Hunter leaned toward Rasha and in a low voice said, “Our clans aren’t merging. They will never merge.”
“Of course not,” Rasha said. “Poor choice of words. I meant uniting. Now, instead of fighting each other, we can fight humans.”
Feeling like an eavesdropper, Aylin turned to Nicole, whose fair skin glowed with her pregnancy. “It’s good to see you.” She took the platter of carved venison that Nicole offered. “You’re just starting to show.”
Riker, on Nicole’s other side, palmed his mate’s belly. “It’s happening too fast.”
“Too fast?” Aylin plopped a well-done slice of meat onto her plate.
Nicole patted Riker’s hand reassuringly. “He’s worried because we don’t have a gifted midwife, and I haven’t determined how to make labor and birth less dangerous. But I’m working on it, and I still have six months to do it.”
Vampire pregnancies used to be rare, but Nicole, with her background in vampire physiology, had discovered a way to change that. Unfortunately, giving birth often ended with either the mother or the baby dying, sometimes both. Born vampire females had the highest survival rates, but even so, it was always best to have a gifted midwife present.
“Could you do like the humans and take the baby out with surgery?” Aylin passed the tray of meat to Hunter and tried desperately to ignore the electric current that sizzled up her arm when their hands brushed.
Sighing, Nicole shook her head. “Unfortunately, cesarean sections aren’t practical for vampires. There’s no known anesthesia that can knock out a vampire without being fatal to the baby, and epidurals don’t work to eliminate the pain of the surgery. Besides, I think the problem with the birthing process is uncontrolled bleeding. A cesarean section would only make things worse.” She squeezed Riker’s hand. “But I’ll figure it out.”
Riker swore quietly and stabbed the slab of meat on his plate with his fork as laughter broke out in the back of the room.
Hunter tapped Aylin on the shoulder and said in a low voice, “Watch this. It’s a little dinner entertainment.”
“I love a bloody fight at dinner.” Rasha grinned. “Whets the appetite.”
Aylin’s stomach turned over. She’d always felt like something was wrong with her because she couldn’t get into a brutal battle during a meal, so she took a relieved breath when Hunter scowled at Rasha and said, “We stopped doing that a long time ago.”
Hunter eyed Rasha from over the rim of his cup. “I have a feeling you’re going to find a lot of things around here to be disappointing.”
“I’m beginning to see that.”
Hunter didn’t have a chance to say anything else. Someone tossed an apple from one side of the room to the other, and in an instant, a young male popped out of thin air to catch the fruit in one hand.
Aylin gasped, sure her eyes were playing a trick on her. “Where did he come from?”
“Just watch.” Pride glowed in Nicole’s expression. “Bastien is amazing.”
Someone else hurled an empty bowl in the opposite direction, and Aylin could hardly believe her eyes when Bastien flashed invisible and reappeared on the other side of the room to catch the bowl before it hit the wall.
Rasha stared at Bastien in utter disbelief. “But how —”
Hunter cut Rasha off with a gesture as a dark-haired born vampire dressed from head to toe in leather rose from his seat to meet Bastien in the middle of the room. When one tattooed hand produced a massive blade from under his jacket, Aylin’s heart stopped.
“That’s Baddon,” Hunter said. “He’s our fastest warrior and a helluva fighter. He blooded that blade when he was eight. Took down two humans who were attacking his mother.”
The guy was twice the size of the kid, and Aylin didn’t care what Hunter had said earlier about no bloody fights. Baddon looked like he could crush Bastien with his pinkie.
Riker leaned across Nicole, a proud smile on his face. “Bastien is my son. He’s only been training for a couple of months, but he’s a fast learner.”
Only a couple of months? Aylin glanced at Baddon’s hulking form. And they’d pitted him against… that?
There was a hushed silence, and then Baddon struck out at the younger male. The blade slashed a path across the very place Bastien’s neck should have been. But the boy was gone, and when she heard a chorus of claps, she followed the sound to another table, where Bastien stood on top, his feet straddling a giant bowl of bread.
