lips and nodded once before taking a bite of toast with strawberry jam. He wasn’t sure if he could stomach sausage right then.

There was a lull in conversation for a few moments, and then Dom said, “It may be just anxiety Xavier, or a side effect of not being able to have your psychic shielding up fully.”

Xav lifted his eyes to look at Dominic, then glanced over at the door the way Rayne had gone and back to the older man. “I dreamed about what happened to him in Paris. I saw his… I saw what happened to him, after.” He took another drink, swallowing convulsively and wondering if Dominic would mind if he added some vodka to it. “That was part of it anyway,” he finished evasively.

Dominic looked back at him with startled eyes.

“Does Rayne know?” he asked, setting his fork down slowly. “Does he realise that you know he died, I mean? He’s never discussed it. Since we brought him back he hasn’t said a word about what happened; not to ask or to explain. I wasn’t even sure that he understood it was real.”

Xavier’s eyes darted nervously over to the doorway again and back. He did not really want to have this discussion, and he certainly did not want Rayne to know he was talking about it. He nodded once. “Yeah. He knows.”

Dominic sucked in a little breath through his teeth and nodded quietly to himself as if something made sense to him now. Though Gabriel had not stopped eating he did so more soberly, watching them both as his hand moved the fork from plate to mouth.

“I’ll hear him before either of you if he comes back in,” he pointed out now.

“You said there was something else?” Dominic pressed in a low voice. “That the nightmares weren’t just about Paris?”

Xav fiddled uneasily with his toast, taking a bite and chewing automatically but not enjoying his food with his usual relish. “After I saw Rayne…” He had to take a breath, “After I saw him, like that… the dream shifted back to that room, with the guy whose face I can’t see, and I could hear Clint talking in the background, but I couldn’t make it out clearly. I only got a sense of fear… like he was pleading.”

Dominic blinked like a man coming out of a deep sleep. For a moment he seemed about to say something then changed his mind. At last he murmured; “I think we probably need to work on your shielding as soon as possible. But this is… it’s disturbing. Your dreams have never been premonitions before, have they? Usually they’re past events or something that you see as it happens. Would you say that’s true?”

Xav’s expression closed off some, but he shook his head slowly. “Usually if I have a nightmare it’s stuff from the past mixed up with whatever I’m going through, or just crazy stuff. I’ve always had weird vivid dreams.”

“And do they always bother you like this?” Dominic asked him with a dry smile.

“Sometimes. Not usually. Dom, can we talk about something else?” Xav asked, his discomfort with the topic evident.

“Of course darling, what would you like to talk about?”

“Anything, I don’t care… tell me more about the ritual we’re gonna do.”

Gabriel mopped his plate with a hefty doorstop of warm, fresh bread as Dominic settled down to talk magic. The were observed them in silence for a little while then pushed himself to his feet, still chewing.

“I’ll get the dishes later. Need to check on somethin’ first,” he murmured into his lover’s ear during a lull in the verbal outpouring, then headed off towards the kitchen doorway with a purposeful expression on his face.

Dominic looked curiously at his retreating back as he wandered out into the winter garden but for once he did not call Gabriel to heel. Smiling determinedly, he returned his full attention to Xavier.

“It’s perfectly safe. The energies we will be raising are totally beneficent, not like working with dark magic. Too many people have absolutely the wrong idea about that,” he proclaimed cheerfully, like a slightly eccentric schoolteacher. “We create energy all of the time in everything we do, and so little of it actually gets put to any physical or practical use. The ritual I’m going to teach you is about channelling that spare energy and directing it into a useful purpose.”

“Right Dom, I got that. But what are we actually going to do, other then gettin’ off I mean?” Xavier wanted to know, more interested in the mechanics of the spell than the hocus pocus.

“We will cast a circle first, for protection…”

“I thought you said it wasn’t dangerous?”

“It isn’t, if you take precautions. Whenever you raise a lot of energy there are entities that are attracted to it. The circle makes sure they keep a respectable distance. It’s also sacred space.”

Xav smirked. “What is it with you guys wanting to fuck in churches?”

Dominic smiled back at him. “I revere the Lord and Lady, Xavier, and their rede says All acts of love and pleasure are mine….”

That was sort of a new concept for Xavier and he turned that over in his head while Dominic went on about the next part of the spell.

“Physical representation of what we are trying to manifest will be important for you, so we will use anointing oil to draw the shield onto your body. The energy raised will be focused on empowering the shield.”

Xavier gave him a sceptical look. “Are you sure this isn’t just an excuse you’ve made up to get me oiled up and have an orgy?” He winked at the older man though to let him know he was only teasing, sort of.

“Drat, you foiled my cunning plan!” Dominic exclaimed with a little sigh. “You’re too clever by half, my dear boy.”

He snared another slice of toast and nibbled on it almost delicately. His eyes were twinkling though, clearly signposting his enthusiasm for the exercise. Xavier shrugged, playing along with him for the time being.

“Hmm… oiled and horny… I suppose there are worseways to spend my morning!”

“The oil will give you a visual, something to focus on during the rite,” Dom said, still trying not to grin at him. “Plus, it smells and feels very pleasant once you start to, um, to warm up.”

“Rayne is right. You are a total perv Dom,” Xav pronounced, still grinning slightly.

“He oversimplifies. I am a pure hedonist, my dear. And proud of it,” his host teased, wagging a finger at him then putting the tip in his mouth and sucking it coyly.

Xav chuckled and shook his head. As he finished his breakfast he realised he was a little nervous about this whole thing. Not so much about the sex part, but all the arcane stuff and what happened if he couldn’t do what Dom wanted him to do?

His host seemed to sense it in the sudden unnatural quietness of his behaviour. He leaned over as they were clearing the breakfast plates and gave him a quick hug.

“Nothing bad will happen to you,” he promised sincerely. “The Lord & Lady don’t believe in fear or humiliation. It’s not what we’re about, I swear to you. We’ll be with you every step of the way. Just relax, darling. Okay?”

“I’m not worried anything bad will happen, Dom.” Xav said, trying for a reassuring smile. “I just don’t know if I can do what you want me to do, and Rayne doesn’t even think it’s possible so…” He gave a little shrug. For all that his lover was a vampire and had friends that were werewolves and witches, he was still a seeing-is-believing kind of guy.

“Rayne Wylde is a sceptic,” Dominic laughed, shaking his head as if he didn’t quite believe it either. “Three months Turned and he still didn’t really believe in vampires. I think that he was holding out for it being some kind of extended acid trip! Poor boy, a creature less likely to succeed as Undead I have yet to meet, but somehow he’s managed to survive. That says a lot for his ability to adapt, don’t you think? And he’s slowly learning to trust, which is all you need to do this afternoon. Just trust me. You do, don’t you?”

Xavier looked startled at the question. It had been asked in an off hand way, and Xavier could have just made a joke or side-stepped it, but he finally answered in a more serious tone; “Yeah Dominic, I do.”

What was really bizarre was that he wasn’t lying. He did trust Dominic, and that was so rare a thing that Dominic was only one of two people that Xav could say that about. Xavier was every bit as jaded and distrustful as Rayne, probably even more so, but he was a whole lot better at not letting anyone know it. Rayne radiated a sort of world-weary cynicism to everyone around that clearly let them know they’d never breach his boundaries. Xav had a charming open manner that was just the opposite and yet very, very few people got within his defences.

Perhaps Dominic was conscious of it because he bent to kiss the top of Xavier’s head and murmured; “Good lad,” before leaving the breakfast dishes for Gabriel’s entertainment when he returned.

“Shouldn’t we…?” Xavier glanced at the large pile of washing up almost guiltily.

“No,” Dom grinned. “Maybe it will teach him not to make promises he doesn’t really intend to keep.”

Xav followed Dominic out of the kitchen and through the house, down the long corridor opposite the library, at the end of which was another door. This led to an almost circular room that was devoid of furniture except for a large cabinet to one side and a low table with various statues, candles, crystals, and other bric-a-brac that Xav recognised as an altar. It was set under one of the large windows, with wooden shutters thrown back, that filled the room with morning light. On the floor was a sumptuous rug thick enough to dig bare toes into and a few dozen large pillows that looked perfect for sitting or lounging around on.

