"When is he coming back?"
"Where am I? I can't breathe . . ."
"Please. Please. I want to go home."
Strapped into a chair, gagged and blindfolded, Gray's heart pumped wildly, desperate to get out of his chest. He wasn't scared of much, barely feared death. But this-this not being able to move, not being able to feel, speak, or see-while his ears and mind were being bombarded with the silent screams of the strangers al around him was pure nightmare.
He'd come to only moments ago, fighting against his binds as he tried to figure out where he was, tried to recal how he'd gotten there, tried to calm his brain and ready his mind for the onslaught of sound.
"He's going to kill us! I know he's going to kill us!"
"Who else is here? Maybe someone will help me."
Shit! They were terrified; maybe three or four men. They seemed pretty young, col ege age maybe. Where the hel were they? The club? House? Why were they bound and gagged?
The al ey near Equinox flashed in his memory-and that woman. No . . . that female with fangs.
Gray lifted his chin, scenting something. Ever since Alexander had gone into his brain, his senses had improved-gone from barely human to newly birthed animal.
"Oh God. He's back. He's back."
"We're just Impures. Nothing. We mean nothing."
Oh, shit. Impures-half vampires like himself. What the hel was this?
Then he heard something strange-soft male laughter in his mind. It was the sound of enjoyment, pleasure, even pride.
And it was coming toward him.
He fought the binds at his chest and wrists. He grunted, growled.
"I know this must be unpleasant for you, Gray."
A male voice. Unfamiliar, yet unmistakably deadly.
"Not from my Credenti . Please . . ."
"It won't be for long," the male continued as the panicked thoughts in the room shot off like fireworks into the air. "Just until I know I have your understanding and al egiance."
"Please, Master. Come and get me. Find me."
Crying now . . . inside his mind. Splintered glass being tossed around near his brain stem.
Sweat broke on Gray's forehead. There was enough rage in him at that moment to kil the male in front of him, and yet he could do nothing but fight the binds and let the terrified voices, the screams, the desperate cries continue.
"Do you know who I am?" the male said.
Gray shook his head.
"My name is Ethan Dare."
"Oh God. Oh God."
"The Impure who takes veanas, who builds an army against my master."
Gray's skin went hot and his mind warred with the sound, the panic. He knew that name, knew al about that name.
"And I want you to tel me if your new brothers hold a balas in their compound."
" Balas ? A child?".
"Is there a balas here?"
This was insane-held captive by Ethan Dare. And a balas in his house? Gray racked his brain for some clue about what Dare was talking about. There was no balas-
not unless a child had come while he was out.
"Thinking is good," Dare said, a smile in his voice. "Now al you need to do is nod your head for yes or shake your head-"
A door opened, maybe ten feet away. And another male cal ed out, "Sir, we have someone on the house. Town car's parked out front. Looks like they're going out."
The silent cries began fil ing up Gray's mind, drowning him in despair and heart-stopping fear.
"Thank you, Mear."
Gray felt Dare move closer to him, felt his breath near his cheek. "You have been very helpful in tracking down the Romans' compound." He laughed. "You and Marina. She's been watching you, poor creature couldn't keep her hands off you. Just fol ow the club rat home and he leads you to al the other rats."
Oh God, he'd led Dare not only to the Romans, but to his sister . . .
"Perhaps Dare has what he wants now. Perhaps he'll let me go."
"Recruits. I can't be a recruit."
"Now, Impure," Ethan continued, the metal ic scent of blood emanating from his skin. "Is there a balas at the Romans'?"
Gray shook his head. No. No, you piece of shit.
Dare grunted. "For your sake, I hope you're right."
"Fuck. The Supreme One will have my head."
As Ethan Dare left Gray's side and walked out of the room, as the sounds and screams of panic and despair swel ed inside Gray's mind, a smal grain of truth-of hope
-of possibility began to take shape.
Ethan Dare held him hostage, yes. But for now.
And Gray could hear every thought inside his head.
She wasn't a date.
She was bait.
Nicholas left his rooms on the third floor and headed down the stairs. He'd sent a note through Evans about an hour ago letting Kate know that he'd be by to pick her up at nine.
