Erion was Pureblood vampire, but he was also a mutore. And while that moniker took away many of his rights, stripped him of all respect, it had granted him the ability to live in sunlight-unlike his Roman brothers.
He flashed into the alley across from the Roman and Beast compounds, which were situated next to each other on the moderately quiet SoHo street, and if all went according to the construction plans they'd devised, would be one massive home in just a few months.
Erion liked the idea of the entire clan living together, but it hadn't stopped him from wanting his own space as well, something that was just his-something he could pass down to a future generation.
He bypassed a decent amount of daytime traffic and headed for the mutore compound first. Getting through his own enchantments was simple and quick, and when he entered the house, he was glad he'd chosen this side of the lawn first. Devoid of any of the afternoon's sunlight, the main living space was lit with lamps and the flickering glow of the fireplace, and it was packed with the entire Roman and Beast crew. Erion heard them before he saw them-male and female, serious and aggressive-but Lycos, with that damn nose of his, was on Erion before he even crossed the threshold into the huge circular space.
"Where the hell have you been?"
"I'm well. Thank you, Lycos." Erion gave the wolf beast a surly glare as he walked into the room.
"Well, shit. I'm glad to hear it," Lycos said, his eyes ripe with irritation. "But I want to know where you were. You can't be out of communication. We need to be able to reach you."
Erion cared deeply for his mutore brothers and had grown fond of his Roman brothers as well, but right now all he cared about was his boy.
"Have you found Cruen's whereabouts?" He addressed the query to the room, to all who sat and stood and stared at him.
"Not yet," Nicholas told him, his expression grim.
Erion noticed Kate wasn't in the room. A soft ping registered in his chest. The veana was like a surrogate mother to Ladd. She loved and cared for him deeply, and was no doubt hurting, fearful.
"Nothing on the walls?" he asked, his gaze still on Nicholas.
"The Order hasn't contacted us," Nicholas said quietly. "There's been nothing."
Phane stood up, anger flaring in his mismatched eyes. "You're just going to ignore Ly's question?"
"I've been searching for the boy," Erion said on a growl. He hadn't told anyone about the house he'd purchased. It was his private business. He didn't want questions, didn't want to have to explain why he'd bought it, his hope for who he might give it to someday.
"You've been gone twenty-four hours, Erion," Helo said calmly, though with marked pointedness. The water beast was perched on the edge of a chair. "We have enough to worry about without having to send a search party out for you."
Erion knew they meant well and that everyone was jacked up on worry for the boy, but Helo's last words really pissed him off. "I will be gone for as long as I wish it, brothers. I am no balas; I need no tegga. I came here only to see what information you have gleaned." He looked around the room and snarled. "Which seems to be nothing. Christ, have you even moved since I was here last-since the boy was stolen?"
Alexander and Lucian cursed, Phane and Helo stood, growling, Sara tried to speak civilly to him, but Lycos got in his face and pushed.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he shouted.
"Just don't appreciate doing the work of ten."
"You run off, don't stay in contact, then presume once you deign to come back here that we've just been sitting on our asses all day drinking blood?"
"You have nothing!" Erion shouted. "No information, no trail to follow."
"Neither do you, asshole!" He looked around, behind Erion. "You got the balas? You brought him home? Is he hiding under your fucking shirt or something?"
A fierce snarl escaped Erion's throat, and he headed toward his wolf brother. "Screw you, Lycos."
Phane stepped between them. "Ease up, Erion. You're acting like a-"
"Nutcase!" Lycos called, his beast out and snarling.
"No, an idiot," Phane said.
Lycos snorted. "Fuck, no! A-"
The air in the room seemed to flatten. All aggression and seething, testosterone-laden fire bled from each male, who a moment ago were ready to kick the shit out of one another.
"He's acting like a father."
All heads turned to Nicholas. The paven stood by the wall, alone, his eyes tired and sad as he watched Erion.
"You think you're the only one feeling like this, brother?" he said.
"Like what?" Erion returned, not fierce but fearful. "Disappointed in the lack of work that's being done to locate the boy."
Nicholas shook his head. "You know that's not true. You know every vampire in here is doing all he can to locate Ladd. What I mean is that you're not the only one worrying about him, wondering if he's hurt, if he's scared." Nicholas's hands balled into fists and he slammed back at the wall that he was leaning on.
Erion didn't want to see the paven emotional, afraid. He couldn't afford to feel any of that. He had to stay detached and clearheaded and vicious.