Xavier looked around the room with his thumbs hooked in his front pockets while Dominic rummaged around in the cabinet retrieving various pouches and vials and things.

“This is my ritual room,” Dominic explained. “I like to meditate in here too.”

Xavier just nodded, seeing how this peaceful room would indeed be conductive to vegging out. It smelled nice too, like incense and herbs.

“Is this where we’re gonna do the thing?” he asked.

“It’s where I usually work when the weather is too inclement for outdoor circles,” Dominic explained as he set out some small glass vials along the edge of the low cherry wood table, carved with exotic figures that looked Indian in design but more Celtic in execution. The table was the focal point of the room, to the right of the doorway, set back against one of the long sections of wall. Somehow Xavier knew right away that the kind of ‘work’ he was talking about had nothing to do with desks and offices. “I use this as an altar. My High Priestess owns an antique shop, and she has rather a good eye for this kind of thing. Pull up a cushion, make yourself at home, get comfortable with the space. I would recommend taking a bath before the ritual itself but there’s no hurry.”

Xav flopped down casually into a pile of cushions, although he didn’t exactly feel all that casual. He didn’t know why he should be nervous really. Dominic was not going to hurt him, he wasn’t even going to do anything Xav didn’t want him to do. There was nothing dangerous here, but he couldn’t shake it. It wasn’t outright fear, just a sort of nerves from the unknown, almost like a bit of stage fright.

“What’s in the little vials?” he asked to distract himself. “Poppers?”

Dominic gave a laugh that was almost a snort and shook his head. “No, my dear.” He tapped one of the little crystal bottles with a fingernail. It made a sweet chiming sound like a fairy with hiccups.

“Just a little something to help us relax and open up our chakra points. Nothing to worry about, they’re all home brewed and quite divine. I made extra ylang-ylang for Rayne’s heart chakra, he tends to need it!”

“What’re chakra points?” Xav asked.

“What are…?” Dominic looked incredulously at Xavier. “You lived in San Francisco! There is a New Age shop on every other corner. Haven’t you ever gone into one?”

Xav just shook his head and Dominic took a deep patient breath.

“They are energy centres on the body. There are many, but we usually only need to worry about the seven primary ones,” Dom exhaled the breath slowly, shaking his head as if he sensed that this would be a long, steep, learning curve. “Lie down for a moment, I’ll show you where they are.”

Xavier did as he was told, settling on the thick, soft pile of the rug with a cushion under his head and Dominic came over to him holding a crystal that was attached to a length of white silken cord.

“Now you see, I can tell if you have any blocks in your chakras by the feel of them generally, but it helps to have a visual clue as well. If the pendulum doesn’t move, or swings in a line that chakra needs to be cleared and opened. If it moves in a circle it’s already open.”

Dominic held the crystal above Xavier, over his crotch first, which made Xavier giggle until Dominic hushed him. Apparently there were no problems in that area, nor the next few as Dominic continued to move the hanging pendulum up his body, making little ‘mm-hm’ noises like a doctor. Witch Doctor maybe, Xav thought and suppressed another snicker.

Everything seemed to be fine, the little crystal pendulum swinging in small, rapid circles, until Dominic reached his head. As he moved the crystal just over his forehead Xav had a memory of the two on them back in San Fran sitting on a bench and Dom put his finger on that spot just above his eyes in the centre of his forehead and told him to concentrate. The world had gone very quiet, all the background ‘noise’ he was used to feeling from other people just vanished. It had been scary, like suddenly going blind and deaf.

Now as Dominic moved the crystal there it stopped and hung absolutely still, almost like a magnet was pulling it straight down.

“Hmm…”

“Hmm? Hmm, what?” Xavier asked, not liking the frown on Dominic’s face.

“Nothing bad darling, just unexpected. I had thought with your dreams… never mind. It seems your third eye chakra is closed. We’ll have to get the energy flowing there again that’s all.” Dominic looked at him pacifically but Xavier wasn’t comforted at all.

“Wait. Third eye? Isn’t that like, the psychic stuff? Isn’t that how I pick up on all the background buzz, what people are feeling? The third eye thing? You told me before, if I concentrate on closing it down then the…” He waved a hand, looking for the right word, “…the ‘interference’ wouldn’t be so loud, and it worked. So if it’s closed… what the hell’s gonna happen if it’s open? I can hardly be in public now!”

“Xavier, you’re getting tangled up in the phrasing, my dear. Energy centres don’t function like that. Don’t think of it as open or closed, think of it as working or not working. Having it ‘closed’ means it isn’tworking properly. In fact, that might be why you’re experiences some of these problems.”

Xavier frowned at him but didn’t make any further protest. What did he know about it anyway? Only what Dom had told him, and he was saying now that it was alright, so…?

“Close your eyes for a moment,” Dominic instructed.

Xavier closed his eyes and a moment later he smelled something sweet and light and then Dom touched his finger to his forehead and Xav felt him draw something there that lingered wetly on his skin.

“Just relax Xavier, take a deep breath… remember the meditation exercises I taught you? Good… now another, breathe in, relax, breath out…see the spiral shape just above your eyes… You have it? Good. Keep breathing, in and out, slowly, consciously.”

Xavier didn’t nod or move as far as he knew, but somehow Dominic must have known he had the visual in his head. Spiral light, just above his eyes in the centre of his forehead. It sort of pulsed there, but didn’t move. The light look cold. Frozen. Dominic’s voice sounded like he was talking from the end of a tunnel now but Xav heard him clear enough. The echoing voice told him to make the spiral move, spin it sunwise, slowly. Xav felt the spiral budge reluctantly, like a creaky old wheel that needed oil, but it finally began to move and then spin. The blue-white light it gave off glowed brighter and brighter until it filled his vision entirely. So beautiful…so peaceful…he could watch the light forever.

“Xavier…! Xavier…!

Xav blinked slowly, then stared up at Dominic’s worried face as he shook his shoulder. He blinked a couple more times. “What?”

“Are you alright?”

“I think so, yeah. Why?”

“I called you back a few times, and you didn’t answer.” Dominic looked slightly bemused.

“Oh, um…I didn’t hear you. Sorry. Did it work?”

Dom stared at him for a few moments and finally nodded. Yes, it had worked. It had worked very well. Sitting next to this untrained boy while he worked with the energy of his psychic centre had been like touching a live wire. The power of it flowed over his body and lit up Xavier’s aura like a mini sun. He glowed and sparkled with it. There were experienced practitioners that would be envious of possessing even half that power and the boy didn’t even know he had it.

“You are… astonishingly receptive, and I don’t even think you know it,” Dominic murmured, coming to sit down on one of the huge cushions beside him. He touched Xavier’s forehead again, very lightly with the tip of his forefinger. “I have worked with talented novices for decades, Xavier and I’ve rarely come across anyone with so strong a natural gift. If you channel your energies half as well when I get you into a circle, we’ll have enough power to light the house for a year!”

His smile said that he was joking about that last part but not by much.

That brought a little crease of worry back to Xavier’s brow though and he licked his lips uncertainly. “I still don’t know if I can do what you want though Dom.”

“Nonsense,” Dominic chided gently. He took Xavier’s hands in his then, stroking them soothingly as he talked. “You’ve followed my instructions to the letter so far, my dear. You visualise well and you’ve already demonstrated that you’re perfectly comfortable in a sexual situation with the pair of us. Is it the holding off that’s worrying you? It’s not going to be a disaster if you don’t manage to do it right first time, you know. You’ll still create energy, just in a lot of small bursts. And once you know how to do it, there’s nothing to say that you and Ray can’t keep on practising after you go back to London.”

Xav shook his head, a small rueful smile touching his lips. “It’s not that I mind the practising Dom, but I want this to work the first time. I want to be able to walk down the street an’ not feel everyone in my head. I used to sort of know how people were feeling anyway, I’d just look at them and know ‘that guy is having a bad day’or ‘she’s really happy’. Now I don’t just pick up on it, I feelit. It changes my own mood. At the airport I felt like… like I was going to lose myself.

