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Claire Turner hid at the end of a long cavern tunnel, deep in the shadows. Her nerves were like fire on her skin. Guards moved in and out of a nearby prison cell, some with whips and Tasers, others with cleanup gear. The air smelled damp and musty as though death came often to this part of the world.
Her heart slammed against her ribcage. She’d been thrust into a secret cavern-based vampire society with the task of rescuing a prisoner, a famous warrior called Lucian, from his captivity.
She didn’t even know where she was exactly. Rumy, the small Italian vampire who had left her here, had said something about Malaysia. He’d dropped her off just minutes ago, told her to trust her instincts, then insisted repeatedly that she’d be fine, just fine. Like hell.
She took deep breaths. She couldn’t believe she was doing this, risking her life by agreeing to what now seemed like a ridiculous plan. What did a social worker from New Mexico know about running covert operations?
But Lucian had become the key to finding her best friend, Zoey, who had been abducted two years ago and was now caught in some kind of sex slavery in this part of the world. According to Rumy, Lucian was the only vampire who could help find Zoey.
Lucian. She could feel him now and even sensed his location, and all because of the single strand of small, dark metal links she wore around her neck: blood-chains. She carried a matching chain in her pocket and once Lucian put it on, he’d have enough power to break out of the prison. Or at least, that’s what Rumy said he hoped would happen.
Several guards left the adjacent tunnel that led to Lucian’s cell, leaving only one behind now, but she wouldn’t be able to make her move until Lucian was finally alone.
None of the vampires even glanced in her direction, which meant they couldn’t see her, another reality she struggled to comprehend. Despite the fact that she was a mere human, the blood-chains she wore had somehow sparked an innate ability she possessed to create something called a “disguise” and which acted as an invisible shield around her.
So much was at stake in this moment that her heart thumped in her ears. If she failed to rescue Lucian and was caught, she’d probably be sent into sex slavery herself or even killed outright. Though given a choice, she was pretty sure she’d prefer the latter.
More than once while waiting, she’d thought about going in and wrapping Lucian up with the same disguise that kept the guards from seeing her. However, any guard who happened to enter the prison cell and found Lucian gone would shout an alarm. No, the moment she extended her disguise to include Lucian would have to be the same time she left with him.
She drew a few deep breaths trying to get calm. Then as the last guard left and disappeared down the hall, she moved swiftly through a short adjoining tunnel that led to the large cell lit by torchlight. Moving off to the right, she entered a sloping pit that ended with a smooth wall.
The sight of him stopped her cold. He sat completely naked on a small patch of cement, chained to the wall. His wrists and ankles were shackled, chains hanging between. Another chain, locked onto the back of his left ankle, secured him to a thick black iron loop bolted into the wall behind him. The arrangement restricted his movements by about ten feet in any direction. If she’d doubted the story Rumy had told her about Lucian and his brothers, and their abusive father, she didn’t anymore; only a monster would treat his son like this.
She knew Lucian from the photographs Rumy had shown her as well as by the new vibrations of the chain at her neck. The chain recognized him, allowing her to siphon his power, clear evidence that the chains held a magical quality. Even her vision seemed to have improved in the dim, torch-lit cave.
But hearing about the man and seeing him in person were two very different things. She hadn’t understood the size of him before. He was physically imposing and on some level, even beautiful. He had to be at least six-five. He had short dark hair that set off strong cheekbones, giving his face a sculpted appearance. His lips were full and sensual, his jawline angled, and his nose straight but with a slight curve at the bridge. His shoulders were broad and heavy, his arms ripped, his hands large and fleshy.
His thick, straight brows, however, were drawn together in a tight line as he rocked his head slowly back and forth, his lips moving over words she couldn’t quite make out.
Rumy had told her Lucian would probably be suffering from a kind of madness that vampires experienced when their blood-needs weren’t met on a regular basis. With his eyes closed and muttering unintelligible things, he seemed to be in exactly that state. At Rumy’s suggestion, she’d brought a vial of blood with her that would help clear Lucian’s head so that he could focus better.