"We've all been out searching, Erion," Alex said, his tone as calm as he could make it. "Until the very last moments of night."
"We all want the boy back," Sara said, moving into the crook of her mate's arm. "We must work together."
"The Eyes are looking into Cruen's whereabouts," Lucian said. "But those fanged street rats aren't being even remotely helpful. I swear Cruen has stolen their minds from them, made them think they are no longer informants for hire but his personal servants. We've offered them insane amounts of money, and they're not even tempted."
"Dillon is working with the Order now," Sara added, "She's trying to find out what they know, and Gray is seeing if the Impure warriors can obtain a mental link."
Alexander turned to his brother. "How is Kate?"
Erion flinched, then hated himself for it. He didn't want to fall into the sad warmth of their emotional connection. He watched as Nicholas shook his head, his eyes weary. "Frantic. She tried to go with Dillon to the Order."
Alexander snorted. "Went over well, did it?"
Nicholas's mouth lifted. "Like a jackhammer on a tin can."
"Mating hasn't mellowed that veana one bit."
Erion's skin tightened around his muscles and bones, and his chest rumbled with the beginnings of a growl. If he remained here, listening to this, he was going to explode.
"You can continue socializing," he said. "I have work to do." He turned on his heel and started for the door.
"Where?" Helo called after him. "What work is it? What's your plan?"
"One of us will go with you," Phane added. "Wait, brother."
"No." Erion didn't slow.
"Goddamn you, Erion!"
Lycos's frustrated outburst followed Erion out the living room door and into the hall, but the only one who actually followed him was his twin.
Nicholas caught up with him near the kitchen and blocked his way. The paven looked tired, older, but in his dark eyes a fire smoldered.
Erion bared his teeth, flashed his demon. "Move."
"I don't like this, Erion," Nicholas said, undeterred by the show of brawn.
"Not my problem."
"He is mine too, and Kate's."
Erion's jaw worked, a quick and irrational anger surging within him. "You think that's what this is? That I would steal him back only to keep him for myself? I am no father." His eyes narrowed. "He is all yours, brother. I would never attempt to claim him."
Nicholas's dark gaze turned sympathetic. "You know what I mean. I respect the fact that he is your biological-"
"He is nothing but a missing balas!" The words were like cut glass in his mouth. "Now get out of my way before I help you."
Nicholas didn't move. "If you want to prove something, it would be better served to work together."
"Not this time."
"I know what you're doing. You think you owe him, that you're making up for not knowing about his existence."
The rumbling in Erion's chest exploded into a full-fledged growl of warning. "Don't tell me what I'm feeling."
"You know nothing," Erion hissed, something tightening in his chest, something he wanted nothing to do with. "You and I have no understanding of each other, our histories, our perspectives."
"Is this about the past? About our mother and what she did to you?" Nicholas shook his head. "If so, you have nothing to make up for. I truly believe you were better off."
"That veana may have used you, brother, hurt you, but at least she wanted you."
Nicholas laughed bitterly. "Oh, she wanted me. She wanted me for my mouth and my ass after she could no longer service those pieces of shit herself." He turned away for a moment, his nostrils flaring, trying to catch his breath. "What does any of this have to do with Ladd?"
Erion could barely feel, barely think, he was so pumped up on adrenaline and anger and fear. "I cannot . . ."
"What? What, Erion?"
His gaze lifted and his eyes found his twin's. He shook his head miserably. "The balas will not think, will not believe-ever-no matter where he ends up-that I did not want him."
There was a moment of silence between them, and Nicholas's eyes softened. "You don't have to do this alone for him to know that."
Erion straightened his shoulders, shoved away the sentiment and emotion. "I must find him. I. Must find him."
"You are being irrational. And it's dangerous for the boy."
"My passion, my drive, will bring the boy home. You will see."
Nicholas released a grave sigh. "God, I hope so."
Erion bit into his wrist, then grabbed his brother's and bit into his flesh too. Nicholas cursed, but he allowed Erion to press the two bloody gashes together.
"Now we are connected," Erion said, his eyes locked on his twin. "Feel for me within yourself if Cruen contacts you."
Without waiting for an answer, Erion ripped his arm away and pushed past Nicholas to the door. He had to get back to his search, to his prisoner. The moment he stepped out of the house, the moment he felt sun on his face, he flashed.