“This has to work, Dom. Whatever is wrong with me, it started when Rayne was in Paris… and now I’m dreaming about that and wasn’t even there. Maybe… maybe when he got hurt I did too, like through the bond? Only he’s healed up and I don’t know how, so… fuck, I don’t know Dom, I don’t know about this stuff. I just need my shield fixed.”

Dominic was looking at him very seriously now, but his words when he finally spoke were slightly unexpected.

“Xavier, I think that whatever caused this happened beforeRayne went to Paris. He and I have spoken about it before but then I didn’t have an explanation for it. I’m not sure that I do now, in fact,” he sighed, running a hand through his pale curls in frustration. “You and he were both sensitive to moods and emotions before the blood bond and, in his case, before he was Turned. I think that the bites he gave you, especially the ones where you shared blood, didn’t just open the bond between you, but it made your gift that much stronger. And when he… when…” Dominic faltered, uncharacteristically struggling for words.

“When he died,” Xavier said flatly.

His friend nodded slowly, swallowing as he recovered himself.

“Yes… yes,” he murmured quietly. “When he was in Paris, what happened to him…it blew that bond between you wide open so that you actually took a little part of him into you and he took a little part of you into him. It’s only speculation but I think that is something like what may have happened. Whatever it was, it saved his life.”

Xavier quietly absorbed that, and the unsaid implications along with it. If what Dominic thought was true… what would happen to Rayne if something happened to Xavier? Or vice versa? If Rayne died, again, would it kill him this time? If Xavier died, would he pull Rayne down with him? These worrisome thoughts were not going to do him any good though, and there was nothing he could do about it even if it were true, so he very deliberately shut them away, refusing to look at it anymore, for today anyhow.

“Ok,” Xav said, taking a breath to clear his thoughts. “Ok, then, maybe I should just concentrate on the energy raising thing. I guess I should go find Rayne.”

Dominic leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead then pushed himself to his feet with a weary smile.

“I’m going to have a nice long soak,” he said, affably. “I left some delicious bath oils in the bedroom so do feel free to use them. And if you find that good for nothing mate of mine, remind him that he has dishes to wash before he takes his dip.”

Xavier headed back through the kitchen and out the back, unerringly following the same path Rayne and Gabriel had both taken earlier. He didn’t track with his nose the way Gabe might have, or even follow aura trails, he just let his feet walk and trusted they’d take him where he wanted to go. If he feltanything along the way it didn’t register except maybe at an unconscious level that kept him going in the right direction.

He might not have sniffed out their trail, but he definitely caught the whiff of bud as he got close to where they were and he shook his head with a little smile. He hoped that if they were getting stoned together, at least it meant they weren’t trying to tear each other’s balls off.

Gabriel Arden followed the curious static aura trail of the agitated little vampire out into the open and across the vast lawn in the walled arbour. It was not difficult to track Rayne Wylde, but he could not be followed in the normal way. Much of Gabriel’s tracking skill was lupine in nature and relied heavily on scent, and of course the vampire had none. It was one of the things that made Gabe so uncomfortable around him. Not having a scent was just un-natural. He was like an olfactory black hole to the werewolf’s sensitive nose.

He did impact on the atmosphere around him though and his aura was completely unlike that of anything human, it left minute traces of itself everywhere that he went. Most humans wouldn’t see or feel it, but to Gabriel it was like a great big signpost pointing down the garden that read “He Went That-a-way!”

“Are you stalking me?” Rayne asked in a sullen tone when his tall, Romany shadow caught up with him.

“Nope,” Gabe lied, shaking his head emphatically. “Totally not. What you hiding out here for?”

“I’m not hiding,” Rayne said defensively.

“Much.”

“I just needed some air.”

“Not.” Gabriel sat down on the protuberant root of a wide spreading oak tree and grinned at him. “Got a light?”

The vampire took one of the proffered roll-ups wordlessly and touched his pocket lighter to both until the pair of them were wreathed in a soft haze of smoke. He leaned back against the bole of the tree with a smoky sigh and shook his head.

“So… why areyou following me?” he asked in a less aggressive tone of voice.

“I wondered if you’d started to figure out what Xavier’s dreams are all about yet?” Gabriel said to him contemplatively. He sucked on the roach of his cigarette and blew out a long plume of pale smoke that drifted up into the branches overhead, barely touched by the light breeze.

“He’s just a bit paranoid at the moment,” Rayne said dismissively. “He’s not totally over the idea that something’s gonna take me away from him.”

“And is it?” Gabe looked interested in this answer. He studied his companion’s inscrutable features as the vampire considered his response.

“Not right now, no.”

“So you’re gonna settle down with him then?” Gabriel grinned incredulously. “Rayne Wylde finally picks a mate. One that lasts more than a couple o’ nights!”

“Shut up.” Pale green eyes glared back at him balefully. Rayne sucked hard on the joint and blew smoke in the were’s handsome face.

Gabe just chuckled at him. “He’s really got to you, hasn’t he?”

“Look at it like this,” Rayne exhaled wearily. “He’s cool, he’s sorted, he understands where I’ve been in a psychological and a physical sense, cos he’s been there too, and he isn’t freaked out by the idea of having a dead boyfriend. What’s not to like?”

“Plus,” Gabriel added “he’s hot, he’s tight and he goes like a train with no brakes comin’ down Box Hill!”

“Granted,” Rayne acknowledged with a half-smile.

“So he’s got nothin’ to worry about, has he?” The gypsy were looked sidelong at him, a question lingering in his eyes.

Rayne was quiet for a long moment. “He’s dating death on two legs, there’s always somethingto worry about,” he sighed at last.

They smoked in silence for a little while until the roll-ups were exhausted. Gabriel stubbed out his against the rough ground between the tree roots. Rayne pinched the last smouldering embers between his finger and thumb and flicked the disintegrating debris away.

“I didn’t know he knew about your kid,” Gabe said gravely.

“I didn’t know youknew about my kid!” Rayne narrowed his eyes at the werewolf irritably. “Do I have anysecrets that Lady Warren hasn’t whispered to you in bed?”

“Not so many,” Gabriel flashed back, unfazed. “He still hasn’t told me the whole story ’bout Paris. I’m puttin’ two and two together though.”

“What happened in Paris isn’t any of your business, Gabe Arden,” the vampire warned him quietly.

“It is when my Sun and Stars wakes up cryin’ in the night because he can’t get the memories of it out of his head,” Gabriel told him, the first hint of anger edging his words now. “It is when I can see your boy’s struggling with bad dreams of his own and he don’t know how to talk to you about ’em.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Rayne said atonally, wrapping his arms around his slender legs and hugging them to his body restlessly.

“That’s your ring-fence isn’t it? Shut the truth away and lock the gate. Nothin’ to talk about!” Gabriel shook his head unhappily. “So you’re gonna leave him to worry that you’re psycho andsuicidal; that one day you might go off and find a big bad were to finish what was started in Paris, huh?”

“Shut. Up.” Rayne glared at him. “You really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about Gabriel. I’m not clueless, I’m not psychotic and I’ve certainly not got a death wish. How pointless would that be?”

“So what happened in Paris?” his companion leaned closer, his grin suddenly conspiratorial once again.

“What part of ‘none of your business’ did you not understand?” Rayne asked him with a narrow stare.

“You died in a cellar and didn’t turn to dust. Now that’s something worth understanding,” Gabriel said in a pragmatic tone. “I’ve never seen a vamp staked properly that didn’t go to dust. So either your were boyfriend didn’t do the job properly or there’s another reason. Aren’t you even slightly curious to know?”

“Point one; I don’thave a were boyfriend. Point two; it wasn’ta were that staked me in Paris, he was mortal. Point three; no… not especially.” Rayne licked his lips nervously and looked away craving another smoke. “I’m here, and I’m glad. It was a mistake, leaving Xavier behind in Naples and I won’t make it again. I don’t want to look back, Gabriel. I did a terrible thing to him and I know it, but looking back at what I did wrong isn’t going to change anything. I just want to move forward.”

“Granted.” Gabriel nodded, echoing his earlier acknowledgement. “No one’s going to stop you, Wylde. Only yourself.”

