Chapter 12

Nicholas walked into the library, his stoic exterior masking the raging hard-on he had to rip out the jugular of the first beating heart he saw. Unfortunately, the only thing in the room happened to be not only pulseless, but family.

Seated in a huge leather armchair, legs splayed, eyes trained on his laptop, Lucian didn't even look up. "Is Trainer dead?"

"No," Nicholas said.

"Good, I don't want the Order up our asses any further than they already are. Is he at least scrubbed and put away for safekeeping?"

Nicholas paced the floor, pausing every few seconds to speak. "I couldn't find him."

"Well"--Lucian's gaze lifted--"that's unfortunate."

It was more than that, Nicholas thought. It was a first. In his hundred and fifty years, he'd never lost prey. "His scent is so weak to me now. He must be deeply hidden.

But I will find him."

"I have no doubt."

"And when I do, he'll be begging me to end his life. The Order cannot detect torture within the Eternal Breed, only death."

Lucian grinned, impressed. "This human is bringing out a side of you I haven't seen since we were on the front lines. Up until now, you've quelled the animal buried within." Suddenly, his almond gaze changed from pride to unease. "Should I be concerned about this new development? Is there more? Has your hunger grown?"

"No. Nothing like that." But, Nicholas mused, he had felt a shift in himself as of late. Not hunger, but aggression and a burn for gravo, the poisoned vampire blood his mother had abused when he was just a balas , the drug he had gone to great and painful lengths to purchase for her before her death--the drug he had consumed in impressive quantities for several years afterward. He plunged his hands through his hair, attempting to rid his brain of the thoughts and images running through it. He caught Lucian staring at him, a suspicious frown playing about his mouth. He would do well to keep this new and slow burn inside of him a secret; no doubt it would pass in time.

He came around his desk and opened his own laptop. "Where are you with the Hollow of the Shadows?"

Lucian's frown deepened. "There's so little on the location of the Order. When I lived in the third credenti , I heard nothing of their whereabouts. From what I've been able to find--which isn't much--they seem to live between worlds. Finding them won't be easy." He looked up, his eyes filled with disgust. "Alexander may indeed have to visit his old credenti and question his ... family to get the information."

Nicholas stilled, his fingers twitching over the keyboard. It was a life, a reality they had sworn never to return to, and now the Order had forced them back in. "Don't text him, Luca. Let him come home and we will go together, find it together--stand together."

"He won't allow us to help."

Looking up from his screen, Nicholas raised one black eyebrow. "I don't care if he allows it. Do you?"

A slash of smile hit Lucian's full mouth. "Blood brothers we are, Nicky."

There was a knock on the library door and Evans entered the room. The servant looked from one brother to the other and said formally, "I am sorry to disturb."

"Not a problem," Nicholas said. "What is it, Evans?"

"A note has been delivered, sir."

"From Alexander?" Nicholas asked.


Nicholas stilled, glanced at Lucian, whose gaze was narrowed and fixed on the ancient Impure. Notes were never delivered to the house, not once in the sixty years they'd lived there. Business mail went to a box at the post office, and from time to time they would receive junk mail at the SoHo address, but nothing personal.

"From your human, Nicky?" Lucian quipped darkly. "Perhaps he's come out of hiding and is turning himself in."

Nicholas made a signal for Evans to hand him the letter, and when the butler placed the gray formal envelope with the gold seal in his hands, Nicholas's blood froze in his veins. Kettler. One of the highest-ranking families in the Eternal Breed, model citizens, purest of pure, and residing in the Boston credenti. His eyes found his brother's.

"Kettler seal."

"What?" Tossing his laptop to the rug, Lucian jumped to his feet, his pale almond eyes now a blazing fire of gold. A growl . . . "No."

"From a Bronwyn Kettler."

"Fuck me."

Nicholas opened the envelope.

"It begins," Lucian said vehemently as Evans backed up to the door. "The Order has leaked our whereabouts. If one can find us so easily, the rest will follow."

Nicholas read the note once, then again. "She has called for a handfasting."

"You've got to be shitting me!"

"A traditional Eternal Breed handfasting. She wishes to live here, remain here all three weeks, in preparation for mating."

"With who?" Lucian demanded, coming to stand beside Nicholas, so he too could see the letter.


"Well, thank Christ for small favors."

Nicholas shoved the letter in his brother 's hand and returned to his laptop. He needed to feed. Soon. Something to calm himself and whatever was scratching on the inside of his brain, desperate to get out and pounce.

"She says she'll be here tomorrow." Lucian snarled, then turned to the butler still hovering near the library door. "Evans, send a return note; tell the veana to stop packing her bags. She will not be living here in preparation for mating with Alexander or anyone else. Tell her we are no longer part of the credenti--we don't play by their rules."

"No," Nicholas said quickly, his tone implacable and resolute. "Ready the sage room, Evans."

Lucian whirled on him, his fangs dropping a centimeter as he roared, "Are you insane?"