That shopping spree at the store he now refused to name had better have landed her something appropriate for a night out in Manhattan. Classy and sexy. Dillon wasn't talking, and Sara seemed angry with him al of a sudden, so who knew what Kate had picked up-or hadn't. He wouldn't have put it past her to answer the door in her ripped jeans and sweaty tank just to piss him off.
Hell, even he'd fished something club friendly out of his closet-black and more black. Even spent more than a minute in front of the mirror. Al in the pursuit of an Impure.
What bul shit.
He came to her door on the second floor and knocked.
"Let's go, Cinderel a," he cal ed through the wood.
"Keep your shirt on, Prince Not-so Charming," she cal ed back.
Nicholas chuckled. Yes, this was going to be an interesting-
His words, thoughts, brain, al went to shit when she opened the door. It was like suddenly finding yourself in front of the sun without even a napkin for cover. He couldn't move, run-he had to stand there and stare at the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen and not be able to touch her. Her blond hair was parted in the middle and swept back in an easy bun at the nape of her long neck, which only proved to accentuate the ethereal beauty of her face.
There was barely any makeup on her skin, but her eyes-
her devastating, soul-crushing eyes-were lined with black, making the brown irises glow a deep chocolate.
And then there was the dress.
"The dress . . ." he muttered out loud. What an asshole.
He could barely talk. Shit, he could barely think.
"It's Herve Leger," she said, doing a quick three sixty. "I don't have a clue who that is, but I have to admit, the male makes one comfortable dress."
"You look . . ." Jesus Christ! What the hel was going on with his vocal cords? Something was sitting on them. . .
"How do I look?" she said, smiling a little uneasily.
"Well. . ." Shit.
"Like perfect bait?"
Yes, he realized. Yes, she did, and there was nothing he hated more in that moment. Nothing he wanted more than to take her hand and pul her back into the bedroom. She was bait to the whole fucking male population, and he didn't want anyone looking at her in that red strapless thing but him. He didn't want anyone's hands itching to move over her intensely erotic curves but him.
His fangs started to jut forward in his mouth. Was he going to be able to do this? Walk through club after club with her, waiting on Dare, wanting to rip out the retinas from every male who looked at her?
"Should we go?" she asked, her perfectly arched brow lifting. "Or are you having second thoughts?"
You have no idea, sweetheart. "Car's waiting out front."
"To take us to the bal ?" she said dryly, but there was an edge to her voice.
"Wasn't that a pumpkin?"
She laughed softly. "Whatever."
He fol owed her down the hal to the stairs, his gaze traveling from pale neck to graceful back to tight ass to-
His entire body went into overdrive. The shoes. Christ, four inches of sparkling, "push me up against the wal and fuck me now." They made her legs-her luminous stems-
look like they went on for days.
He'd touched those legs. Wanted to again. But this time he wouldn't stop at the knee. He'd travel up, his fingers investigating every soft, pale inch, every warm, wet curve until he found his way home.
The blast of cold night air did nothing to kil his hard-on.
Good thing he was wearing a jacket because with her looking like she did, he was bound to remain in that state until he dropped her back at her room at the end of the night.
He led her down the walk, keeping his hands to himself as much as possible, until they reached the limo.
"Nice touch," she said, giving the driver a polite smile.
"Easier to get around," Nicholas said, slipping inside the black stretch after her, hating how the rush of aggression was already inside his chest and wanting to claw its way out.
"Where to, sir?" the driver, who was now in the front seat, asked him.
"The Abbey." Feeling large brown eyes on him, Nicholas turned. Kate was looking at him-assessing him was more like it. "What? What's wrong?" He suddenly felt as though he should've asked one of his brothers for a quick style critique. Of course, those two bloodsucking apes knew nothing either.
"I didn't say it before . . ." she began, her tongue darting out to wet her top lip.
"What?" he asked, panicked like a fricking teenage human boy. Jesus Christ, she was making him-
"You look hot," she said quickly.
He turned to the window, looked out, and tried to suppress the shit-eating grin pul ing at his lips.