At the same time, Lucian looked like any other male in her world. Her gaze dropped to his muscled thighs and as if on cue, he lowered his knees to stretch out his legs. Very male.
She looked away. It seemed invasive to be staring at him.
She fingered the single blood-chain at her neck, and realized she really could sense what he was feeling, the depths of his despair, his rage, and even his madness.
The same chain would create the powerful bond once Lucian wore the matching set. She still couldn’t believe she was about to bind herself to a vampire, but through a process she couldn’t begin to understand, the chains would make it possible for her to form a tracking pair with Lucian. If she wanted to find Zoey, this was the only way. And right now, she’d do whatever the hell Lucian wanted her to do, if it meant locating and rescuing her best friend.
She called to him. “Lucian, can you hear me? Rumy sent me. I’ve come to take you out of here. Lucian?”
* * *
Lucian struggled to make sense of what he’d just heard. A woman had called to him, or maybe he’d just imagined it, another illusion. The blood-madness was killing him.
“I’m here to your left. Can you see me? Try to focus if you can.”
There it was again, the same voice, a melodious sound, very feminine.
He shifted his head in the direction he thought the words had come from, struggling to see her. His vision came and went because of his debilitated state, but suddenly she was there, near the far wall. A woman, human by his reckoning, standing just beyond the torchlight. He had no idea who she was.
His captor and father, Daniel Briggs, had kept him in a state of intense blood-starvation so that he suffered from recurring episodes of dementia and distorted vision.
He blinked several times, working hard to hold the image. The woman appeared to be cloaked behind an intricate disguise, something only a vampire could create. Yet how had a mere human accomplished a design like that?
But with his next breath the scent of her blood reached him, and the sudden craving he experienced cramped his stomach. He couldn’t repress the groan that followed. What he wouldn’t give to take from her vein.
A protective instinct rose as well, the warrior part of him that always put the welfare of others above his own. “You need to leave, woman. It’s not safe here. Daniel will be back. If he finds you, he’ll kill you or put you to work in one of his sex clubs.” He lifted his manacled wrists. “And in case you haven’t noticed, I won’t be able to lift a finger to help you.”
He needed her to know something else as well: that he was Daniel’s spawn. Within him, he’d always felt the same nature at work, the one that could easily brutalize others. The same instincts had made him a good fighter, he knew that, so he wasn’t completely disgusted by who he was; just grateful that the darkness he carried around with him had an outlet. Given his blood-madness, given that he wasn’t in control, he could hurt the woman.
“Lucian, please listen to me. I’m here to get you out of this prison. Rumy sent me because I have a gift for making disguises. We’re just not sure if it will protect us from Daniel.”
He lifted his head. “I can hear Daniel coming now. He’s not far away. You have to leave.”
Footsteps sounded on the stone floor. He looked up, barely able to make out the faces of the men who entered from the tunnel to his left, not far from the woman. The guards had been coming in and out, cleaning him up, making him presentable. His vision cleared once more and he recognized Daniel, who had a couple of guards and a med tech with him.
“Give him two ounces,” Daniel called out. “He’s spiraling from blood-madness and I need him coherent.”
Daniel’s voice always sounded like he could give seminars on positive thinking. The bastard was charismatic, charming, and filthy rich—in a literal sense, because he’d made his fortune off the backs of anyone who came near him. He saw nothing wrong with inflicting pain to get what he wanted.
The more pain the better.
As the guards advanced, Lucian’s mind slipped away. Ancient memories surfaced, of being bound to Daniel’s table, enduring his “corrective punishments,” as he liked to call the torture he inflicted on his sons. He wanted Daniel dead. More than anything in life, he wanted the bastard dead.
He struggled in his chains, straining to get at Daniel. But what could he do, bound as he was?
One of the guards got a little too close and four centuries of battle experience took over. Lucian slid onto his side, kicking out with his foot at the same time. He connected with the guard’s leg and sent him sprawling. The man shouted in agony, his knee shattered.