"Perhaps," Nicholas said calmly, "but no Pureblood paven, not even one who has cast off his species, can decline the call of a handfasting. It is a blood vow with our Pureblood females; it goes back centuries, even before the Order took power." He eased the envelope from Lucian. "Not to mention, it's really fucking rude."

"When have you ever given a shit about being rude?"

"Our blood dictates that we at least see her."

"Your blood, maybe," Lucian shot back, his fangs descending another inch. "My blood can go fuck itself."

"You can put those things back in your head now, Little Brother."

"We also made a vow, Nicholas. To each other--no humans, no credenti."

Nicholas's frown deepened. Yes, and it had been so for a hundred years. The three of them living a life of solitude, living and building businesses in cities that allowed such reclusiveness, a life away from the abusive bonds of the credenti and the intrusive eyes of the Order.

Nicholas took a deep breath. "Times are changing, it seems."

Fangs fully extended now, eyes blistering with a hunger that had nothing to do with blood, Lucian snatched up his laptop and headed up the stairs to the second level.

"Do what you will, Brother, but I am going to find this Hollow of Shadows before the Order seeps deeper into our lives and your etiquette-loving ass goes morpho too."

Deep in the clouds of his mind, Alexander willed himself to land. Sara was coiled in his arms, her hands gripping his waist, her nails digging into the flesh of his back. For a brief moment he wished he could stay in flight, have her tight against his body, her nails digging deeper into his flesh until she drew blood.

But in seconds, his feet hit concrete and the ice-cold salt air of the Atlantic rushed at him, whipping Sara's long dark hair against his face. He closed his eyes and his nostrils widened, taking in her blood scent. Normally, humans were cold, bland, lacking in spice, but not this one. She was scented with earth, a rich, hot blend that breathed desire into his lungs and, even though it was impossible, felt somehow familiar to him.

Beneath the half-light of the moon, Sara pressed herself closer to him and looked up, her stunning blue eyes curious, no longer wary. "It may be dark out, but I know this isn't SoHo."

As he gazed down at her, Alexander felt an ache run through him, from chest to groin. He wanted to stand on the icy path beside the tall beach grass and remain attached to her. He wanted her mouth against his, wanted to know what she tasted like. He could almost imagine it. She was a beautiful woman, yes, but it was her strength, her drive to be fearless in the face of something impossible and inhuman that made him crave her--made him want to crawl up inside of her and remain for days. It was a sensation he'd never experienced and it concerned him.

"Are we still in New York at least?" she asked, her eyes demanding the truth, yet promising to accept whatever the response was.

"We're in Montauk," he said.

"Long Island?" Her brows knit together. "Why?"

He reached up and touched her hair, her jaw. "A quick detour."

"For what?"

He wanted to drop his head, have just one taste of her, the drug that might grant him a few minutes of calm to do what needed to be done this night.

"Listen, Alexander," she said with a hint of frustration. "I'm here with you because I saw the logic in what you said back in my apartment, and because my number-one priority is survival. I'm admittedly scared of Tom, and I think you can keep him away from me. I'm not here because you're forcing me or holding me captive. I'm here because I trust you." She lifted one dark eyebrow. "I deserve the same."

Yes, she was fearless. No one but his brothers made demands on him. "How did you acquire such an attitude?"

"What attitude?" She tried to look both confused and put out. "I've got an attitude?"

He chuckled. "That wasn't an insult, Sara. You impress me with your candor.

Where does it come from?"

"I don't know. I suppose from surviving on my own for so long."

"It made you strong." It wasn't a question.

"I think so. God, I hope so."

He shifted his gaze, looked out into the black water beyond the sea grass. "For some it would've broken them."

She laughed softly. "I've been broken, a few times, but I had something that kept me focused-- someone who kept me going."

Alexander's head jerked back to her. "Who is this someone?" he demanded, his gut twisting. "A male?"

She nodded. "A man. Human."

Jealousy roared through him, the sudden emotion taking him by surprise. He'd never felt possessive over a woman, and this one should be no different. Why was it, then, that he wished more than anything to rip the head from the man she spoke of with such softness and care in her tone?

Reaching between them, Alexander took her hand and led her toward the very gates he had run from a hundred years before. For now, she was his and whoever this man was, he had no place in this moment, this time.

"We're here," he uttered, his body rigid. It was risky bringing her to this place, he knew that, but he couldn't help himself. He needed to keep her close. It was the only answer he had, and if he was forced to fight to keep her safe, he would.

"Here where?" Sara asked, looking from the iron gate before them to the eight-foot-tall and extraordinarily thick shrubbery that ran down both sides as far as the eye could see. "It looks restricted. Private property."

"It is," Alexander said.

Sara felt the misery in his tone, the weight of it. She looked up at him, his profile in the light of the moon. Easing pain came naturally to her, but what she saw etched in his features, the raw hatred there concerned her. Not for her own safety, but for the safety of whatever lay behind gate number one.

"Are you all right?" she asked him.

