Alexander stood in the middle of a football field, Sara's arms around him, gripping him possessively. This was not the location, the image, he'd pictured in his mind when they'd flashed a moment ago. He sought the Order, had tried to conjure their image in his head, but it had been pointless. Looking around him now, he had to acknowledge that he had no control over where he flashed and when. The Order had connected with him, and as he'd suspected they would, were messing with him.
He felt Sara's small, supple body shake. From cold, from desire, from fear? He wasn't certain, but he pulled her closer. Yes, he'd vowed to protect her, but there was something in him that warned that he needed protection too. A shift had occurred back at the lighthouse--his lighthouse, the one that had once been his salvation, had brought him back to life. A switch had been flipped when he'd heard her speak of her past, her pain, when he'd pulled her onto his lap and her body had responded so intuitively, so perfectly.
The craving to mark her wasn't out of a desperate need to take her blood--that he could understand, he could deal with-- that he was accustomed to.
No. The longing that pulsed within him now was something else entirely. He wanted her to feed him, fill him with something greater than blood.
She eased back then, looked up at him with those lovely blueberry eyes. "Any idea where we are, vampire?"
Yes, he thought, as his body pulsed with life, with need. He was well and truly fucked. This woman ruled his heart while the Order ruled his mind.
"Scotland." He glanced around at the campus, not so very different than it had been a hundred years before. "On the grounds of Creglock Academy."
"Lucian went here."
"A vampire school?"
"No. Hard-core military academy for rebellious, law-breaking human children.
His mother put him here when he was a balas, not even eight years old, then walked away for good. It was a nightmare. He was a vampire, so he grew slower than the other children."
Sara looked appalled. "His mother put him in a human school knowing he wouldn't grow like the other kids, and then never came back? She didn't even check on him?"
Alexander frowned. It was little wonder that Lucian distrusted all females as he did. "He went from a small vampire credenti outside Glasgow to this. He was broken here, every bit of a young one's softness destroyed."
"His mother sounds like just as big a prize as yours."
"Did Nicholas have the same situation?"
"No. Nicholas's mother never punished him for his existence. He did it for her.
Still does." Alexander caught her looking at him with that same expression of care he'd seen back at the lighthouse and he pulled the plug on the questions and answers. "What time is it?"
She glanced down at her watch. "One thirty."
"Shit. I need to pull my mind from everything and everyone and concentrate on the Order." Alexander closed his eyes and thrust every image away, every image but one.
It was only his perception of them, but it was all he had to go on.
The familiar hum began at his feet, shot upward, and with a rush of wind, they were gone. This time, when they hit ground they were in the woods, outside a cave and it was warm, summer.
"Fucking hell." This was a battleground, long ago, for him and his brothers. It was where they'd learned to use primitive weapons, where Alexander's friend and teacher had gone missing. Why was the Order playing this game? Was it simply to humble him?
A growl rumbled deep in his throat. They'd be waiting for all eternity for such an event, and even after he was dust they could go fuck themselves.
Sara coughed, moved away from him, and went to the mouth of the cave, sat down with her back against the rock. She looked pale, tired, yet so fragile in her beauty.
He went to her and knelt down beside her. "Are you okay?"
"A little nauseous."
"I'm sorry. I didn't think about what all the flashing would do to your system."
"It's okay. I'll be fine. I've never really been a solid flier."
Dropping her head back against the cool rock, she looked out at the brush.
"Maybe it's me."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe they won't see you because you're with me."
"Tough shit." But he'd wondered the same thing. "No doubt they're just playing with me." Controlling bastards. "If they want me bad enough to force my body through morpho before its time, then they'll take me any way they can get me."
"The time of maturity for a paven, a Pureblood male vampire."
"Is that what happened outside my apartment? The sunlight and the brands on your skin?"
"Why would they do that?"
"I don't know, but I will--" There was a loud boom, like thunder against a mile of sky. Instinctively, Alexander started toward Sara, but an invisible hook wrapped his waist and pulled. He clawed at the air, but it was useless. He was sucked into a tunnel, seeing nothing but black, and seconds later, he was standing on sand and Sara was nowhere in sight.
"Welcome, Alexander, son of the Breeding Male."
Alexander dropped into fighting position, his eyes flickering around, looking for the origin of the voice and a weapon he could use against it. A sheet of sand whipped up in front of him, then just as quickly dropped to the ground as though weights were attached to each grain.