In seconds, he landed on another lawn, in another country. It was night and the rain had stopped. Erion ran his bloody wrist along the lock, then waited for the gate to draw back. It had barely swung two feet before he saw the front door to the castle burst open. One of his servants came running out, followed by the brown-and-white canine. Both barreled down the small incline and through the vines.
Breathless, the dog on his heels, the servant halted before Erion. "Your prisoner, sir."
Instantly alert, Erion said, "What about her?"
The servant's mouth formed a grim line and his eyes were wide with anxiety.
"What?" Erion demanded, a sudden caustic panic gripping him. "Has she escaped again?"
The male shook his head.
He grabbed the male by the collar and said in the deadliest of voices, "Tell me before I gut you."
"She has eaten Timothy," the male squeaked.
At first Erion didn't believe he'd heard the servant correctly. But one look at the male's utterly terrorized face and he knew it was true.
"Christ!" he uttered, tossing the male aside and immediately flashing up to the house.
Goddamn female! What the hell had she done? And, more importantly, what the hell was she? Humans didn't eat flesh, and vampires drank only blood.
He stalked into the house and down the many hallways that led to the door and the dungeon stairs. Whatever she was, he wouldn't tolerate her making meals out of his staff.
Return . . .
Return her to me-
Cruen opened his eyes and snarled at the plants surrounding him in the rooftop greenhouse. He couldn't even send a message to the walls of the Roman brothers' compound. He couldn't get through their enchantments.
He grabbed at a violet bloom and ripped it from its stem. For too many years to count he had been all-powerful, divine, feared, and formidable. Sending a message to anyone, anywhere, took only a brief thought, such little effort.
Now he was . . . what? Like all the other vampires? Limited powers. He didn't know how to exist in the realm he now found himself in.
Erion had taken his key to continued power, his key to unlimited life, and to his work developing the ultimate vampire.
Erion had taken the key that would finally unlock the door to Cruen's true love.
He had to find the female. But how was he to get to his mutore son? He couldn't use any of his advanced magic. And he couldn't go to the source of his power and ask for it.
He crushed the flower in his fist. He couldn't bring Abbadon into this. The demon king would make Cruen pay, make him go without a feeding until Hellen was found. Abbadon would consider her abduction Cruen's incompetence, but the fact that Cruen's adopted son had done the deed . . . well, that might just make the Demon King forget their union altogether.
And Cruen couldn't allow that.
Without Abbadon's blood, he was a worthless paven.
"Gale!" he shouted.
The male came at once, had no doubt been hovering near the door. "Yes, my lord?"
"Are the Demon King's daughters comfortable?"
"Yes, my lord." The male cocked his head. "Should we continue to make them so?"
Cruen's lip curled in pure menace and warning. "You will treat them as the royalty they are while I am away."
The male nodded, his gaze sweeping low. "You are traveling, my lord?"
He tossed away the broken and battered bloom. "It seems I must."
"I have tied you up! Is that not enough to contain your wickedness? Do you need a muzzle as well?"
Hellen watched the male, Erion, pace from one end of the dungeon to the other, his black hair hanging to his hard jawline, his diamond eyes fixed on her, his lips forming a sneer. His wide shoulders were rolled forward. Every thick muscle she could see outlined in the jeans and black T-shirt he wore flexed and bunched as if he was ready to attack. He was a fearsome sight, and she licked her lips, tasting the blood of his guard.
Metallic and unsatisfying.
"You seem tense, Male," she said, her gaze trained on him, wondering what he would do next, how he would deal with her. "Hasn't my fiance contacted you yet?"
Erion's nostrils flared, but he didn't stop moving. "You should be the one who's concerned. Perhaps Cruen doesn't value you as you believed."
She refused to even contemplate that. "Or perhaps he doesn't want to give back the prize he took from you, bloodsucker."
A fearsome growl erupted from his throat, and he whirled on her. "I swear to all that is unholy, if you eat another member of my household, I will bleed you out and you'll see my bloodsucker tendencies firsthand."
She plastered on a false expression of trepidation. She knew he wouldn't kill her, his leverage. "A vile threat indeed."
"You push me too far, woman."
"Whatever," he growled, turning away from her and resuming pacing.
She pulled at the cuffs encircling her wrist. "I was hungry, okay?"
"The guard brought you food. Did he not?" Erion said through tightly gritted teeth.
"It wasn't fresh."
He growled again.
"And how was I supposed to eat it?" she continued. "With my toes?"
