Chains of darkness, p.15
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       Chains of Darkness, p.15

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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  She smoothed a finger over his cheek. Well, we definitely need to get something off.

  His brows rose. Had he heard her right? Then he laughed all over again, which reminded him of the other side of the coin, the other reason he felt in danger around Claire: She made him laugh. Just when he was getting serious, reminding her why they needed to split up, she made him laugh.

  He took her hand and she squeezed his fingers. He squeezed back, smiling. Thank you for everything, Claire, but especially for the way you tend to lighten things up. Thank you.

  I guess that means you owe me.

  He met and held her gaze. Just name it.

  Oh, I will, and soon.

  He might have asked her to be more specific, but Eve reentered the room and called out, “Salazar said yes. They’ll be here in two hours and they’re ready for us at The Ruby Cave.”

  CHAPTER 9

  Claire tucked herself against Lucian, grateful all over again for his sheer size, which comforted her when nothing else could. Maybe it was a false sensation, but his powerful, muscular frame made her feel safe. Right now she was nerved up like crazy.

  Salazar had said yes.

  The fashion show was moving forward. On some level she’d hoped the whole thing would fall apart—that her auburn hair wouldn’t have been enough to tempt the two crime buddies out of their fortified compound. Guess she was wrong. But then again, she no doubt underestimated the typical trafficker’s desire for new product.

  After the photo shoot, Eve had talked her through the show. Essentially, she’d don three different outfits, saving the worst for last, and she’d walk down about thirty feet of runway to sexy blues music. In between, Rumy’s carefully selected wait staff would ply Arsen and Salazar with some of her finest whiskey. Eve was pretty sure they’d have one powerful security contingent with them.

  But this wouldn’t be her only audience. She’d have to conceal Rumy’s entire team behind one of the largest disguises she had yet to create. Would she even be able to pull it off? She honestly didn’t know, although siphoning Lucian’s Ancestral power helped.

  Still, it was her scantily clad body that a whole bunch of vampire-warrior-types would be looking at for three full jaunts down a black tile runway. What flashed through her mind was that her previous wardrobe had been made up of fairly conservative clothes. Her job as a social worker had never required a pair of black lace gloves adorned with feathers and chains.

  Or vampires flying her through solid stone walls.

  Once at The Ruby Cave, Lucian flew her off to the side of the theater. Lily had expected to see rows of seats; instead there were just a few tables and chairs arranged in clusters here and there. The rest of the angled floor was apparently designed for a standing-only audience. She wondered if this was typical of sex shows, or if it was just Eve’s preference.

  The ceiling looked like it was made of black onyx, but the walls were the real jewels. Crushed red crystals had been pressed into a resin on both the side and back walls. Ruby Cave proved the best description possible for the space.

  Eve had already started calling out orders to more of her staff. Used to her commands as well as to obeying, the stagehands drifted into altered flight, flying left to right, up through the rock or down, never once bumping into one another. They hauled set pieces of every size and shape imaginable, letting Eve make a series of judgments about how she wanted the stage set.

  The runway emerged with floor-to-ceiling pillars of red and purple crystals and sequined swags in similar colors that draped from one side of the stage to the other.

  After a few minutes, Lucian stepped away from her, moved into the theater seating area, and got on his iPhone. The chains vibrated, sending a distinct hard-edged sensation that Claire knew meant he was finalizing his plans with Rumy.

  She drew the lapels of the robe closer together, trying hard not to think about what she had on beneath the terry or the performance she would soon give.

  An hour or so later, Eve emerged from behind the theater drapes, glanced around the stage, then at Claire. She gave her the thumbs-up.

  Claire’s heart leapfrogged, which brought Lucian whipping in her direction. He held his phone away from his ear staring at Eve. “And?”

  Eve waved her hand in Claire’s direction. “Time to start getting ready. They’ll be here in half an hour.”