Two more males, both different shades of blond, and a dark-skinned female joined the chase with their own weapons, and soon Bastien was disappearing and materializing all over the room. Aylin couldn’t even keep track. She watched in fascination as the kid dodged knife attacks and punches simply by disappearing. Twice he materialized behind his attackers and thunked them on the head with his thumb and forefinger before laughing and disappearing again.
“I didn’t think that talent existed anymore,” Rasha said, her voice as full of amazement as Aylin had ever heard it. “We need to breed him. As much as possible. Right away.”
A low, rumbling growl came from Riker. “There will be no breeding. Especially not anytime soon.”
“Clearly, he’s old enough —”
“I said no!” Riker snapped.
Rasha’s toothy smile was too calculating for Aylin’s liking. “That’s up to your leaders, isn’t that right, Hunter?”
“Leader,” Hunter said coldly. “Not leaders. And Riker’s right. We don’t breed people, and Bastien has a long way to go before he’s ready for any kind of relationship.”
Rasha let out a sound of disgust, and Aylin knew this wasn’t over. But she did have to wonder what Hunter meant by Bastien not being ready for a relationship. He was young, but he had to be at least in his early twenties. Since vampire aging and maturity slowed to a crawl around that age, he could be as old as forty. Maybe even fifty.
The show went on for a few more minutes, and then, after a round of applause, everyone settled in to eat. Bastien took a seat next to Lucy, who kissed him on the cheek and made him turn the color of a ripe apple.
The tension between Hunter and Rasha made for an awkward start to the meal, but it wasn’t long before the warriors at the table started telling jokes and reciting stories, and Aylin found herself enjoying not only the food but also the company.
As she set down her fork and breathed a heavy sigh of contentment, Hunter stood.
“I know some of you are wondering what’s going on with the situation outside our walls,” he said, his voice carrying as if he were using a loudspeaker. “Human hunters are suddenly everywhere, and the emphasis now seems to be less on capturing vampires and more on killing us. Humans outnumber us ten thousand to one, and their weapons are getting more sophisticated and efficient. But we’re not helpless, and we’re not going to sit back and let them exterminate or enslave us. Our joining with ShadowSpawn will clear a path toward peace talks with other clans, and it’s my hope that instead of fighting each other, we can concentrate on dealing with the humans.”
He gazed out at the clan members, and Aylin wondered if everyone was as mesmerized by his commanding presence and deep, authoritative voice as she was. She could listen to him talk all night. Of course, that thought had her thinking about talking all night in bed, and she had to take a gulp of ice water to cool down those errant thoughts.
“We’re all going to be in this together,” he continued. “And we each have different skills and backgrounds that can be of use in the months and years ahead. I invite you all to bring your ideas to me or to one of my senior warriors.” He stepped back from the table. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have clan business to take care of.”
Two big males, including the one Aylin had been afraid would kill Bastien, rose from their seats and joined Hunter as he strode out of the room. The moment he was gone, the atmosphere became charged with tension as Riker braced his forearms on the table and addressed Rasha, his body practically radiating hate.
“I’ve been on my best behavior, because I respect Hunter and don’t want any of this to be more difficult than it already is,” Riker growled. “But I won’t forget what you and your clan did to Nicole, Lucy, and me. And I won’t let you hurt anyone in this clan again.”
Rasha’s lips turned up in a cruel smile that Aylin knew too well. Shit, this was going to get bad.
Clutching the table edge with both hands, Rasha shifted forward so she was practically nose-to-nose with Riker. “I liked you better when you were chained in our dungeon, bleeding and begging for us not to hurt your precious Nicole.”
“Rasha!” Aylin hissed, just as Nicole burst to her feet, knocking her chair over with a crash that silenced the entire dining room.
“Rike might be on his best behavior,” Nicole snarled. “But I’m not.”
Heart pounding, Aylin leaped to her feet, desperate to stop the confrontation before it took a violent turn. “It’s been a long day,” she said quickly. “Rasha, we should get settled in.” She grabbed her sister’s arm and pulled her away from the table, shooting Riker and Nicole apologetic glances as she did.