Rayne looked at him. “Why do I sense that there’s a butcoming?”

The werewolf reached into his shirt pocket and produced another roll up, this one a little fatter and more homespun in appearance. He looked a question at his undead companion now.

“Should we be smoking weed when your mate wants us to do magic and shit this afternoon?” Rayne asked him levelly.

“We’re not doing big dark spells,” Gabe Arden flashed back with a grin. “Just a bit of Tantric power raising. You can do that stoned, can’t you? Or are you one of these that can’t get it up when you’re off your head?”

Rayne extracted his lighter, knowing a challenge when he heard one. Gabriel cupped his hands around the joint and drew gently on the flicker of flame, never taking his eyes off Rayne’s hungry face.

“You miss this, don’t you?” he breathed at last in a stream of sweet, blue grey smoke, once the tip was glowing red hot.

“What do you think?” Rayne answered in a sullen tone. He was still watching the roll up in Gabe’s fingers covetously. “Weed’s the only thing that still has half an ounce of impact on me. It’s not the same though.”

“No, I guess not,” Gabriel sighed, passing the joint over and watching him pull on it reverently.

The effect of the soothing herbal smoke was visible though. Rayne chilled out for the first time since Gabriel had caught up with him in the woods. The Roma watched him suck it down into his lungs and hold it there with the practiced ease of a life-long smoker, eyes sliding shut as he leaned back on the broad bole of the oak tree behind him. At last he blew out the smoke through his nostrils and passed the joint back over without opening his eyes.

“Good stuff, yeah?” Gabe observed with a grin that slid into his words and did not need to be seen. “Homegrown’s always the best.”

“Where does he get this shit from?” Rayne practically purred as he relaxed against the tree.

Gabe took a long toke on the joint between his fingers and blew slow smoke rings up into the verdant branches overhead. When the last little halo of cloudy bliss was exhaled he murmured; “Ask no questions…”

Rayne reached out for the roll-up and Gabriel slipped it between his fingers, letting his own caress the vampire’s cold palm as he did so.

“Coming from you… who is like, the fountainhead of questions, that is…” Rayne waved his free hand as if he could net the words he was looking for; “that is just taking the piss.”

“I like answers,” Gabriel said affably.

“There are no answers.” The vampire sucked on the joint between his slim fingers and shook his head. He breathed; “If there were easy answers then… we’d have no problems, yeah?”

“Answer me just one, all right. And then I’ll leave it,” Gabe said determinedly.

Black lashes slid back, unveiling eyes the colour of the sunlit leaves overhead. Rayne looked at him out of pupils as wide and black as buttons. Gabriel swallowed once, not afraid, but certainly aroused. He did not trust the vamp as far as he could throw the little shit but, by the Lord and Lady, Wylde was fucking sexy, especially when he was a little bit stoned. He was feisty but he also had a sub streak a mile wide when he was alone with alpha men. Gabriel appreciated that, even though it disgusted him to admit it.

“One question.” Rayne was still staring at him with those unblinking eyes.

Gabe took the roll up from him and pulled on it for courage. Then he passed it back before speaking.

“Did you go to Paris to die?” he asked bluntly. “Did you go there knowing you’d find someone that would top you properly for the right amount of money?”

The vampire seemed to turn inward for a moment as his words sank in. His expression did not change but somehow the focus in his pale eyes was elsewhere for a few seconds only. Then he leaned forward propping his forearms on his knees and resting his chin on the back of his arm as he looked Gabriel boldly in the eye.

“No,” he said simply. “No, I didn’t.”

“What happened then?” Gabe wanted to know when he said nothing more.

“That’s two questions,” Rayne pointed out.

“Humour me.”

Rayne drew a short, irritable breath and exhaled it testily.

“I don’t know what I was expecting when I went to Paris. I just needed to clear my head,” he said tersely. “There was too much crap going on in there. I needed to get clean of it.”

“DW said it was a heavy SM club, somewhere even she’s never been before. Not that she didn’t know the kind of rep it has.” Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “And you knew that, too, didn’t you?”

Rayne shrugged dismissively. “I didn’t know until the first night I went there, not really. I asked around and they were recommended to me, that’s all.”

“You were looking for a beating?” Gabriel asked, curious now.

“Not just that, no.”

Rayne held out his hand for the joint and Gabriel handed it over wordlessly. He watched Rayne smoke, enjoying the hard on it gave him seeing those soft, pale lips tug on the chubby roll of paper and sweet, green weed.

“You wanted rough sex?” he pressed shamelessly. “Proper doggy-style, if you get my meaning?”

“Subtle isn’t your style, Gabe,” Rayne told him casually. “If you must know, I wanted someone who could control me, no matter what. I wanted to be taken by somebody that wouldn’t stop, even if I fought back.”

“Like we did in the bottom of that well, you mean?” Gabriel grinned ferally at him now and Rayne shoved the joint back into his hand and turned away, bringing the discussion to an abrupt end.

Gabe finished off the joint, a little ruffled by the reaction. He had thought Rayne was mellowing under the influence but the memory of their first urgent mating had clearly upset the little vamp. That hadn’t been the intention at all.

“I’m sorry,” he said at last. ” Really, I am.”

“Not as sorry as me,” Rayne muttered, refusing to look at him.

“It was that nasty, was it?” Gabriel asked him, beginning to wonder if he’d read the situation very badly after all. Back then, he’d kind of got the impression that Rayne wanted it, but now he was not so sure. “You could ‘ave told me to stop.”

“No I couldn’t,” Rayne said atonally. “You were in full wolf mode, remember, and I was half-starved and trying not to get fuckin’ eaten. Not exactly a romantic setting.”

He rubbed his face wearily with both hands, then pushed his fingers through his hair as if he could wipe off the memories that easily. Gabriel slid upside him and began to stroke the back of his neck as he sat with his head bent between his knees, quiet and morose.

“I didn’t think romance was your bag,” he murmured apologetically. “Thought you liked it rough.”

“I do,” Rayne answered almost inaudibly.

“Well then.” Gabe leaned over to kiss his slim, pale nape, breathing in, desperately trying to get a scent, something to define his companion properly for him. “What’s the problem?”

“I’m getting sick of being some kind of freak show,” Rayne muttered angrily. “I hate it, Gabriel. I just want… I just want to be happy. Is that so bad?”

“And getting ripped apart in a sadistic sex club makes you happy?” The were was genuinely puzzled now. He put his arm across Rayne’s narrow shoulders and pulled the vampire into his orbit, ignoring the half-hearted attempts Rayne made to bat him off.

“Stop it!” Rayne yipped now. “Stop pretending to be being fuckin’ nice to me when all you wanna do is ask sarcastic questions.”

“That’s not allI wanna do,” Gabe said with a wriggle of his eyebrows.

Rayne just stared at him, looking suddenly lost and defeated. He pushed himself away from the were and shook his head.

No. I’m notgonna fuck you.”

“Awww…” Gabriel complained. “Why not?”

The vampire seethed in silence so Gabe added; “I’ll tell you why not, shall I? It’s because you only let me fuck you when you think you need punishin’ for something.”

He reached out and touched Rayne’s forearm, tracing the network of old scars that laced across his wrists and hands. The little vamp snatched his hands back like he’d been scalded.

“Leave me alone!” he snapped.

Gabriel nodded. “I get it,” he said gravely. “Ahhh Rayne, that’s too much. You can’t hurt yourself as bad as you’d like to anymore. Nothin’ gets through does it? Your skin’s too thick and you heal too fast for it to make a difference. But a Were’s teeth and a Were’s claws, now they’ll leave a proper trail in your hide and make no mistake. You went to Mr Bear for some new scars, didn’t you? And he made a nice mess of that pretty little body of yours, didn’t he?”

Gabriel sat back, shaking his head slowly as he and Rayne just stared at one another. The vampire was shivering now. He looked sick and miserable.

“And then he thought he’d hurt you bad and he sent his lackey to finish you off,” Gabe snorted cynically.

No.” Rayne was adamant this time. “No, that’s not what happened. I didn’t get that kind of a vibe off him. He wasn’t keen on vampires, sure. But if he’d wanted me dead he’d have killed me himself.”