"Perfect," he said, lifting his wrist to his mouth and baring his fangs.

Sara stared at him, momentarily captivated by his beauty and those pinpointed fangs. Then everything changed. Without a word, he pulled in a breath and struck his wrist, puncturing his vein.

Sara gasped. "Stop! Jesus."

The blood that ran down his arm was the color of a beet. Sara watched it travel, utterly horrified. "What the hell are you doing?"

He moved closer to the gate and pressed his bloody wrist to one thick steel bar, ran it down the length. "Using my key."

He pulled his arm away, then displayed the gash to Sara's worried gaze. "Look now," he said. "No harm done."

His explanation did little to shut down the shock and panic running through her, but she watched as the cuts on his wrist sealed.

She released a breath she didn't realize she was holding.

His eyes flashed. "It pleases me that you care, Sara."

She frowned up at him. "You could've warned me."

He inclined his head. "I'm sorry."

There was a loud crack and Sara turned, watched as the gate opened at a snail's pace.

"Am I safe here?" she asked Alexander.

"You will always be safe with me." He eased her back against his side and together they entered the compound.

The first thing Sara saw was a snow-covered field that stretched so deep into the distance the moon didn't catch its ending with her light. Anxiety, brought about by the unfamiliar, knocked around in Sara's belly and she moved closer to Alexander as he guided them onto one of the dirt paths leading into a quiet wood.

It was a short walk through the cold, pine-scented forest, and when they emerged, Sara saw that they were in a little village. It was small, quiet, and so simplistically perfect looking that it felt as though they'd just walked onto a movie set. Sara was desperate to ask Alexander where they were and how this was possible, but she didn't speak, felt that if she did the entire thing would vanish.

They continued, taking the path that went straight through the town square. Oil lamps lit the front porches of modestly constructed homes and businesses. People dressed in simple, almost period costume milled about, riding horses or walking in and out of what appeared to be a general store. Sara jumped slightly as one young girl stopped directly in front of them and gave a small squeak of fright as she stared up at the both of them.

"Off you go," Alexander commanded softly, and the girl instantly turned away and took off down the lane, out of sight.

"What is this?" Sara asked, perplexed and fascinated at the same time. "Some kind of Amish town?"

"Not exactly. It's called a credenti, a vampire community."

Vampire community. The two extraordinary words rolled around in Sara's brain, looking for a safe, real place to land.

"There are credentis all over the world," Alexander continued, his voice devoid of all emotion now. "This is the one where I began my life."

Sara looked up at him, curious by this new bit of information. This was his home, where he was born, and yet he looked as though he would rather be anywhere else.

Despite her own flirtations with anxiety at the moment, she curled her arm around his waist, offering him whatever support she could. He growled low in his chest and leaned in to her touch.

As they walked, Sara eyed the people around them. They were completely covered from head to foot in homespun clothing. "Why is everyone dressed like that?"

"They remain in their own time," Alexander said with a bitter edge to his tone.

"The Purebloods and Impures that live within these walls and the walls of every other credenti are uninterested in the modern world and her conveniences. Simplicity is how they must live--it is in what they wear, what they see, what they talk about."

Sounded pretty restrictive to Sara, but she wasn't the kind of person to knock someone else's choices. She gestured to men and women walking past them. "There's fabric wrapped around their throats and wrists."


"What's that all about?"

"All males and females embrace the ancient ways and texts of the Order."

"The Order?"

"The Eternal Order. Vampire law, vampire gods." He sneered. "They are responsible for this. They determine how a vampire should live to remain pure inside and out. And until a vampire's true mate finds him or her, the points on their bodies--neck and wrists--where blood is most commonly taken, are covered."

Sara was pretty taken aback. It was so primitive. "And everyone here goes for that? Abides by the law?"

"If they wish to have a peaceful existence they do."

"But you and your brothers--"

"Got the hell out," he finished for her.

They continued down the street, passing homes with farmland behind them. Men and women--male and female vampires--continued to stare, their gazes ranging from shock to disgust to fear. Just like Alexander, they could easily pass for human in the looks department, but unlike him, they were bone thin and noticeably shorter than an average human.

Sara wondered why that would be, but the thought barely had time to register.

Beside her, Alexander had stopped, his body frozen in place, a low feral sound erupting from his throat and filling the air around them. Sara had never heard such a sound; it was like an animal caught in a trap, and her heart suddenly ached for him. He was staring at something to his left and she followed his line of vision. There, a few feet away, standing in front of a small one-story home, was a male, a female, and a child, who appeared to be somewhere around twelve years old.

When she saw Alexander, the girl dropped her gaze to the snowy ground, but the male and female beside her stared at Alexander with looks of shock that quickly morphed into expressions of disgust. The November air chilled Sara to her bones, but it was nothing compared to the coldness that emanated from the two creatures before her. Every instinct, every nerve in her body screamed at her to run.

She dug her nails into Alexander's waist. "Who is that?"

"The veana who gave me life," he uttered, "and the paven who did everything he could to take it away."

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