The other guard backed off.
Lucian leaped to his feet, once more pulling at the chains, trying to get to his father.
Daniel smiled. “Just Taser him. I haven’t got all night.”
The uninjured guard drew his weapon and fired.
As a searing pain shot through his chest, Lucian roared. A terrible electrical charge followed that caused his arm and back muscles to seize, then spasm.
Vampires and electricity didn’t mix.
He fell to his knees, rolling onto his back. The charge paralyzed him long enough for the tech to come at him with a needle-less syringe and to slowly insert two critical ounces of blood deep into his mouth. He sputtered, struggling to swallow, but the blood tasted so good and at the same time began having a positive effect.
The moment his lucidity improved, he started calming down, though his body still jerked with aftershocks. The paralysis, though beginning to fade, kept him immobile.
He shifted his gaze to the far wall, to the human who had been talking to him, and there she was. She hadn’t been a hallucination after all. Better yet, Daniel couldn’t see her. The woman’s disguise held, and for the first time in months hope rose that he might just make it out alive.
For a long moment, he stared at her. She was dressed simply in jeans, a light-green T-shirt, jogging shoes. She was beautiful with deep-auburn hair that flowed in waves past her shoulders. Her creamy skin gave her an almost angelic appearance. Her nose was straight, her cheekbones high and strong, yet she watched him with tears in her light-brown eyes. No doubt she wasn’t used to Daniel’s barbaric ways.
Yet what surprised him was how clearly he could sense her emotions—as though he had some kind of connection to her. She was frightened by where she was, but there was something more, a powerful determination to do what she’d come here to do.
He remembered now. She’d spoken of Rumy; Rumy had sent her here. If all went well, this might just work.
He glanced back at Daniel, who stared at him with arms folded over his chest. Daniel really didn’t seem to be aware of the woman, even though he was one of the most powerful vampires in their world. He’d reached the highest form as an Ancestral, those vampires with tremendous power who tended to rise to positions of leadership or, in Daniel’s case, autocracy. Daniel all but ruled the vampire world.
And with that much power, he should have seen the woman.
Yet he hadn’t.
Was it possible she really could get him out of here?
The dose of blood eased Lucian and helped him to start healing the debilitating effects of the Taser. Even so, his body felt raw, reminding him of the torture he’d endured over the past year in the prison he’d previously inhabited. Daniel had brought him here, along with his brother Marius, but he’d quickly separated them. Lucian had no idea where Marius was.
Daniel called to him. “Is your head clear now?”
Lucian sat up, swiveling to face the man who’d sired him. His father wore an expensive, tailored suit of dark-blue silk, a goatee trimmed close, with his short, dark hair slicked back. His eyes were light blue with a hint of green, not quite teal, but lighter and flecked with gold. He defined all that was evil in their culture.
Lucian despised what his father stood for. “What the fuck do you want anyway?”
“I want you to return to me, Lucian. That’s all I’ve ever wanted from you and your brothers.”
“I know you have Marius imprisoned here somewhere, but where’s Adrien?” There were three brothers in all. Recently a human female had taken Adrien from their previous, shared prison, but he hadn’t seen him since. He didn’t even know if Adrien was alive.
“I’m not here to discuss Adrien. I want to talk about you and what I can do to persuade you to join my ranks.”
“Not a goddamn thing.”
“You’re being absurdly stubborn for a prisoner in chains.”
Lucian just stared at him, letting him feel his hatred. The man had been his torturer as a child. He would die before he ever joined Daniel’s ranks.
Daniel gestured with a sweep of his hand. “Let me be specific. I need help finding the extinction weapon. It seems you and your brothers all have a special kind of tracking ability, and with just a little effort I know you’ll be able to find it. Join me, Lucian, help me gain a weapon that will allow me to rule our world for the next millennium, and you can share in that power. Just think what that would mean for you: the position of prominence, the enormous wealth. And together we’d be invincible.”