The Abbey was loud, raucous, and sported hundreds of wel -dressed, heavily scented men and women writhing to music with a beat Kate could feel deep within her belly.
God, she loved it.
Beside her, Nicholas scanned the area looking for signs of Ethan Dare, completely unaware of the females who were staring at him like he was a celebrity, or something to consume with a spoon. Not that she blamed them. He was something to see. Tall, trim, and clad in black from suit to dress shirt to tie. The only splash of color was a purple cashmere scarf that hung down both sides of his lapels.
"Do you and your brothers go out often?" she asked, looking up into his striking face, the jaw that was firm enough to crack nuts.
He continued to scan the room. "We don't drink and we don't dance."
She laughed. "There are other reasons to go."
She gestured around herself. "A hundred or so reasons, and they're al very pretty and clearly available."
"I don't appreciate availability."
"What does that mean?" Odds were he was going to say he liked the chase, the catch-the release. But she asked anyway. "What do you appreciate, Nicholas Roman?"
His head turned and he looked down at her with dark, hungry eyes. "Someone who needs me. Real y needs me.
Someone who isn't afraid to ask for what they want and be vulnerable enough to receive it."
Kate stared at him, unsure if he was serious or not.
Waiting for him to burst out laughing and shove a finger in her face all, "Gotcha, veana." But he didn't. Instead, he took her hand and led her deeper into the crowd.
"I say we give it an hour, then head to another club," he said, his eyes scanning every corner, every body, every table.
But Kate was stil thinking about what he'd said. Those weren't the words of a monster, a Son of a Breeding Male, a blackmailer . . . Those were vulnerable words, words that Nicholas would probably regret uttering later. Words she wasn't going to forget anytime soon. And yet she had to because her main objective was to find a way to get away from him. He was the enemy now, the master, and she was the rat in a cage, beautiful dress, beautiful room aside. She would serve him and his cause until her chance for escape presented itself; then she would disappear.
"Do you real y think Dare's going to show up?" she asked as they hovered near the dance floor. "This place is packed with eyewitnesses."
"He's an arrogant little bastard. Seems to like to do things with an audience. And you have what he wants-the balas, not to mention your pure blood."
"Even if that blood has been in Mondrar?" she said with a contained laugh.
"I don't think he cares."
"He'd be the only one."
He glanced down at her. "What does that mean?"
"We are al lawbreakers in our way, veana." His black eyebrows drew together. "Perhaps the crime that you committed was . . . understandable."
She lifted her shoulders in a gentle shrug. "Maybe even forgivable."
He was silent for a moment, his eyes probing hers for answers she would never ever give him. Him or anyone.
Then he asked, "Why do you even care?"
"What do you mean?"
"What you did in the past is your business. Those were your choices-your mistakes-if you even believe they were mistakes. Stop caring what anyone thinks and live your life the way you want to live it."
Kate swal owed as she stared up into his fierce, feral gaze. His nostrils were flared and the vein in his neck pulsed with tension. He spoke with the passion of someone who felt everything he was saying, who believed the words that were coming out of his mouth. It was personal, and Kate couldn't help but wonder just what the hel was in his past.
The music changed then, from heavy hip-hop to a sensual groove. On the floor, couples wrapped their arms around each other and slowed their bodies down.
Kate turned to him. "What?"
"Dance with me." Without waiting for her to answer, Nicholas took her hand and led her though the crowd to an empty square of floor.
"I thought you abstained," Kate said.
"Normally, yes," he said, turning her to face him, "but those animals over by the bar are looking at you like you're a porterhouse in heels, and before I fly over there, smash them in the face, and cause a scene that gets us kicked out of here, I thought I'd occupy my hands and send a message at the same time."
"I'm flattered. I think."
He pulled her into his arms, one hand holding hers, the other around her waist. Their bodies fit perfectly, and Kate al owed herself to move with him to the music and not think about her past or his, her future-or his.
He moved well, slow and confident around a sea of popping hips and curious stares. It was as though he moved to a rhythm, to music that was in his head alone.