Surprisingly, Rasha went without an argument, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin as if she was a queen lording over her subjects.
When they were in the hallway, Rasha jerked out of Aylin’s grip. “I hate it here.”
Aylin loved it. The floors were clean, the food was good, and the people were… happy. Oh, and they bathed. Bonus. “Maybe if you’d quit being a bitch, you’d like it more,” she suggested.
Rasha started in surprise. “What did you just say?”
Yeah, Aylin kind of surprised herself with that one. But something about this place made her feel safer than she’d felt in a long time. “You heard me. And don’t sound so shocked. You know I’m right. You’re going to be mated to this clan’s chief for a long time, so you might as well try to make some friends.” She reconsidered that. Finding a friend here wasn’t going to be easy for Rasha. “Or at least try not to make more enemies.”
Aylin hoped the bitterness in her voice was audible only to her own ears. Rasha was getting everything Aylin wanted, and she was too damned stubborn and mired down in the ShadowSpawn way of life to appreciate it.
Rasha started down the hall toward their quarters. “Silly, naive Aylin.” She patted her on the shoulder as if Aylin were a small child. “Leave the politics to me, and go back to looking pretty. I’ll handle Hunter and the clan my way.”
An unsettling sensation of doom settled over Aylin like a death shroud. Rasha’s way was always the violent way. Aylin had only been at MoonBound for a few hours, but she already knew Rasha would never fit in with these people.
Unless… what if Rasha didn’t plan to fit in? The invisible death shroud closed around Aylin like shrink-wrap as a horrible thought formed in her brain. The only reason Rasha wouldn’t care about forging relationships was that she had something else in mind.
Rasha didn’t want to fit in at MoonBound. She wanted to take over.
Hunter had never been so glad to be done with dinner in his life. Rasha was the most obnoxious, nasty female he’d ever encountered. How was he going to live with her for a lifetime if he could barely tolerate spending an hour with her?
He’d grown gradually angrier every time she opened her mouth and revealed her thoughts on “merging” the clans, the seating arrangements for “the defective,” and breeding Bastien. It seemed they were never going to find common ground, and he wondered how futile any efforts to deprogram her would be. Maybe Riker, who had military experience, or Jaggar, whose time in the CIA when he was human had benefited the clan greatly, would have some insight into bringing Rasha over to their way of thinking. He hoped so, because as it stood now, she had her head up her ass.
Granted, the clans did need to work out some sort of relationship, and the thought that Riker’s son might pass on his ultrarare talent of invisibility to his offspring had crossed Hunter’s mind, but hoping for kids with his gift was different from breeding for it. To do that would make MoonBound no better than Daedalus, which Nicole said had been planning to do exactly that with Bastien.
The bastards were, even now, planning more ways to destroy vampires, and as Hunter stood in his office with Riker and Nicole, he shared the latest.
“You need to watch this.” Hunter hit the button on the TV remote, and the video from a Seattle news station started up, releasing the paused image of a male reporter standing with another human male in front of a modern building with a huge glass front that, frankly, looked like a pain in the ass to keep clean.
“I’m here on the grounds of Daedalus’s main office with CEO Charles Martin.” The reporter turned to a towheaded man who appeared to be in his late thirties. “Mr. Martin, you’ve led the charge to eradicate wild vampires despite resistance from vampire-rights groups. Can you tell our audience why this is so important to you?”
“We’ve proven with decades of research and experience that vampires aren’t capable of coexisting with humans unless they’re tamed and collared,” Martin said. “What these vampire-rights fools don’t understand is that vampires eat us. They’re stronger, faster, and they have no sense of morality. To them, we’re nothing but food. Imagine if lions and bears ran loose in the streets. Vampires are a hundred times worse. We can’t allow predators of that caliber to walk among us. They killed my sister and destroyed one of our labs, killing dozens of humans and even other vampires.”READ MORE >>