  Claire’s heart sank low in her chest as new anxiety rose. Could she pull this off? She’d be walking in five-inch heels and putting herself on display for men she loathed for their crimes. She climbed the three side stairs feeling like she was heading to her execution.

  “Hey,” Eve said, taking her hand and squeezing. “You’ll do just fine. Remember that they’ll be looking at your body, and I’ll be on stage as well.”

  “You will?”

  “Yes, in the background, in shiny black leather, so that if anything goes wrong, I’ll catch you. Now let’s get them, Claire. Let’s make them pay.”

  These were the exact right words because they bolstered Claire’s courage and reminded her what was at stake.

  And all she had to do was model some sexy clothes.

  Lucian’s voice pierced her mind. Rumy’s coming with twenty of his best guards. We’re going to line them up along the back wall away from the double doors. As soon as you’re ready, you can create the disguise.

  Got it.

  She held her shoulders back as she followed Eve into the dressing room. Her courage didn’t waver until she saw the first outfit she’d be wearing for Arsen and Salazar.

  Lucian had called it right: bits of leather and a few rubber bands.

  * * *

  Lucian gritted his teeth. He’d been feeling the chains vibrate every other minute as Claire’s anxiety mounted. He knew that she was getting a look at the next three outfits and he could only imagine what Eve had planned for her.

  But he tried not to think about that right now.

  He released a stream of air, forcing himself to calm down.

  The part of him that liked a good fight had already started gearing up, the familiar adrenaline that coated his veins when he faced the enemy.

  Arsen and Salazar had a smart organization with some of the toughest vampires around. They rarely visited The Erotic Passage, for the simple reason that they preferred their dark world of pain and slavery, of dominance and death, lots of death. By comparison, The Erotic Passage must have looked like a trip to the mall.

  A moment later Rumy called to alert him that Salazar and Arsen, along with a detail of two dozen of their best, had left the compound and would arrive in the next few minutes.

  “Get your men over here.”

  “They’re already on their way.”

  He let Eve and Claire know the ETA and asked that Claire come to the stage to create her disguise.

  When Rumy’s team started arriving, he had them line up at the back of the theater to the left of the double doors. Without Claire’s disguising ability, the plan wouldn’t work, not even a little, since the theater had no place for Rumy’s detail to hide.

  Rumy chose to stay out of the fray. He wasn’t a warrior, and he didn’t want to inadvertently alert either Arsen or Salazar that anything else was going on besides a simple fashion show followed by a would-be auction. He’d also provided wait staff to serve drinks, two vampires who also belonged to his security detail, but who were short like him and knew how to carry off a servant’s attitude. When the fighting started, these men would join in.

  When Claire arrived on stage, she looked ill at ease in the tall stilettos, though he wasn’t surprised. He was, however, thankful that she still wore the robe.

  Time to set up the disguise.

  Okay. Then she smiled. Let’s get this party started.

  He smiled in return, his chest swelling as he watched her straighten her spine. He felt her nerves, which only made him all the more proud of her for doing what he knew to be way outside her comfort zone.

  Lucian turned and explained the
situation to Rumy’s men: From this point forward the security detail was to remain at attention and in place. Only when Lucian gave the signal could the men move. Claire heard his directives at the same time. Though she’d be able to see all of the men, Salazar and Arsen, as well as their guards, would have no idea what awaited them.

  Rumy didn’t allow guns of any kind in The Erotic Passage, and Salazar’s men would have to go through an initial security check. But all that meant was that the weapons of choice would be a variety of switchblades, daggers, and battle chains.

  He watched Claire close her eyes. His double-chain sang at his neck, and the next moment a violet wave flowed in his direction. He stood in front of the ranks, at a central point, then glanced left and right, watching as the disguise covered them all. He could see through what looked like a wave of violet streamers. The men glanced at one another, brows raised, then resumed their positions. Rumy had trained them well.

  * * *

  Claire stood behind a screen and peeled herself out of her robe. Her fingers shook. She tried to calm herself down, but it was a struggle. How could she do this?

