Chains of darkness, p.22
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       Chains of Darkness, p.22

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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  He shot a telepathic message to the owner and a second later landed in the middle of Gabriel’s outer entrance cavern, with a dozen automatic weapons leveled at him.

  Gabriel, wearing a long, Arabian robe, moved into the space, his hands spread wide, letting his men know everything was okay.

  “Lucian, where the hell have you been?”

  “Four Diamonds.”

  Gabriel whistled. “And you found one of the weapons. Is this the one Arsen and Salazar were trying to sell to Daniel?”

  He nodded. Gabriel started to ask another question and Lucian really did want to answer, but Claire was shaking now. He pulled her off his back and into his arms. Her hands were bleeding, as was her face. Her hair was singed badly, her beautiful auburn hair. “We need help here. Claire got me through the obstacle course, but at a price.”

  His own pain, he ignored.

  Gabriel shouted a dozen orders, which sent his security team to the edges of the space and closer to the entrance in a protective array.

  Gabriel’s household staff began arriving on a run, and because Lucian was burned as well Gabriel asked permission to take Claire from him.

  Lucian looked down at her. His ridiculous protective instincts didn’t want to let her go, but he was in bad shape as well.

  Lucian took a deep breath. “Please, take her. You’re the only one I would trust with Claire right now.”

  Gabriel hefted her easily, but kept her head near Lucian so that he could see her. Gabriel then shifted to altered flight. Lucian sped next to him.

  A special healing bath had been prepared for Claire, something his kind had designed for burn victims, which had always had a beneficial effect on humans as well. She couldn’t speak.

  Claire?

  I hurt.

  We’re going to take care of you.

  At the same time, Lucian sent his power to her, ignoring the pain of his own burns as he sent his vampire healing in her direction.

  Once in the bathing area, Gabriel handed her back to Lucian. The female servants cut her clothes off while he held her, then he saw the level of her wounds and cringed. She had third-degree burns on her feet and portions of her legs, her face, her arms, and especially her hands.

  One of the women gave her something to drink, and because the drink contained an opiate he knew she’d be out of pain soon. He settled her into the bath. She whimpered and shook, but the water eased her, and after a few seconds he watched her entire body relax.

  He kept sending her his healing power so that with her face covered in ointment and most of her body submerged, she finally spoke to him. Better. Much better.

  You’ll heal fast now. You’ll see. And you can sleep if you want to, which might be best.

  Sounds like a plan.

  Knowing that Gabriel’s staff would take extremely good care of her and that few other places on earth were as well guarded as the Pharaoh system, not even Rumy’s, Lucian finally left the healing room.

  He found Gabriel waiting for him along with more staff to tend his burns. There were women present, but he turned slightly in what would be Claire’s direction. Out of respect for her, he asked for them to leave, to send back only male vampires to do the rest.

  Gabriel stared at him, his usually straight brows raised. “This is new.”

  “Tacit understanding until Claire leaves. We’ve both been having major possessive issues because of the chains.”

  “And will she be leaving?”

  “Of course. She’ll rest and recover then I’ll take her home tomorrow night.”

  Gabriel said nothing. He didn’t even appear to have an opinion on the subject, and maybe as a long-lived vampire he knew his opinions would have had little effect anyway. No matter the reason, Lucian was grateful he kept his trap shut.

  Staff brought in two leather chairs so that he could sit with his surrogate father outside the healing room. Gabriel gave him a questioning look, but Lucian didn’t have the energy to explain that he couldn’t have left Claire for anything in the world right now. Though the double-chains would have let him move sixty feet in any direction, the truth was he needed to stick close.

  Claire had, once again, saved him from a tremendous amount of pain and suffering and had almost single-handedly found the extinction weapon. He shared all of it with Gabriel, including Daniel’s fatal use of his slaves—he’d probably killed off four dozen or so trying to get to the prize first.

  “But it was Claire’s unusual ability to detect and to see through the disguises that gave us the advantage. Even Daniel didn’t realize what had happened.” He told Gabriel about the ruse, the solid wall that Claire could see through but Daniel couldn’t.

  “That machine is heavy, Lucian. I went back and checked it out. How the hell did you carry it here?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t know. Ancestral power, I guess. I just couldn’t let Daniel get it. But what do you intend to do with it?”

  “Anything relating to the extinction weapon that we receive here gets destroyed. I personally see to that. We’re also offering counterbids against Daniel for any information that pans out. We’re determined to put an end to this once and for all but this, what you and Claire have accomplished, is a huge victory.”

  Lucian nodded but he felt the frown on his face, the pull of his familiar scowl, the one Claire had teased him about.