Kate's eyes lifted to his and shivered under his black, hungry gaze. He wanted to kiss her. She could see it in his eyes, in the way his lips parted just a fraction, the way his tongue raked the tips of his fangs.
She forced her gaze away, tried to focus on the crowd, on the DJ, anything that reminded her where she was and why she was here.
Then she spotted a figure over by the restrooms, a male she recognized. He was skulking as he always did, looking for flesh to sell, drugs to sel -anything money could buy.
The skin on her arms tightened as a thought, just the first rustles of an idea came to her mind.
Anything money could buy.
She broke away from Nicholas's embrace. "I need to go to the little vampires' room."
"I'll take you."
She looked up at him, smiled reassuringly. "It's right over there. Keep your eyes open for Dare. I'll be back in one minute."
"Not a chance, veana. I'm not letting you out of my sight tonight for anything. And you shouldn't want me to."
Kate hesitated. What the hel did she do? She couldn't press him on this . . . There was no good reason for her to go alone.
Final y she gave up. As she walked toward the bathroom through an ocean of sweaty, writhing bodies, Nicholas was right behind her, no doubt scanning every nook and cranny she passed. But Kate's gaze was on Cambridge, silently begging him to look up, see her, and fol ow her into the ladies' room.
In another club farther south, Dillon was performing another act of goodwill. Her third for the day. The first was tracking several rogue Impures over the Net, and the second had been two solid hours in a department store-aka the bowels of hel -watching some chick try on dresses.
Fuck, she was real y over helping the Romans and their females. Maybe she needed to rethink her affection for them. Maybe she needed to walk out of the club she was in right now and head back to Maine where she belonged.
That would send a message.
'Course, she'd already spotted her person of interest.
Might as wel finish what she came here to do.
Frame, Equinox's head of security and one of the biggest pavens she'd ever seen outside of the Roman brothers, was standing at the edge of the dance floor, scanning the crowd for any signs of trouble.
Dillon headed his way, marveled at how he got bigger the closer she came. Handlebar mustache, eyes the color of smog, and long light brown hair that was pulled back into a braided tail.
A human woman stood next to him, trying to get his attention by slow dancing in the smal est, tightest dress ever know to man, her large cans jacked up to her chin.
"Get lost, female," Dillon muttered.
The bottle blonde turned to look at Dillon with a pair of brown eyes that screamed attitude. "Who are you?"
Dillon leaned in and whispered in the woman's ear, "Your worst nightmare if you don't get out of here and find another dick to suck." She pulled back an inch, met the female's rage-fil ed glare. "A lot of quality males in this place to choose from. You've been vaccinated, right?"
The woman's mouth dropped open.
"Yep," Dillon said with a grin. "Just like that."
"You bitch," the woman said, but turned right around and walked away.
Frame's nostrils flared as he glanced over at her. "Was that real y necessary?"
"I needed to get rid of her."
He raised his eyebrows. "There are other ways."
"I could've shown her my fangs." She lowered her voice.
"Hell, I could've shown her yours."
"What do you want, Dillon?"
"Gray Donohue. Seen him?"
"He was here last night, stayed until dawn, as usual."
Frame shrugged his massive shoulders. "'Course, I was gone by the time the sun came up, so don't know what happened after that."
"Who was he hanging with?"
"Who wasn't he hanging with? The guy's a whore."
Dillon's insides curled. "Hey. Watch it." That's family, she almost told him. Almost. "Come on, old friend. Give me something. I got a few bloodsuckers who are pretty worried."
He sighed. "A couple human females, and one Impure."
"An Impure? Did you know her?"
"No. She's been in here a few times this past week.
Watches your boy a lot-until last night." Frame had spotted two idiots on the dance floor fighting over something thin and leggy. "I gotta go, D."
"Hey. What does that mean-'until last night'?"
"Final y got her cherry popped by Mr. Scars." He lifted a brow. "She was stil with him when I left."
And then he was off, deep in the crowd, a tree among bushes.
Dillon turned and headed for the door. Goddamn Roman family. Now she wasn't just looking for Gray, but the Impure female who was no doubt lying beneath him, eyes closed, legs spread.
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