Before him, seated at a long glass table, looking remarkably like a modern version of the Last Supper were the ten ancient members of the Order. They were nothing like what he'd imagined them to be when he was a balas--even as a grown paven: ghostlike, other-worldly, paper thin, yet lethal to the core. No doubt the latter was true, but the ruling ten were as solid, as three dimensional as he was. They sat in their chairs, hands folded on the glass table, eyes trained on him. Each wore a red monklike robe, had a black circle, a perfect O, branded around each of their left eyes, and except for the three veana members, each had a full beard.
"Where is she?" Alexander growled menacingly.
The Order member at the far left, a paven with electric sky blue eyes and a black beard that tapered into a perfect point at the end, spoke first. "She is well. Asleep. She won't even realize you've gone."
Alexander's fingers twitched as he imagined them wrapping around the neck of each member of the Order and squeezing until their eyes popped as wide as their brands.
"You'd better be right or we're going to have a serious problem."
The older paven grinned, displaying his set of brick red fangs--another symbol that he was Order, that his hunger had been completely fulfilled, that his long existence consuming blood was over. "Morpho agrees with you, son of the Breeding Male."
"How did you find me?" Alexander snarled.
"The human female you nearly devoured."
"Impossible!" Alexander roared. "I didn't take her life." Aside from going through morpho, killing was the only other way the Order could track either an Impure or a Pureblood outside of the credenti.
"No, but the Impure who watched you, then drank from the human after you left, did--he stopped her heart in under a minute." The older paven sneered. "Sloppy little sacro bastard. But his memories did lead us to you."
Alexander's eyes flashed at the black-haired paven. Once again, his uncontrolled hunger had imprisoned him. "What is it you want?"
"You've run from us for too long. It is time. You and your brothers must help your kind."
"Help?" Alexander released a bitter laugh. "You're asking me to help the ones who tormented and tortured me? That's why you premorphed me?"
"You speak of one or two in the credenti, not the Eternal Breed as a whole."
"I speak of you."
"You accuse the Order of torture? Tread lightly, son of the Breeding Male."
A growl erupted from Alexander and he warned the male, "Call me that filthy title again and you will see how deeply I have morphed!"
The paven's eyes narrowed and his hand came up in front of his face, ready for a mental battle. Beside him, another member of the Order, a veana with skin the color of clay and waist-length hair the color of snow, leaned toward him and whispered something. After a moment, the paven dropped his hand, but his irritation with Alexander remained. "We have a situation at several of our credentis," he said tightly. "An infiltration. Impures have broken into our communities, taken several of our veanas, impregnated them, then returned them to us. Thankfully, most of the balas never survived past the first month of swell, but the communities are growing scared. There is talk of families leaving, running away, hiding."
"Good," Alexander uttered flippantly. Did this asshole really believe he'd care if vampires were leaving the credentis? Hell, he was thrilled!
"You may have felt the need to run," the paven continued, "but this life is not torturous for others. These are families who are breaking apart."
"Perhaps they don't wish to be under your control any longer. I know I didn't."
"These are peace-loving, simple vampires. Most will not be able to survive outside their credentis."
"They'll be fine."
Nostrils flaring with irritation, the older paven turned to the others and muttered something in the ancient language. Alexander couldn't make it out, but he guessed it had something to do with his defiant attitude. He liked that.
When the paven turned back to him, his pale blue eyes flashed with ire. "You will help us. You will do your part in this war we find ourselves in."
"How? Protecting the credenti?" Alexander interrupted darkly.
"In a manner of speaking."
Alexander sneered. "Fuck you."
The paven shot to his feet, and as Alexander watched, he grew taller and taller until he was double Alexander's height. "Your insolent mouth will be your quick death,"
he roared. "Watch how you address the Order."
Alexander stalked toward him, stopped when he came within a foot of the table.
"I will address the Order in any way I choose. It is you who want from me."
"Indeed" came the soft reply from the veana Order with the smooth, clay-hued skin. "Pray sit, Cruen," she said to the paven sitting next to her. "Let us be not only useful, but thoughtful." She turned to Alexander and inclined her head. "The half-blood Ethan Dare is the one who leads the Impures, who commands that they take our Purebloods and lie with them."