  “What is it, son?”

  “I want to use the weapon as a trap. I want to bring Daniel to earth once and for all.”

  “You want to destroy him.”

  “I do.” Lucian compressed his lips. “It needs to be finished. He killed Marius in front of me while he had me trapped in the Dark Cave system.”

  Gabriel looked as though Lucian had just punched him in the stomach then landed a heavy blow to his jaw. “Oh, God, not Marius.”

  Grief boiled in the air between Lucian and Gabriel. His heart ached; his chest felt like it was caving in on him and would never be normal again.

  Gabriel took deep shuddering breaths and kept his eyes closed. Lucian sat in the hallway outside the healing room, in the brown leather chair, beside the man who had trained him out of his rage and into his fighting leathers. He suffered the loss of the youngest brother, the one who, like Claire, had always known how to joke and smile.

  After an hour, one of the wait staff brought honey-sage mojitos. Lucian thought it an odd drink—he would have preferred whiskey—but right now he would take anything.

  The cool light flavor, however, had a softening effect. “Marius would have loved this.”

  Gabriel started to laugh. “Mojitos. Yes, he would have laughed, and we would have laughed with him.” He met Lucian’s gaze. “I will celebrate his life as long as I have years.”

  Lucian nodded. Gabriel had said the exact right thing.

  Lucian refused to fall into his grief, not when he was still worried about Claire, not when he had one final mission to execute. There would be time later when he could make the proper observances and mourn in a way that would be fitting for the loss of his brother, but not yet.

  CHAPTER 13

  Claire floated, in her mind and in her body. She wasn’t real. She was a wispy cloud moving slowly through life, passing through solid objects, unable to be hurt, and hurting nothing.

  She liked being a cloud. She wanted to stay in this state forever.

  She felt wonderful. No, she felt better than wonderful. She felt superb and delicious. She was hungry, though, starved for food and thirsty beyond words. But there was something else she wanted; a man. And not just any man, but a vampire who had carried her on his back, then brought her safely to Egypt, like a parable of old.

  Her mind seemed to drift in and out of rational thoughts, but what else would a cloud do?

  She had a memory of pain across her back and another kind of pain over the surface of parts of her body: her hands, her arms, even her feet.

  All that pain was gone. She floated.

  She felt something else as well, a
steady pulsing of power that tasted like the vampire she wanted, weighted maleness, dragged down by serious responsibility and guilt and rage. All that weightiness often turned inward into a kind of self-loathing that the vampire could only release while he had her on a platform forcing her legs apart.

  She liked being there and she liked being there for him.

  She wanted the vampire.

  She woke up in a bath, only a single candle burning somewhere behind her.

  Her vision was dull, not a bad thing. Her head hurt. “I need water?” Her words came out croaked.

  A female vampire in a long muslin gown, braids pinned in a circle to the back of her head, turned in her direction. “Feel better?”

  Claire glanced at her hands, then opened her eyes wide. “The burns are gone.”

  “Yes. We understand master Lucian sent his power through your bonding chains. You wouldn’t have recovered nearly so fast otherwise.”

  Damn thoughtful vampire.

  She nodded. The servant brought a glass of water over, and Claire sipped from a straw, drinking most of it.

  She sat up and stretched, the milky water sloshing around her in what turned out to be a large copper tub. “Thank you.” She met the woman’s gaze. “Please tell everyone who helped me thank you for what all of you did. I thought I’d be in pain for weeks.”

  The woman nodded. “I will, and we also want to thank you for what you did for master Lucian. He seems changed somehow, in a good way, since you’ve been with him.”

  Claire didn’t want to think too hard right now about anything. And certain very specific thoughts, like returning to Santa Fe, she held as far away as she could.

  “I’d like to get dressed. Any chance I have clothes here?”

  The woman smiled. “Rumy was here. He brought all that you’ll need.” Rumy, always thinking of the details.

  Claire stood up, feeling a little dizzy. She grabbed the edge of the tub and steadied herself then climbed out, one of her less elegant maneuvers.

  The woman held a large purple terry towel wide, nothing but concern in her expression. Claire stepped into it and wrapped up. She gave her head a shake and grabbed for hair that no longer existed, at least not the full length.

  She reached up. “What happened?” But then she remembered.

  “We had to trim it off. I’m so sorry. Most of it was singed and smelled really bad.”

  “Right. Of course.” But it felt so weird not to have her long hair. She gave her head a shake. “I don’t suppose you have a mirror.”

  “Come into the other room. You can get ready in there. There’s a full bathroom with a shower if you want to rinse off. Eve sent some makeup along as well.”