“So, this bloke that tried to kill you for no reason at all, he’s still out there somewhere?” Gabriel asked speculatively.

“I… I guess,” Rayne suddenly looked uncertain. The unhappiness was replaced by a little frisson of… fear?

He sat up straighter then, as if he was listening. Gabriel caught it too, the sound of footsteps on the dry soil, the light snap of twigs, the crunch of the earth underfoot. Rayne moved to his feet at once and Gabe snuffed out the last embers of the joint and flicked it away.


“Xavier,” Rayne said, without a shadow of uncertainty, and the wolf relaxed.

Xav came around the last bend in the little footpath, a small smile on his face. “That’s not fair,” he said as he approached. “I can’t sneak up on you.”

He slowed as he took in Rayne’s expression, the hint of the smile slipping from his face. “What? What’s wrong?” he demanded, automatically looking an accusation at Gabriel.

The Roma held up his hands in automatic surrender.

“I ain’t done not’in, Mizz Xavier!” he protested with a shake of his head. “We was just talkin’, that’s all. You’re getting better at sneakin’ up by the way. Ray heard you first and he’s got an unfair advantage. I think you’ve been getting a little practice in, yeah?”

“Shut up, Arden,” Rayne said in a milder tone. His posture and expression had relaxed deliberately when he saw how quickly Xav picked it up but it was too late by now. Damage limitation was about the best he could manage and he slid his arms around his mate as he turned back to issue the warning.

Xavier’s forehead smoothed as he realised they hadn’t been fighting at least. He didn’t know what that look of anxious surprise on Rayne’s face had been about though. He slipped his own arm around Rayne, kissing his cheek lightly, and then inhaling where his nose nuzzled his hair.

“You smell very homegrown today,” he remarked.

His lover’s huge green eyes narrowed speculatively as he touched his nose to Xavier’s.

“Just how long have you been listening?” he asked, but the tone was lightly teasing now. His hands wandered restlessly over Xavier’s hips and the curve of his backside.

“Why? Got a guilty conscience?” Xav asked, giving him his own words back from a couple nights ago when he’d asked Rayne the same thing. He laughed though when Rayne’s gaze narrowed even more on him. “I didn’t overhear anything. I can smell you’ve been smokin’ more than cigarettes down here.”

He kissed the tip of Rayne’s nose and grinned at him. He felt restless though, like he had way too much energy to burn. He wanted to go out and dance all night, or run through the woods or… something!

Gabriel settled back against the tree again and produced another of his succulent roll-ups.

“Wanna toke?” he invited with a mellow grin. “It’ll relax you nice for this afternoon, I promise.”

Xavier had a moment’s hesitation, wondering if that was really a good idea when he might need to have a totally clear head, but he was so edgy at the moment he figured he could use a little mellowing out. He sat down opposite Gabe where Rayne had been sitting and waited until he lit it and passed it to him. For someone who didn’t smoke regularly he drew the smoke down into his lungs without any problem, holding it there for a few moments before slowly exhaling.

Both of his companions were watching him, but Xav just figured they were waiting for him to cough a lung out so they could laugh. He didn’t though.

Rayne took the joint from his fingers and pulled on it before passing it back in silence to Gabriel. There was still that slight edge of antagonism between the vampire and the wolf as their fingers touched, but Rayne said nothing and Gabe just looked at them both with hungry eyes.

Rayne’s cool lips touched Xavier’s now and they breathed a parallel plume of pot smoke into each other’s mouths and sank into a slow kiss, wreathed in clouds of lazy pleasure.

“Are you okay?” Rayne whispered at last.

“Yeah, I’m ok.” Xav smiled at him.

Rayne looked more serious. “What have you and Dom been doing? Whatever you’ve been up to it’s left you all… tingly.”

He stroked Xavier’s face with gentle fingers as if he could feel the electricity running through his lover’s skin.

“I dunno, he waved a crystal over me an’ talked about energy centres and stuff.”

“You’re buzzin’ like the Blackpool Illuminations, babe,” Gabriel commented with a shake of his head.

“I’m not buzzin’ yet.” Xav grinned as he took another hit off the joint.

“Not that kind of buzzin’.” Gabe said. “You got so much extra energy you’re glowing. Dominic didn’t tell you to ground some of that?”

Xav shook his head and exhaled. “Nope. He said everything was fine, except here.” He touched his forehead, then pointed a warning finger at Rayne, “No jokes! But then we did this meditation thing for a few minutes to open it up and he said it was okay now.”

“A few minutes?” Gabe asked and when Xav nodded he shook his head slightly. “You been with him the better part of an hour babe.”

Xavier blinked, looking sceptical, but when Rayne didn’t contradict him Xav shrugged. “Guess I lost track of time.”

He was starting to feel a bit of the mellow edge creep in on him from the pot and leaned back against Rayne, his slim body draping languidly along the thick root of the oak.

His lover curled around him, kissing his neck and relaxing into the mellow vibe that practically poured off Xavier’s body in slow waves. He let it melt the anger that had been working through his muscles before Xav arrived. It did not quite diffuse the sense of anxiety Gabriel’s observation left him with though.

For once the Roma was right. No one had been arrested for his attempted murder in Paris. No one was even questioned. If it hadn’t been for Dom and Mikka, and especially Xavier, he might never have been found. Of course it was stupid to panic over nothing, Carlsen probably had no idea that he was still alive. Dominic had told him about their interview with Henning Szarbo and he knew that the man had left his employment at la Griffe that same night. Which, as Gabriel pointed out, meant he could be anywhere.

Anywhere.

The vampire shivered at the thought of it. He had not talked about that night with anybody but the memories were there, it was all there in his head now. The doors were open, he just chose not to look inside. But he remembered the way that Carlsen had looked at him, lying helpless on the ground, too weak to even raise a hand in his own defence as the mortal staked him in cold blood.

He buried his face in Xavier’s soft hair and the warmth of his skin, closing his eyes, trying to shut it out. It had no place here, not when they were so close, so happy.

“What’s wrong, babe?” Gabriel said softly, and his words seemed to come from a long way off, as if he was deep underwater.

“Rayne?” Xav lifted his arm and slid his fingers to the back of his lover’s neck to massage gently there, alerted to his distress despite the mellow atmosphere. “You alright, sweetheart?” he asked, already knowing he wasn’t. Prickles were rising up along the back of his own neck.

Rayne shivered again, shaking his head.

“I just got a bad feeling. Tell us about your dream again, sweetheart,” he said in a small voice. “Don’t leave nothin’ out, okay.”

“Which one?” Xav asked, and immediately wished he hadn’t. Fuckin’ pot. Always did loosen his tongue more than it should.

There was a short pause and then Rayne asked, “You’ve had more than one like this?”

Xav licked his lips. “Yeah…I’ve been having ’em since…since we got to London,” he admitted reluctantly.

“All of them the same, or different?” Gabriel asked.

Xavier sighed. He didn’t know why they were probing him about his dreams now, but he figured he wasn’t going to get out of it, so he started to tell them hesitantly at first, and then in sort of a numb dialogue, what had been in his head plaguing his sleep the last few weeks.

As Xavier spoke of the things he’d kept locked in his head since Paris, Rayne felt his blood run cold. He’d known that his mate understood he’d been in danger but just how much he’d known… well, they’d never talked about it. Now he was just in a kind of slow, cold water shock. His hands reached out to cup Xavier’s pale face as the boy stumbled over words that cut him to the heart. He’d dreamed of Rayne lying dead, ripped apart. He had not been there, had never seen these images in person, and yet as he talked Gabriel nodded as if none of this was news and he knew that Dominic must have described seeing something very similar when they had found him.

Which meant that it was true, that he’d been left on a slab like a side of meat, left for dead by his would be killer. A man who was still out there, still alive.

His fear began to turn slowly to anger. And when Xavier told them of the dream where Clint had been reaching for him, crying, alone in the darkness somewhere, the anger found a focus.

“You bonded with him, with Rayne’s kid?” Gabriel asked in a level, analytical voice. He was the only one of them as yet untouched by the revelations Xavier proclaimed.