  The music was already blaring and a video set up showed the theater to everyone backstage. She saw the wait staff, just a couple of men in what looked like leather pants, white collars with black bow ties, and bare chests. Chippendales came to mind.

  Eve helped a lot, though. She just kept laughing at Claire’s nerves and said, “Hey, if you’re shaking out there, they’ll love it. They like their women scared to death—death of course being the goddamn operative word. Bastards.”

  The first costume was made up of a few straps of sequined hot-pink reinforced spandex that ended up conforming to her body like a glove. Naturally the one-piece had a thong, and a strange one-inch hot-pink ruffle at her waist that just reached to the top of her ass-crack. It covered nothing, but then again, that was the point.

  In front, another tiny ruffle ran in a slight curve at her abdomen. At least that part of her was covered, though not by much. The cut was French-high so that the straps ran across her pelvic bones, then split at the waist to rise to a strap across her back in support of a bra-like structure in front.

  There wasn’t very much fabric in front, just enough to cover her nipples.

  When she stepped out from behind the screen, Eve clapped her hands. “Beautiful. I think we’re ready. Now just try to relax.” She left the room, taking the last of her people with her.

  But she couldn’t. She shook from head to foot.

  Then suddenly Lucian was right there. “I could feel you trembling like a leaf.”

  Claire had never been so glad to see him. He was exactly what she needed right now. “Look at this.” She held out her hands, her fingers shaking.

  She gestured down at the costume, but she’d forgotten the other side of the coin—how Lucian would feel seeing her dressed this way.

  He seemed to freeze, his gaze taking the same long journey as when he’d first seen her at the photo shoot. He shook his head side-to-side repeatedly. She felt the war within him start: desire, refusal, desire, anger, desire, need-to-punch-something.

  She plastered herself against his chest. I need your courage, Lucian. I’m trying here, but I’m scared to death and what Eve takes for granted, what is so easy for her, is like lava on my skin.

  Slowly, his arms went around her, enfolding her as his desire-rage combo slid away. She felt him shift his focus to her. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.

  It feels impossible. I’m not quitting. It just feels bigger than me right now.

  I know what you mean, but you can do this. His chest rose as he took in a deep breath. We’ll both get through this. When we have those bastards, it will be worth it. You’ll see.

  Okay. I’ll toughen up here, but thank you for coming to me. I just needed to take a moment.

  I know. It’s okay.

  When she’d recovered, she spoke against his chest. “Listen. I want you to just leave. Don’t look at me, okay?”

  “Okay, but I have one problem here.”

  “What’s that?”

  Lucian frowned slightly. “I won’t be able to see the men at the back of the room. Can you guide me back in?”

  “I’ll do better than that.” She walked him out to the stage and rolled back just the central portion of the disguise. He flew quickly. The moment he took his place and nodded to her, she sealed up the disguise.

  Eve waved her off stage, a panicky look on her face. “They’re coming.”

  “Oh, God.”

  Eve led her to the side stage and whispered, “You have great presence, Claire, even if you don’t know it. You have a natural confidence that I admire like hell. Focus on that for the next half hour.” She slid her hand through a slit in the stage draperies. “Oh, and the boys have arrived. Arsen’s wearing a yellow silk suit. He looks like Tweety Bird, you know, from the cartoons?”

  Claire smiled. “Well, that helps a lot.” When Eve waved her forward, Claire moved closer so that she could see these vile traffickers. Eve was right. Arsen wore yellow head-to-toe. He was also blond, which made his whole ensemble a bit of overkill.

  Salazar had thick wavy black hair to his shoulders. He had a menacing look enhanced by the large contingent of oversized, bulked-up vampires that ranged behind the two men in a protective arc.

  Once the men were settled, drinks in hand, Eve would lead the way and introduce her, then begin the fashion show by enumerating the lines and unique qualities of each costume.

  Claire wondered briefly what supermodels thought about just before they walked down a runway. Probably admonitions not to trip and break an ankle.