Though he remained aware of Cruen, Alexander turned his focus to his neighbor.
"We believe his objective is to wipe out all Purebloods and turn the Eternal Breed into a race of only Impures. He wishes to defile us."
Alexander chuckled. As if the Eternal Breed wasn't defiled already. Honestly, he didn't give a shit if a vampire was pureblooded or not, and after all the years of treating its Impure citizens as unwanted embarrassments, an uprising wasn't much of a surprise.
Then again, if the story the Order was pitching to him was true and females were being taken against their will and dishonored, swift and deadly action needed to be taken.
"What do you want me to do about it?"
Seated once again, his pale face now a mask of indifference, Cruen spoke. "We know where you and your brothers went after leaving us. We know the skills you acquired in battle. The success you achieved." He lifted one black eyebrow. "We wish you to use these talents to bring down our new enemy."
"You want me to kill Dare," Alexander said.
Cruen nodded, and each member of the Order followed.
"And if I say no?"
"We will bring the second Roman brother before us."
Alexander's gaze tore into Cruen, who watched him in return, his lips lifting at the corners in a small smile, as though he knew exactly what Alexander was thinking. Yes, it was clear. Fucking crystal. If he didn't cooperate, give himself over to the Order's commands, Nicholas would be morphed next. Followed by Lucian.
Alexander lifted his chin. "Has Dare killed?"
"Then take him in. End his life."
"We have tried," the white-haired veana explained. "We cannot maintain a hold on him for more than a few seconds. It is an impossibility, and yet ..." She glanced up at Cruen, who remained impassive, his eyes trained on Alexander.
There was nothing Alexander wanted more in that moment than to tell each of them to go fuck themselves because he was already screwed; he was already morphed.
But there was Nicholas and Lucian to consider.
His teeth ground together, making his jaw scream in pain. "I will find and kill Ethan Dare, but I demand a blood oath that afterward the Order will forget that the Roman brothers exist. Nicholas and Lucian will morph in their own time."
A light flickered within Cruen's baby blues. "Bring his lifeless body to us, and we will give the oath."
"Fine," Alexander said. "Now I want the fuck off this plane."
He felt the pull, like a hook out of the world, then the tunnel into blackness. But before the world went completely dark to him, his eyes caught on another member of the Order, one he hadn't paid much attention to before, but who, though mostly covered by his hood, felt strangely familiar to him. The moment was over in an instant and when light returned to his vision, he was back in the woods, before the cave, and Sara was asleep on a tuft of grass, near the mouth.
She looked so soft, so fragile, yet he'd seen the fire that burned beneath her pale skin, had scented it, had wanted it flowing against the blood that ran in his own veins.
He knew he should wake her and leave the area immediately, but instead he lay down behind her and coiled his body around hers. The warmth she provided soothed him.
He heard the blood in her veins moving freely, heard her breath leave and enter her lungs in an even rhythm. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair, desperate for the comfort he'd refused to take earlier, but receiving only a stiff cock and a dry throat.
She stirred, her shoulders lifting, her back arching; then a moment later, she turned in his grasp. "Hey ..."
"Hey." He'd never seen dark blue eyes look so soft, so tender. He wanted to stay just like this, wrap his hands around her hips and pull her to him, let her know that he could no longer protect her body from his.
"Sorry I fell asleep," she said, rubbing her eyes.
"I'm good to go now." When she sat up, he followed her.
"It's done, Sara. I saw them."
"I've dealt with the Order."
"But how ..."
"They took me--through my mind."
She took a moment to digest this, then asked, "What do they want?"
"What they've wanted for a hundred years," he said bitterly. "The control of me and my brothers." He stood and reached for her hand. "Come. Tuck in, now. We have to get home."
She took his hand and let him lift her, which he did, right into the curve of his arms. "The real home this time? SoHo?"
He grinned. "Yes."
"I have to work in the morning."
"Don't worry about me. I hate having you out of my sight, but I will not stop you."
He was entering a battle: with himself, the coming of his Pureblood female, his true mate, the Order, and an unknown assassin named Ethan Dare. He had no idea where it would end, but he did know that after a hundred years of freedom, his control had vanished.
Sara wrapped her arms around his neck and Alexander flashed, flew--the state of morpho so deeply embedded in him now that all it took was one quick thought.
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