“I suppose so,” Xavier said. The low level buzz from the weed was at least keeping him from getting too worked up, although his eyes still looked huge and sorrowful. He had not wanted to talk about this, not any of it. The pain and fear he’d felt during the time Rayne lay cold and lifeless in a Paris dungeon and later at the hospital was like being pulled through broken glass. It tore him up to see him like that. Once he started talking about his dreams though it all came spilling out.

He didn’t have any idea why Clint and the man with no face were running around in his head as well.

“It could just be psychological,” Rayne said in a tone that said he didn’t really believe it. “Clinton saved Xav’s life back in London. Maybe Xavier’s just mixing up his worries about me with his feelings for Clint?”

“Xav is a sensitive,” Gabriel replied, shaking his head. “It’s why we’re doing the ritual, Wylde. He feels things normal folk can’t feel. Do you really think it’s sensible to try and find excuses for that?”

“Thanks, that makes us both feel loads better,” Rayne flashed back at him sarcastically.

Actually Xav had been perfectly willing to accept Rayne’s excuse. The alternative was, whatexactly? “What are you saying Gabriel?”

“You ever dream about stuff before it happens…?”

“No.” Xavier cut him off over the top of his last words. “No. Dom asked me that too. No, I don’t have premonitions. They’re just bad dreams.”

Gabe was quiet for a moment and then shook his head. “You two are a pair, ain’t ya? One finding excuses, the other in denial.”

“I’m not in denial!” Xav shot back. “I think you and Dominic are reading too much into this, is all. I’ve never dreamed about the future, I’ve never had a premonition.”

“You dreamed that I was dead,” Rayne said, a tad reluctantly.

“That’s different.” Xavier said, shifting uncomfortably now. “I felt it happen, and I didn’t start dreaming about it until after that.”

“You weren’t actually there though…” Rayne said. “Yet you know details you shouldn’t.”

“But…I-I…” He trailed off, looking deflated, then suddenly anxious. “You think Clint’s in some kind of trouble?”

Rayne looked at Gabriel, suddenly unsure. He was conscious of the fact that if there was something wrong with his son, then he should know it. But the honest truth was that he’d never been that close to Clint. Until recently he’d never been that close to anyone.

“Would anyone know, or care, if there was a problem?” Gabe asked, perhaps a little cruelly.

Rayne bristled at that but he could not argue about it. He knew that if anyone could find out for him though, it was Matt. Now he moved to his feet decisively.

“I’m going back to the house. I have to make a few calls, if Dominic’s found that fuckin’ charger for my phone yet,” he muttered.

Xavier rolled up fluidly beside him. He sincerely hoped that Rayne would call Matt, and Matt would tell him Clint looked fine, sneering at the passers by on Rayne’s front step as usual. “I’ll go with you.”

“Why don’t you stay here and we can work on getting you ready for the rite?” Gabriel suggested.

Xavier rolled his eyes. “If something really is wrong we’re not gonna have time for the rite anyway.”

“If something really is wrong you’re gonna need all the protection you can get,” Gabriel argued with him.

“If something reallyis wrong, you’re staying here,” Rayne added more firmly this time. “I’m not open to discussion on this one, Xavier.”

Xavier’s gaze narrowed on his lover. “God forbid there ever be a discussionyou don’t wanna have,” he said with dripping sarcasm. “I am not gonna stay out here an’ wonder what the fuck is going on,” he warned.

“Much as I hate to admit it, Rayne’s right on this one.” Gabe put in, earning a malevolent glare from Xavier. Gabe ignored it though and grinned at Rayne lasciviously. “Leave your boy here, we’ll watch out for him.”

Rayne’s eyes narrowed again as he sensed the underlying problems with that invitation right off. Even so, he was still wary of dragging Xavier back with him to London into a potentially deadly situation. But as yet they had no confirmation of a problem.

“Look…it was just a dream,” he said, trying to appease his mate now. “Perhaps that’s all it’ll turn out to be. There’s no point getting into a state about it. Let me ring Matty and we’ll find out if he thinks there’s anything to worry about. If Clint’s all right he’ll show up like a bad penny day in day out. In the meantime, we do the ritual, we prepare for whatever we need to deal with. Yeah?”

That seemed to smooth Xavier’s ruffled feathers, for the time being at least. Or maybe it was just the weed that allowed him to mellow again so easily. Whichever, he walked with Rayne back up to the house with Gabriel following, a very smug, pleased look on his face.

Once at the house Gabriel was reminded of the dishes waiting for him, and Lord Warren was just emerging from his bath. He had found the charger for Rayne’s phone, which he plugged in.

Whilst Xavier was taking a bath, the vampire managed to finally get his phone connected. Rayne had never been the most technologically minded of creatures, even as a mortal and it was Dominic who actually pointed out that in order to make and receive calls it might be an idea to turn it on.

“It lights up like a fuckin’ spaceship whether it’s on or not, how the fuck am I meant to know it’s not switched on?” Rayne complained bitterly as he waited for the new toy to do something useful.

“Hmm… you have messages,” Lord Warren observed, passing it back across to him.

Fifteen of the seventeen messages were from Matty, who generally screened his calls. They ranged from PR requests to five messages all reading; CALL ME. NOW!

The other two were more mysterious. One was from his sister complaining that someone had been ringing her asking where he was. The other was an unlisted number, and as far as Rayne knew he had not given his direct number to anyone. The message said I WILL FIND YOU.

His blood ran cold at that and he put the phone down for a moment, feeling a little sense of tightness in his chest that would not ease.

“What is it, darling?” Dominic came to sit beside him on the bed and peered at the display screen curiously. “Ohh…” he exhaled softly.

“It could be anything. It could just be some crank. Someone’s idea of a joke, yeah?” Rayne picked up the phone and called Matty.

A recorded message told him that Matthew Greening’s number was currently unobtainable. This in itself was disturbing. Matty was surgically attached to his phone. He never turned it off, not even when he was in bed. Rayne tried it again and got the same response. Then he ran SOLD and asked if his ex was at the record label offices. The receptionist said that Mr Greening had not been in for a couple of days. Rayne asked her to put him through to Kris, which she did, without question.

Kris Speddings had not spoken to Matt since the beginning of the week. As far as their label boss was concerned there was no problem, but even he acknowledged that it was unusual not to hear from Matty for more than a couple of days at a time. After a short conversation, Rayne made his excuses and hung up. He looked distinctly anxious now.

“Maybe there’s a logical explanation,” Dominic soothed, when he relayed the gist of the conversation back to his friend.

“Maybe he’s dead,” Rayne said, his voice trembling slightly.

“Darling, you Sired him. Your blood bond is as strong, if not stronger than the one Xavier shares with you. You would know if he was dead,” Dominic assured him, rather more confidently. “Maybe his phone is broken, it could be as simple as that.”

Whilst Xavier was towelling down and singing quietly to himself in the bathroom, Rayne rang the landline at his apartment but no one answered. His own voicemail kicked in, telling the caller to ring Matty’s number. Again he felt a nagging sense of disquiet as he hung up.

Xavier wasn’t sure if he should even bother getting dressed, but he pulled on a pair of track pants and a teeshirt before wandering downstairs to find Rayne still playing with his phone.

“Did you get a hold of him?” he asked softly by his ear.

Rayne shook his head and Xavier settled in the chair next to him, running a hand through his damp hair. He needed to get it cut. He almost laughed at the thought because it was such a mundane thing to think of when he was getting himself prepped for a ritual to rebuild his psychic shields while worrying whether his lover’s kid was okay or some psycho had a hold of him.

“Dominic’s right, I’m being stupid. If anything had happened to Matt I’d know,” the vampire said distractedly. “And Clint’s blood of my blood, if he was…”

But Rayne could not finish that sentence. He felt the words stick in his throat. For so long he’d been holding his son at arm’s length and now he wondered at himself. And he wondered what exactly had happened to him in Paris because he had never felt this way before.

“You smell good,” he said huskily, turning to bury his nose in Xavier’s wet hair, hiding his uncertainty there.