“I’ll never return to you. And after four hundred years, I don’t understand why the fuck you’re still asking. My loyalties lie with those who seek justice and equality in our world, not monsters who enslave and torture the innocent.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed to thin, unreadable slits. But Lucian knew that expression well. Nothing good would follow. “I don’t think you’re getting the picture. You’ll do this for me and like it or you’ll die, Marius with you. It’s that simple.”
“Then kill me now, Father, because I’d prefer death to serving you and I’m sure my brother would feel the exact same way.”
Daniel pulled his lips back, revealing the sharp points of his fangs. He moved in swiftly, before Lucian could get out of the way, then placed a hand on top of Lucian’s head. An excruciating stream of power flowed from Daniel’s hand, once more paralyzing Lucian.
“This is just the beginning, my son. I have more in store for you. Trust me, little by little I’ll tear you down until you will do anything I want you to do. For now, feel my power.”
Pain ripped through Lucian, traveling down his spine and into his legs. He roared once more, then fell back unable to breathe, to think, to move. It took several seconds before he could finally make sense of his surroundings once more.
“Good. You’re back. And now I have another piece of persuasion for you.” He pivoted slightly and snapped his fingers in the direction of the tunnel entrance.
* * *
Claire felt some kind of vibration in the air shift, some level of Daniel’s intention. He turned toward the arched doorway behind him, where two large torches cast a glow at the end of the cave. He waved an arm and once more snapped his fingers.
Guards appeared, one on either side of a man they dragged behind them. He was naked like Lucian but covered in grime. She wasn’t sure of the color of his hair because he was filthy, including his face, which was bruised and bloody.
Lucian leaned back like he’d been hit. He rubbed a hand over his face, narrowing his eyes as though he couldn’t see well. “Marius, is that you? What have you done to Marius?”
The guards dropped the vampire at Daniel’s feet.
“You sure you don’t want to join me, Lucian?”
“Never.” He leaned forward on his knees, his gaze fixed on Marius. His head wagged back and forth again. Claire had a strong sense that he couldn’t see his brother clearly.
“Well, that’s too bad, then.” Daniel leaned down and, taking a blade from his pocket, sliced open the man’s throat. The victim thrashed, his hands to his throat, blood leaking everywhere.
As Marius collapsed, Daniel stepped out of harm’s way. Apparently he didn’t want blood on his expensive suit.
Shouting sounded through the pit.
On instinct, Claire covered her ears, aware of the reason a few seconds later: Lucian had started bellowing like a wild animal, straining against his chains. “Marius! My brother! Marius!”
Claire felt his pain because the chain shared it with her, letting her experience Lucian’s horror. He was losing something infinitely precious.
Her chest started to hurt.
She tried not to look at Marius, who now lay still, but whose blood had created a lake near his head. Instead her gaze drifted to Daniel, who watched Lucian’s suffering with a half smile on his lips, his gaze hooded.
So he got off on his son’s suffering. Of course that much had already been made evident to Claire in the recent exchange.
“It’s just you and me now, Lucian. Marius is gone. Adrien is holed up somewhere with the woman who bound him up and subdued him. Become an Ancestral and rule beside me. You’ll forget this pain, and you won’t believe the power you’ll wield. It’s intoxicating.”
Claire knew Daniel’s words were wasted. She could feel Lucian’s venom. He hated his father, wanted him dead.
Daniel skirted Marius’s body. “Say you’ll join me, Lucian. I have a thousand slaves here and you’ll get all the blood you need. I can feel your starvation, and I want to take care of you. That’s what you’ve never understood. I have tremendous compassion for you.”
Lucian, still prone, strained once more against his chains trying to reach his father. “I’ll see you in hell first, Daniel.”
But again Daniel touched the top of his head. The powerful warrior rolled onto his back, his body seizing again.