He was in her face in under a breath. Nostrils flared, chest heaving, he towered over her. Hellen had been around males her whole life, and as she'd grown and bloomed into womanhood she'd seen how some males began to regard her. Not like they did her sisters, but there were the ones who had found her attractive, the ones who made her laugh and fought rogue demons beside her. But never in all that time had a male looked at her like this one did. Hate and fear and sadness and hunger and . . . lust?
She drew back as far as she could go, her shoulders hitting the wall.
Who was this bloodsucker? And what did he want from Cruen? She knew Cruen had to be a fiend in his own right-after all, who would pay for a mate but someone who craved power, someone without empathy? Someone very similar to her father, Abbadon. Did this male who looked as though she were something he wished to unwrap and discover only desire the power of her being?
Should she care? Should she even wonder? After all, her main objective had to be escape. Or . . . if given the chance, this male's demise.
His gaze was moving over her face. Only when he came to her eyes did he speak. "My guards are not on the menu. Understand?"
She couldn't help herself. She breathed him in, cold air and hot skin.
"Do you hear me, woman?"
Hear you, scent you . . . Her ankles flickered with heat. Gods, she needed her draft. "When they are perverted little fucks who attempt to touch me, they are."
Erion's eyes widened and a feral growl vibrated from his throat. "What did you say?"
"Seriously, I have to repeat it?"
He cocked his head to the side and uttered in the deadliest of voices, "He touched you?"
"Above the waist. If he'd tried to go lower I would've had to play with my food first before I ate it."
His gaze cut to her chest.
Just the quick look made her demon heat flare an inch higher. Shit. "I may not be all that hot in the face department, but I do have killer tits."
The bloodsucker's eyes lifted and he appeared confused. "You believe yourself unattractive?"
"Does it matter?"
"I find it curious."
She shrugged. "My face. The shape, the features. It's not all . . . It's-"
"It's beautiful," he said. "You're beautiful."
Silence fell between them, and Hellen wasn't at all sure what to say, what to think. She was locked up in a dungeon, prisoner to the male before her while her skin grew hotter with each breath she took.
He had called her beautiful. He stood before her, watching her, guarded, yet clearly confused on what had just transpired between them-what he had allowed himself to say.
It wasn't good.
They were prisoner and jailer. No bond was to be formed, no matter how many compliments were tossed her way.
She forced her gaze from him. "Look," she began in a tight voice. "Your guard thought the best course of action was to feed me with one hand and cop a feel with the other. And, well . . . Hellen don't play that."
"I understand." His voice was stone and ice.
Her gaze seemed to drag itself back to his.
"I apologize, Hellen," he said, his mouth grim, his eyes flaring with anger. "It will not happen again."
"Why should I believe anything you say?"
"I do not keep you here for my own sadistic amusement. It is because I have no choice."
She laughed softly. "You have a choice."
"Have you ever cared about someone, Hellen?" His eyes burned into hers. "So deeply, so desperately you would sacrifice everything for them-including your code of honor?"
Yes. Yes, she thought. Her sisters. She would give anything, everything to keep them safe. But she couldn't tell him that. She couldn't risk the possibility that he would use the information to get back whatever it was he so desperately wanted.
Before she was forced to say something, anything that was not the truth, there was noise on the stairs behind them.
"What?" Erion said, irritated, ripping his gaze from Hellen and turning around.
The guard reached the bottom step and stopped. He eyed Hellen and blanched, then slowly backed up the stairs.
"You have turned my guards into pussies," Erion muttered.
"Maybe you'll be next," she said, then added, "Erion."
He glanced over his shoulder. "You know my name."
Your name, yes, but not your game.
"What is it?" Erion grumbled, turning back to the guard.
"There is a message from your brothers."
"He has brothers," Hellen said softly. Are they a part of this deal? she wondered. This abduction? Has Cruen taken them or hurt them? Is that what the bloodsucker wishes to get back?
"That's not possible," Erion told the guard. "I was just with them."
"He said it was urgent, sir." His voice lowered. "About the boy."
Hellen's blood jumped in her veins. Boy. What boy?
Erion walked toward the guard, his large, powerful body tense. "He said it was urgent?" His voice was lethal. "Who is he?"
Hellen's eyes cut between Erion and the guard as the temperature in the room seemed to drop twenty degrees.
The guard's nostrils flared with nerves. "The courier at the gate, sir."
Hellen heard Erion curse, then suddenly take off up the stairs.
"What boy?" she yelled after him, but he was gone, the guard with him.
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