Gabriel had finished the dishes and now tapped him on the back of the head. “Oi, no canoodlin’, he’s s’posed to come into the circle unsullied!”

“Bit late for that!” Rayne lifted his head with a forced grin.

Xavier snickered. “Um, yeah. If this is the part where you sacrifice the virgin I’m sorry to disappoint.”

“If you’re not gonna take it seriously you can go back to London and get driven mental by everybody’s nonsense just like before. Not that I’m worried ’bout it,” Gabe said dismissively. “I’m gonna have a shower. You…” and he pointed at Rayne, “should do the same. You…” his finger moved to touch Xavier’s forehead, “get yourself grounded and try an’ empty your head. Shouldn’t take you long.”

He grinned viciously and ducked out of the room before either of them found something to throw at him.

Rayne sobered a little when he had gone. “Did DW tell you anything about what we’d be doing in this ritual then?”

“Yeah, ” Xavier said on an exhale. “I mean, as best he could I guess. To me it sounded like he wanted to get out the massage oil and have an orgy, but… I know he means it more serious than that.”

Rayne chuckled, mellowing slightly at the look on his lover’s face.

“That’s probably exactlywhat he had in mind, knowing Dominic!” he teased now. “Sounds like fun, anyway. I just wish I could get hold of Matty, then I could settle down and enjoy it.”

He sighed with infinite frustration and tried the number again. It warbled back the same irritating little message and when the line went to voicemail he snapped; “Greening, will you stop buggering me about and just pick up, alright?”

Then he hung up, put the phone down on the kitchen unit, and headed upstairs for a shower before following his mate through to the tower room where Dominic had planned their afternoon’s entertainment.

LONDON

Matt was more than a little bit surprised when he reached Rayne’s apartment not to find Clint on the doorstep. The boy didn’t hang out there all day but he was a creature of habit and usually stopped by to check out what had been left by visiting fans around the middle of the afternoon. Often there were sweets and he had a sweet tooth that his daddy was lacking. Today he was conspicuous by his absence however.

Well almost…

There was something small and dark on the doorstep, a little puddle of black material with a brave white pennon fluttering from it in the breeze. Matt bent down and picked it up with a frown. He inhaled Clinton’s scent, the pheromones of unwashed teenage male were unmistakable. Shaking it out he identified it at once as the boy’s black hooded top. It had the band logo on the back, though Clint usually wore it inside out as if it were a guilty pleasure. His lighter and a few scraps of change were in one pocket and in the other was a little, stuffed toy, a grubby pink hippo.

Matt frowned at it, slightly perplexed, then turned the garment around and removed the crumpled white envelope that was pinned to it with the blade of the boy’s flick knife. There was a note inside, cobbled together from pieces of newsprint like an old fashioned blackmail letter, or a ransom note. Even as he thought it, Matt felt a cold chill run down his spine. Something was very wrong about this. What the hell was the kid playing at now?

He went inside and made a phone call.

~*~

Clint came round slowly, trying to remember where he was and how he had got there. Normally he woke wrapped up in his makeshift sleeping bag in the projection room at the State. He had slept up there for as long as he could remember, mostly it was peaceful. No one could be bothered to come all that way up the back stairs just to find somewhere to doss down.

He wasn’t in his sleeping bag though. He wasn’t even lying down. As the consciousness seeped back into his brain he realised that he was hanging by his wrists in the darkness. And it was cold. His teeth were chattering behind the strip of black duct tape over his mouth. The plastic clothesline wrapped around his thin wrists bit into the skin painfully and he whimpered now, rationality telling him to be scared.

The memories were coming back too. The stocky man in the dark coat who had been following him. Clint was street smart, he knew he was being followed. The man had been watching him for a couple of days, tracing his movements from the State, out into the theatre district where he usually pan-handled the tourists for a couple of hours before moving on to Leicester Square to hang out round the back of his favourite fast food outlets, looking cute and scrounging left-overs. Clint wasn’t proud, he knew that the proud rarely survived on the London streets, and he had been looking after himself for a few years now.

Usually the men that lurked in the shadows were after the same thing. Clinton was not into men, not in the way his dad and Xavier were, but he knew that money spent the same no matter how it was earned. He’d gone into alleys and doorways with strange men before and used his mouth on them for money. Gran and Grandad would have a fit if they knew, but Clint was pragmatic about it. It was business. He always made sure their cash was in his pocket before he went down on his knees for them. Afterwards they zipped up quickly and hurried off without a word. They were embarrassed by their needs, but Clint was not. He spat the cum out and wiped his mouth, then bought a coke from the nearest vendor and glugged it down to take the taste away.

This guy made his skin itch though. He could not put his finger on the reason why. The man seemed determined to make sure that Clint did not see his face. He thought it was white. He thought the man had a moustache, but he never got a long enough look at the guy to be sure. He was wrapped in a long leather coat, which to Clint was a sign that he was probably kinky.

He didn’t do kinky stuff. Some of the street boys did. The money was good but the idea of it made him feel slightly ill. Clint always made sure they knew he wasn’t going to take it up the arse and he wasn’t going to do any kinky shit with them before he went with his punters.

The man didn’t approach him though, he just watched and followed. Sometimes Clint doubled back on himself and he thought he’d lost the guy in the long coat for a while but then he would feel it again, that prickle running down his spine. When he looked over his shoulder the man was always there, in the shadows, watching him. And last night… The memory almost made him sick, but it was coming back to him now. Clint had felt a sudden panicky sensation in his chest when he reached the railings outside Rayne’s house, and as he turned around the man was right behind him. He slapped something over Clint’s mouth and nose and held it there tightly.

Clint had put up a fight but the man was powerfully built. He tried to pull his knife but the antiseptic smell on the cloth over his face was making his head spin and he could not hold onto the hilt. He heard it clatter to the ground and then everything went black.

And now he was here, wherever that was. The man had tied him up which meant he was definitely into kink. Clint was still dressed but he felt cold to the bones. His zip-up top was gone and he was just in his teeshirt and jeans and his battered hi-tops. The cold air bit into his bare arms and the plastic rope chewed at the soft skin of his thin wrists as he struggled and whimpered fearfully.

A bright flash of light almost blinded him and he jumped and tried to scream. The flash left coloured images on his retinas as he was plunged back into darkness and it took him a moment to realise that his captor was standing right next to him taking photos. The creep! Clint could smell the heat of his body, his stale cologne and the sharp reek of cigarettes on his breath. He blinked, forcing his eyes to adjust. At the same time the man said; “Well well little one, you are awake at last. We can have some fun now, no?”

He had a curious accent, like a camp movie villain. An accent like a Bond film bad guy. Polish maybe, or German. Clint tried to struggle but he was too cold and he could not feel his hands properly.

The man peeled off the strip of tape so quickly that it almost pulled out the sparse hairs on his chin. Clint yelped.

“Owww! Fucker! Let me go!”

A warm hand stroked his cheek and the man chuckled. “Feisty little boy, aren’t you? We shall have a little talk and then I will have some fun with you. What is your name, huh?”

“Fuck you!” Clint spat at him and struggled again. His feet swung helplessly, unable to reach the floor.

“You will, child. Do not doubt it.” The man wiped his face on a handkerchief pulled from his pants pocket. He tucked it back and looked at Clint very solemnly, eyes dark and too small, like the bright stare of a bird of prey.

Clint shivered and stared back at him, his big, almond shaped eyes very wide and bright in the darkness. Again the man’s hand caressed his cheek. The pad of his thumb stroked over Clint’s lips. The boy tried to bite him and got a slap across the face for his trouble.

“That was not nice, little one.”

“Cunt!” Clint yipped at him, feeling his stomach churn anxiously. “My dad will come looking for you. He’ll fuckin’ rip your head off if you hurt me.”

The man just chuckled unpleasantly.

“You think so? You think he will even care? It all makes more sense now. You were outside his house, waiting when I found you, no? You are Wylde’s little boy, one of his bastards, yes? Will he be worried that you are gone?”

“You’re after him?” Clint was huffing anxiously, still struggling with the bindings around his wrists. Now that he was properly awake it hurt more. “Why?”