Through a mist of tears, her hands pressed over her mouth, Claire watched Daniel revel in the pain he caused his son. He stood over him, both arms spread wide, staring down at Lucian’s body, a smile on his lips.
At last, Lucian must have passed out, because his eyes closed and his body grew lax. For a moment she thought Daniel might have killed him, but Lucian’s chest moved up and down. Only then could Claire finally breathe.
She held her disguising shield tight, fearing that Daniel might suddenly realize she was in the cave. If he ever turned that level of power against her, she wouldn’t survive for the time it took to blink.
Fortunately, with a sheen of perspiration on his forehead and a satisfied dip of his chin, Daniel turned and left the space. The guards and med tech followed after him while a cleanup crew hurried in.
She turned away as two of them carted Marius’s body out; the rest set to cleaning the floor. Powerful emotions moved through her: the grief that Lucian would now experience, and the horror she felt at watching a man killed in front of her eyes. She knew enough to let the sensations flow, as hard as they were to bear.
She would have a lot of processing to do later, but right now she had to get Lucian out of the cave.
With the last of the blood cleaned up, the crew left. Claire waited until the hall beyond grew quiet. Finally, she hurried toward Lucian, her disguising shield tight around her.
She withdrew the vial of her blood from the pocket of her jeans, then dropped to her knees beside him. Uncorking the small plastic tube, she held it beneath his nose, hoping he’d catch the scent.
At the same time she smoothed her hand over his forehead. “Come back to me, Lucian. Let me take you out of here before Daniel returns. Please wake up.”
She thought about what he’d said, that he was loyal to those who sought justice and equality. Here was a man who deserved so much more than what life had dealt him.
His head began to shift, first left then right. A moan left his lips. “Blood,” he whispered.
When his lips parted, she began easing the blood into his mouth, then stroking his throat to encourage him to swallow. Little by little the vial grew empty.
“Lucian, can you hear me?”
He finally opened his eyes and stared at her. “You’re the human, the one I saw earlier.”
“My God, your blood tastes the way you smell, like sweet herbs. And there’s strength in you. Great strength. But who are you?”
Claire stared into Lucian’s smoky-gray eyes and for a moment got completely lost in what he’d just said to her. She’d never heard a more beautiful compliment.
“My name is Claire. Rumy sent me here to help you.”
Maybe it was the chain she wore, or that she admired how he’d stood up to his father, or his kind words—but suddenly he became more than merely the vehicle by which she could find her friend. Something inside her began to warm to him, a sensation that brought heat to her cheeks.
He sat up and took several deep breaths. He winced suddenly and shaded his faced with his manacled hand. “Marius.” He whispered. “Oh, God, Marius.”
As much as she needed to get him out of the cave, the sooner the better, she had to give him just a little space to recover from what for her had been a horrifying spectacle. She swallowed several times, her throat tight.
In addition to the sudden swell of grief, she also sensed that he was working hard to recover from Daniel’s most recent assault. He was still in a lot of pain.
After a moment he lifted his face to her, but his gaze dropped to her neck and he frowned. “You’re wearing a blood-chain.”
She nodded. “Your blood-chain, Lucian. Rumy said that being bound together through the chains would be the only way you could leave this cave, but I don’t know exactly what he meant.”
He glanced down at his manacles. “Rumy was right, because these shackles are preternaturally enhanced with Daniel’s power.” He lifted his gaze to hers. “The blood-chain bond will expand my abilities, give me what I need to break free. But tell me what Rumy told you.”
“That we’ll have a proximity issue, with about a twelve-foot reach, which means we’ll have to be close to each other for however long we’re bonded in this way.”
He lowered his chin. “And? Surely he told you more than that.”
“Rumy was very specific that you’ll be in a blood-starved state. You’ll require a recovery period, and I’ll have to donate.”
“And you’re okay with that? Because the sense I’m getting is that this is all new to you.”
“Then why did you come here? Why would you put yourself in this kind of danger?”