  “Showtime,” Eve whispered.

  Lucian, here goes nothing.

  You’ll be great.

  Thanks.

  Eve moved onto the stage first, a real Amazon in her own pair of stilettos so that she stood close to seven feet tall. Her stride was about a mile long. And talk about presence.

  She stopped center stage, but cracked her whip with tremendous precision, hitting neither the pillars on each side of her nor the sheer swags overhead.

  Eve made her introduction, welcoming Claire simply as “the auburn beauty.”

  Claire took a deep breath and focused on what Eve had said about her natural confidence. Still, she trembled, blinked, and tried to remember exactly how to put one foot in front of the other.

  Eve waved her forward, bending her knees and slinking backward, dragging her whip with her.

  Then Eve’s voice was suddenly in her head. You’re doing fine.

  Talk me through it. Tell me exactly what to do.

  Eve told her how many steps to take, when to pivot, where to put her hands, when to dip her knees or slink a little as she moved.

  As Claire headed down the runway, she kept following Eve’s directions but couldn’t bring herself to look Arsen or Salazar in the eye.

  When she reached the end of the runway, Eve told her to make a very slow turn to be sure both men got an eyeful.

  Claire, you’re doing incredibly well and the guards are so focused on you that they won’t feel this train when it hits. Head back toward me, not too fast. Time for costume two.

  The next outfit, all black and white crystals, with a choke collar and platforms seven inches tall, became a different kind of trauma. But Eve stuck close, using her whip for effect until Claire got to the top of runway once more.

  Good news, Claire. The men have each had three drinks and some of their excitement has given way to that glazed look, more lascivious than alert. We’re almost there.

  Claire took her time, giving the whiskey a chance to do its work.

  The last outfit, however, freaked her out all over again. “There’s nothing to cover even an inch of my breasts.”

  “Yeah, I debated about this one, but the side panels will push everything together.”

  Claire stared at her. “And that makes things better, how?”

  Eve shrugged. “Not on
e of their guards will be looking anywhere but at your assets.”

  She focused her attention on Lucian. The vampire needed to be warned. Eve says you’re set to attack as soon as I appear on stage in this third costume, is that right?

  Yes. His voice sounded edged-up.

  I’m ready but listen, don’t look in my direction. Got it?

  Why?

  Eve saved the worst for last, and by “the worst” I mean there’s not much there and what is there is pushing things around. Lucian, just don’t look. I’ll get off stage as fast as I can. You have to stay focused. How’s the disguise holding up?

  Like a cloak I’ve always worn.

  Perfect. Now let’s get us some bad guys.

  The music changed, and Eve beckoned for her.

  Claire trembled as much from the fact that she was all but naked as from the knowledge that an attack was about to follow. She focused on the latter, on how important it was to keep the attention of the bad guys focused on her and to sustain the disguise.

  Eve’s commands flowed once more through her mind. Claire began to move, slinking and turning, knees bent, back arched, down the runway.

  She hoped to hell somebody did something soon because she was ready to bolt as Arsen leaned forward in his seat and shouted, “I need some of that and I need it now.”

  As the two vampires started to levitate from their seats, she met Lucian’s gaze. If you’re going to do something, do it now.

  * * *

  Lucian’s rage flowed hot toward Arsen and Salazar as each levitated toward Claire. His blood boiled and a red hue covered his vision.

  Drop the disguise, Claire.

  The next moment the wavy violet lines disappeared. Rumy’s team went straight into action as each man shifted to levitated flight and let out a war cry. The guards turned, startled, and a flash of blades ran up and down the line.

  Lucian flew faster than he ever had before, landing in front of Arsen, whom he gripped around the neck, then flung off the stage. From his peripheral vision he watched Claire hurry from the stage, Eve with her.

  But Salazar, the bigger of the two, had more fight in him. He lowered his arms and shoulders, bending his knees, a knife in his hands.

 
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