“Because his kind need to be wiped from the face of this world, little one,” the stranger said mildly, as if they were discussing a normal topic.

“His music isn’t that bad,” Clint forced a strangled laugh whilst his thoughts ran laps around one another. Was he a stalker? A psycho gay-basher? What the hell was going on?

“You are a funny boy. He liked to joke with us too, but I thought we had the last laugh. I was wrong. He still walks.” The man strode around him slowly and Clint kicked and squirmed, trying to turn with him, desperate not to let the weirdo out of his sight. “This time I shall not leave the job unfinished. When I send him your photo do you think he will come for you, little bastard boy?”

“He doesn’t care what I do,” Clint bluffed, genuinely freaked out now. What the hell was this fucker talking about? Did he know what Rayne was? Jesus! Was he some kind of vigilante vampire hunter? “He’ll just forget about me. You should just let me go.”

“We shall see,” the man said coldly.

He turned and walked away leaving Clint hanging in the dark. The boy shouted and swore at his retreating back then kicked and struggled until he could feel the blood running down his arms from the cord around his wrists. At last he fell limp and unresisting, sobbing quietly in the darkness.

~*~

When Matty got inside and opened the crumpled envelope that had been pinned to Clint’s discarded top, he felt his knees give way and had to sit down on the futon in the lounge for a moment, his hand pressed to his mouth. The photograph was printed out on a sheet of foolscap with a short message under it in letters cut from a newspaper or a magazine, like a ransom note. Clint’s eyes were huge and scared in the bright light from the flash. There were dark streaks running down his skinny arms from the cords around his wrists, that Matty knew without question were made by the boy’s blood. His jeans rode low on his skinny hips, just below the waistband of his snug boxer-briefs and the exposed strip of his pale belly between the hem of his tee-shirt and his pants. The boy’s lank hair looked dark in the shadows and for a moment Matty thought he was looking at an old image of Rayne. It had never struck him before how much alike they were.

I hAVE YOUr LITtLe BOY. wILL CaLL YOU 2MORRO wITH DETAILS. CUM ALONE OR hE DIES.

The message left him shaking. Matty was not a soft touch but this kind of thing was outside his normal realm of experience. Whipsnade had been forced to deal with any number of psychos over the years but no one had ever kidnapped any member of the band and threatened to kill them. He had no particular love for Clint either, but he didn’t wish the child dead. At first he had thought it some kind of sick joke on Clint’s part, not the first time the boy had come up with some stunt to get Rayne’s attention. Then he looked at the photo again and he knew it was for real.

The terror in those huge eyes could not have been feigned.

He rang Rayne and got his voicemail. Matty swore vehemently and called the police.

~~*~~

Clint felt sick. He had never been so scared in his life, not even on his first night sleeping rough when every sound and every shadow made him jump out of his skin. The creep in the leather coat had taken more pictures of him, firstly just of him hanging in the cold, dark space that echoed like some kind of subterranean garage. It smelled of petrol, or oil or something like that and the walls were peeling brickwork in the light of the flash on his abductor’s camera.

The creep had groped him then and made lewd threats about what was going to happen to him if Rayne didn’t show up soon. Clint kicked and struggled but it only made the cords around his wrists pull tighter and he was soon sobbing and begging to be cut down. When the man pulled out a knife with a good twelve inches of gleaming blade and stroked his throat and exposed belly with the point, the terrified boy lost control of his bladder. He was mortified but could not hold it back. The hot, wet stream trickled down the left leg of his tight jeans and splashed onto the floor beneath him as his captor made obscene comments.

He reached up with the knife when the little fountain of piss trickled to a halt and cut the plastic cords holding Clint up off the ground and letting him drop into the spreading pool of his own urine. Then he tied the lad’s wrists to his ankles and left him lying on the floor, crying and choking, barely able to breathe for the strip of tape over his mouth.

It did not take Clint long to figure that crying was a bad idea. When he almost passed out from the inability to inhale, preservation instincts took over and he forced himself to lie still and quiet and try to think.

The creep had made a lot of threats but he hadn’t really done anything more than cop a feel thus far. It was Rayne that he wanted, but Clint had a very bad feeling in his gut that maybe Rayne would not consider him worth the effort of a rescue. The memory of their last conversation was still very clear in his mind. He was nothing to Rayne Wylde, not really. Just an inconvenience, to be honest. Maybe Rayne would even think this was some new game that Clint was playing with him and ignore it completely. If he was to get away alive he would have to be smarter than this. Smarter than his captor, at least.

He wished that he still had Cleo though. It was stupid, really, needing a toy like a little kid but just having Cleo in his pocket where he could wrap his fingers around her small, soft body and feel that tingle where Rayne had touched her, it made him feel better. The tears rose in his eyes as he wondered what had happened to her. Maybe the creep had found her and thrown her away. Clint couldn’t stand to think of that so he closed his eyes more tightly and tried to imagine the feel of her in his hand.

Gradually he felt the tears subside and he was able to think more clearly.

When the creep came back down into the basement for him, Clint was more composed. He felt utterly grim and disgusting, his clothing was still damp and he stank to high heaven but the guy made no comment on that. Crouching over him in that kink-meister coat he poked the shivering youngster in the ribs none too gently.

“Wakey wakey little boy. Time for us to have a chat, yes?”

Roughly he pulled off the strip of tape again and Clint swore at him like a junk addled dosser on a three day binge. He only shut up when the man dealt him a slap that rattled his teeth.

“Shut up!” he instructed hoarsely. “You will talk when I ask you to, or I will find other uses for you, brat. Your daddy seems to have abandoned you, but no worries. Because I know that if I have you, I can find him. Is that not correct?”

Clint blinked at him, startled by this observation. It had not occurred to him that the weirdo would know what he could do. Now he wondered what else Mr Freak knew about. Clint bit his lips determinedly and shook his head.

“Do not lie to me, young man. I know that you are his kid, so some of his blood runs in your veins, yes? And you know where to find him if you need him, is this not true?” The creep glared at him and his dark moustache bristled urgently.

“Not always,” Clint said carefully.

“But you know where he is now?”

“No,” the boy replied, shaking his head. “He isn’t in London. I can usually feel him, if he’s here somewhere. I think he’s still in the country but I can’t be sure. He feels a long way away.”

“If you lead me to him then I may take pity on you and let you go,” the creep suggested with a knowing look.

Clint shook his head. It was tempting but he didn’t trust this bastard one inch. The weirdo might just as easily cut his throat in a dark street and feed him to any vampire in spitting distance. He might do worse things.

The boy shivered.

“I can’t,” he said stubbornly. “I don’t know where he is. I’m not a bloodhound. It doesn’t work like that.”

“What doesn’t?” his captor was getting irritable now and he prodded Clint again, a little harder.

“Ow! Stop that!” Clint struggled ineffectually. “You’re not exactly persuading me to help you, you know.”

“You know what I mean you little scab. You are half vampire, not like him but you know him, you know his kind and you can find him,” he growled.

“No.” Clint shook his head again. “I can feel it if they’re near, but I can’t hunt him. It’s not like a magnet, it’s more like a kind of alarm goes off in my head when they’re close.”

“They?” the stranger pounced on that word now, suddenly struck by it. Clint had said it twice now. “There are more of them here?”

Clint swallowed and shut up. Perhaps that was too much information. But he also saw a possible escape route. He took a deep breath.

“There’s another one, Rayne’s ex, he comes to the house sometimes. He’s still around. I sensed him the other morning when I went there, before you jumped me.”

He saw the gleam in his captor’s eyes and knew it was the right thing to tell him. This creep was after vampires. Any vampire would do, right? And it was not like he owed that lanky piece of shit anything, after all.

“I can take you to him,” Clint promised, his mind doing rapid calculations now. “If you promise to let me go, I can take you right to him. Rayne made him a vamp, so if you get that one, he’ll come for you then. For sure!”

The man pushed himself to his feet now and loomed over the skinny youth with a cruel smile.

“Perhaps,” he said contemplatively. “Take me to this vampire, boy and I will see. Maybe we can help one another, no?”

“Maybe,” Clint answered, feeling a rush of heat in his veins, a surge of private glee. “Maybe.

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