Claire needed him to understand the whole picture, especially the promises Rumy had made. “Two years ago, my friend Zoey and I were abducted from a club in Santa Fe. I’ve been held captive all this time in Florida at Daniel’s command. But Rumy got wind of it, suspecting that I might have the ability to forge a tracking pair with you. Does this make sense? The ‘tracking pair’ thing, I mean?”
He nodded. “It does. It’s very rare in our world, but I’m starting to get the picture. Rumy helped you escape, didn’t he?”
“He did, but he insisted that I search for your blood-chains first. When I actually found them in my captor’s office, I finally believed everything he’d been telling me. You have to understand, until three days ago, I didn’t even know about your world except for vague rumors some of the staff mentioned now and then. I thought it was all gossip.”
Lucian scowled. “So Rumy sent you here wearing the blood-chain intending for you to bond with me.”
She swallowed hard. “Yes. He believes that Daniel orchestrated my capture and that he’d fully intended one day to use me for exactly this purpose, to become part of a tracking pair in order to find the weapon he’s after.”
His frown deepened. “What did Rumy tell you about the blood-chains?”
“That when they were created, they were infused with your blood, which makes them specific to you. He also said that you had tremendous power and that once you put on the blood-chain and we bonded, that you’d be able to break out of these shackles.” She glanced down at the horrible, heavy iron bands around his wrists and ankles. Lifting her gaze back to his face, she added, “And I hope more than anything that it’s true.”
Lucian searched her eyes. “But what’s in it for you?”
Claire’s throat seized and her eyes filled with tears. “I need help to find my friend, Zoey. She’s lost somewhere inside your world.” Images of her best friend from childhood suddenly came to mind. Zoey was so different from her in almost every way. She had short, jet-black hair, for one thing, and large blue eyes. They’d lived on the same street and been in and out of each other’s houses from the earliest time Claire could remember. The moment Rumy had told Claire that Zoey had probably been trafficked into the vampire slave system, she’d set her course. She had to find her if it was the last thing she did. “Rumy’s convinced Zoey was auctioned off as a sex slave. If you and I do form a chain-bond, and it turns out we really can track things, then I’ll need your commitment to help me find Zoey. That’s what’s in it for me and Rumy assured me that you’d be willing to help.”
Lucian wrapped his arms around his knees and closed his eyes. “Fuck. This isn’t right, not on any level.”
She reached out to him, touching his arm. “Lucian, I don’t have the luxury of thinking in terms of whether this is right or not. I only want one thing, to find my friend. I have no idea if she’s alive, but I can’t leave your world without knowing one way or the other, without making an effort. This seems like the only way.”
He put a hand to his abdomen.
“Are you still in pain, even though I just gave you some of my blood?”
He nodded, then lifted his gaze to hers once more. “Again, this won’t be simple, and you could get hurt in the process. There will be times when I’ll be completely out of control, do you understand?”
“You’re talking about your recovery process.”
“I know and I’m still okay with it. I just need your promise that if we do this, you’ll help me look for Zoey.”
He met and held her gaze for a long moment, as though considering all that she’d said. She sensed not so much his deliberation as a rebuilding of his commitment. “We’ll need to find the extinction weapon,” he said at last. “That’s the commitment I need from you. We’ll hunt for both, for Zoey and the weapon, whatever it takes, but I can’t let my father get hold of a weapon that has the capacity to destroy every last vampire on the planet. Do you understand? Will you make that commitment to me?”
She didn’t hesitate, not for a second. “Absolutely.”
He put his hand to his chest. “I can sense that you’re speaking the truth.” He rose slowly to his feet, this very naked man, this powerful warrior.
He overwhelmed her as much by his sheer size as by the strength of his commitment to end Daniel’s reign of terror.
He held her gaze. “Then I’ll bind myself to you.”
She dipped into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out the matching blood-chain. “Let’s do it.”
* * *
Lucian struggled to remain focused on the human and on her intentions. His thoughts wanted to fix themselves exclusively on Marius’s death and his burning desire to hunt Daniel down and destroy him. But he couldn’t do anything until he got out of this prison, which meant he had to turn his attention to more immediate issues, like the weapon and to helping Claire find her friend.
He met her light-brown eyes again, caught by their unusual shade, and dipped his chin once. She extended her hands, and as he lowered his head to give her a better angle he felt the vibration of power that both sets of chains held.
She quickly slid the second chain over his head, lowering it onto his neck. Her gentle touch reminded him that for over a year he’d known only brutality and isolation.
He met and held Claire’s gaze once more, but this time she came into sharp focus. Her auburn beauty struck him all over again; he had the sudden awareness that if circumstances had been different, she was exactly the kind of woman he would have gone for.
She blinked several times as she searched his eyes. “Rumy showed me pictures, but you’re so tall in real life.” He watched a blush suffuse her cheeks and sensed a rippling of interest. She found him attractive.
Her gaze skated over his face, then down his neck. She touched his chain and gasped softly. “The vibrations have really grown stronger.”
“They have.” He leaned close, sniffing her neck and her cheek. “There it is again. You smell like sweet herbs. Your blood tastes like that as well.”
Her hands found his arms and slid over his biceps. “Lucian, this is so strange. I can’t believe how much I’m feeling from you right now. It’s as though I know you.”
He nodded. “Same here.” The sensation disturbed him deeply. She threatened him in a way he couldn’t quite understand.
When she pulled away from him, her lips were parted. “I think I’m in trouble here. I’m feeling things that don’t seem appropriate. Is it the chain-bond?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been told that the bond can only reflect what’s already there.”
She blushed again. “Oh, I see. I guess that makes sense.”
The next moment, a jolt of something powerful passed through him.
Her eyes went wide. “Did you feel that?”
He nodded. “Almost like a steel door slamming shut. It’s the bond.”
“I feel so strange right now. More than just human.”
“That would follow. You were siphoning some of my power before, but now it will become a strong, steady flow. Your vision will improve as well.” He glanced down at the powerful chains that held him captive. “And now we’ll see if the bond will be enough to take care of this part of the equation.”
He focused on his manacles, on the charge Daniel had placed within the chains. If they hadn’t been preternaturally enhanced, he could have broken out of them two seconds after they’d locked in place. But Daniel’s power had made them impervious to his natural strength.
He let his newly enhanced power flow, and little by little he felt Daniel’s locking mechanism give way. He applied the full force of his ability, but the resistance to his effort stunned him.
“I can sense what you’re doing. I might be able to help.” Claire placed her hands on his arms, and that small touch caused his power to surge. The next moment the charge within the shackles fizzled. A little more pressure and the manacles split apart, falling off his arms.
Claire squealed her excitement. “Yes!”
Adrenaline spiked and his heart rate went through the roof. “Hell, yeah.”
He repeated the process for his ankles. Once the shackles fell away, he was free.
He stepped away from Claire and turned in a circle. “I haven’t had these off in a year. Now just like that, they’re gone. They’re fucking gone.”
Suddenly he glanced toward the entrance to the cell. “Daniel’s coming.”
Then without warning, his stomach seized once more. Drawing away from her, he doubled over, the pain like fire through his abdomen.
* * *
Claire saw that Lucian’s blood-madness issue had just resurfaced. “How do we fix this?”
“It’s not going to be simple. I’ll need to feed from you again soon. But right now I can’t even move.”
Suddenly she heard running down the hall, as well as Daniel shouting. She couldn’t mistake his voice. He must have divined that Lucian was close to making an escape.
She embraced Lucian and extended her disguise to envelop him as well. “We have to leave.”
“I can’t, not yet.”
She felt the level of his pain. Once more he was almost paralyzed.
“I have you hidden behind my disguise, but can you at least move with me, away from the shackles on the floor?”
He nodded. “I’ll try. Just pull me, if you can. I’ll see what I can manage.”
She took his arm, tugging at him. He started shuffling so that she was finally able to get him back near the wall where she’d originally been standing.
Daniel appeared in the short tunnel entrance and immediately strode to the chains lying on the stone pavers near the smooth wall. “Where the hell is Lucian?”
At least ten guards had followed him inside. The one in charge stepped forward. “He was in here just a few minutes ago. No one went in. No one out except the cleaning crew. I swear it.”
Daniel, his flecked blue eyes glowing, turned in a slow circle as he checked out the entire space. He ended up facing the exact spot where Claire stood with Lucian. It was clear that he didn’t actually see them, yet he must have sensed their presence, or maybe Lucian’s.
“I know you’re still in here, my son. I can feel you but I can’t see you. Show yourself. I take it you’ve had help. It will go easier with you if you don’t defy me right now.”
He started moving slowly in their direction.
Claire rubbed Lucian’s shoulders. “You’ve got to fly us out of here. Now. Daniel can’t see us, but he’s coming straight for us.”
Lucian groaned loudly as he forced himself to stand upright. His eyes were narrowed as if in great pain, but he put his arm around Claire’s waist. “Okay.”
Having flown with Rumy, she knew the drill and threw her arms around his neck. She held on tight.
Daniel was only fifteen feet away and moving faster now.
She shouted, “Lucian, get us out of here.” The vibration of flight began.
Daniel lunged the remaining the distance, just grazing her back as Lucian shifted to altered flight.
His words trailed after them. “I’ll come after you, Lucian. You’ll never be able to hide from me, and when I find you, I’ll destroy you.”
But Lucian had them in the phenomenon called altered flight, allowing them to pass easily through any kind of solid matter. Faster and faster he flew, away from the horror of his prison cell, away from Daniel.
Pressed against him the way she was, she could feel the solid weight of him, not just his physical body, but what he carried in his soul. Rumy had said that he bore the sins of his father. Maybe that was what she felt from Lucian: the weight of all that sin.
In that moment, she knew she really was in trouble. She hadn’t expected to be able to feel so much of what Lucian felt, to divine his soul. Her quest, which had begun with a need to find Zoey, had just become layered with elements that disturbed her deeply, that threatened how she viewed who she was, even what her life should be. She was a simple New Mexico girl with a degree in social work and a job rehabilitating prostitutes. She wanted a husband and a home of her own one day. But sensing Lucian in this way made her long for things she couldn’t put a name to.
As he sped back to Italy, however, the effects of the flight hit her like a brick. Her head once more felt split wide and her stomach boiled.
Can you hear me, Claire?
She frowned. Even though she’d known that telepathy came with the connection they now shared, it was still strange to have another person’s voice in her head. I’m here. Is this real? Are we talking mind-to-mind? She winced again. Damn, altered flight hurt.
Yes. Mind-to-mind. Sorry about the pain. I can feel that you’re hurting. Can’t be helped.
I know. But just to warn you, I’ll probably pass out when we arrive back in Italy.
Is Rumy expecting us?
At the secret entrance. He said you’d know where that was. Do you?
She felt him shaking suddenly. Hey, you all right?
This fucking blood-madness.
I’ll feed you when we get there.
I’m counting on it.
She felt his flight begin to slow. Glancing down, she recognized the familiar Italian landscape below, and despite the pain she realized exactly how much the completion of the chain-bond had improved her vision. The night was dark, but she saw everything as though warmed by the sun in late afternoon, even though it was the middle of the night.
She breathed a sigh of relief as Lake Como came into view. Rumy’s extensive sex-club complex ranged well into the surrounding hills, through miles of caverns and caves, invisible to human eyes. She could even see through the heavy disguise that covered the secret entrance to the club.
A tall vampire, in black leather, with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, stepped aside as Lucian descended onto the small landing platform.
The moment she let go of Lucian, however, the pain and nausea caught up with her. She fell to the pavers of the landing area, her head spinning.
Her last thought before she passed out was that she really hoped she wouldn’t throw up.
Copyright © 2014 by Caris Roane