  Claire felt grateful beyond words. There was something so comforting about having familiar clothes at hand and the ability to put on some mascara and lip gloss. Although under the circumstances, the last thing she really should care about was her appearance, she still wanted Lucian to see her at her best.

  She’d be leaving soon.

  And now her hair was gone.

  The maid left her at the door and said that Lucian was just outside when she was ready. He said to tell her that he’d had a meal and a few drinks, even a mojito, though the woman had said he’d smiled when he’d said that part.

  She smiled now as well.

  Once the door closed, Claire went into the bathroom and looked herself over first. Whoever had cut her hair while she’d been recovering had done a decent job, but it was short, most of it no longer than two inches. Her hair had always had some wave, and when she saw the mousse and a brush on the counter she burst into tears. She wanted things back the way they were.

  After a few moments, she pulled herself together and got the water running. As she stepped under the spray, she thought of only one thing: that she’d be going home soon and didn’t want to, which was absurd.

  In the end, as she dressed her hair with mousse, giving it a little fluff, as she put on some mascara and lip gloss, she couldn’t get rid of the sadness she felt. This was what she’d wanted all this time, to go back to Santa Fe, to resume her life, and now she felt as though she’d been given a prison sentence.

  And then there was Zoey, lost to her now forever.

  Claire, are you all right?

  Lucian’s voice within her mind brought the same feelings forward, and tears once more welled. And she’d bragged about not being a weeper. Famous last words.

  She dabbed beneath her eyes, catching what she could, with the sides of her fingers. I’ll be fine. I’m fine. I’m all healed up. I’ll be out in a minute.

  Only then, as she drew her feelings in, did she begin to take in Lucian’s current state, as the chain vibrated against her neck. He was worried about her, probably because the last time he’d seen her she’d been blistered, bleeding, her hair burned.

  She dressed in jeans and—damn that Rumy—a pair of flashy black stilettos, the only shoes he’d provided. She could just see him smile, thinking how funny this would be for her. The bra wasn’t much better, since it pushed her up and out. The blouse, a soft light-green T-shirt fabric, had a low scoop neck and showed off what she knew Lucian loved.

  As she took in her reflection in the long mirror on the back of the door, her hair still freaked her out. But overall, most warm-blooded males would like what they saw, even warm-blooded vampires. Of course the irony wasn’t lost to her, yet another indication that she’d come to see Lucian’s world in a different light.

  Still, she needed and wanted to go home.

  Lucian, I’m coming out now, but I think I should warn you, my hair’s all cropped off. I’ll probably look a little strange.

  I don’t give a damn about your hair. I just want to look at you, to know that you’re okay.

  I’m fine. Her heart, on the other hand, told a completely different story.

  Taking a deep breath, she pulled the door open.

  She was grateful for two things: First, that Lucian was alone, and second, that his eyes lit up when he saw her, but quickly fell to half-mast as his gaze drifted slowly down her body then back up.

  Oh, shit, she was going to miss the vampire bad.

  * * *

  Lucian did not recognize the feelings that poured through him in wave after wave as Claire moved in his direction. Yes, her hair was short, but that wasn’t what he reacted to. He saw only the woman who had piggybacked him safely over a path that probably would have killed him otherwise. He saw the woman who had thrown a disguise in Siberia, getting herself cut up in the process, but allowing him to get them both back safely to The Erotic Passage. He saw the woman who had rescued him from the Dark Cave system by taking on a proximity-enforcing blood-chain.

  She’d thrown herself in the path of danger repeatedly on his behalf and he didn’t deserve it, not even a little bit.

  Oh, Lucian, you’re such a fool.

  She ran to him, and he caught her up in his arms and held her against his chest. His throat felt tight, an utter betrayal of every intention of holding it together so that he could let her go. She needed to get back to her life, her real life, not this nightmare world of his that had cost her so much.

  Claire.

  He felt her tug her hand free and knew she wiped her cheeks. How the hell was he supposed to get through this? In the span of three nights he’d come to feel as though he’d lived a century with her. Damn blood-chains.

  I know. Damn chains.

  She hugged him in response, occasionally swiping at her cheeks. So how stupid does my hair look?

  He finally released her, but he couldn’t see her hair. All he saw was Claire, the woman who had come to mean more to him than he’d ever thought possible, though he had no way of explaining that to her.

  But she truly looked worried. Women worried about stuff, a lot more than men did.

  He lifted his hand and slid his fingers through her short hair. “You look beautiful, and I truly could not give a fuck what length your hair is. It got burned off sa
ving my ass. I’ll treasure what I see right now for as long as I live.”

  “That’s a long time, vampire.”

  He nodded slowly. A long time to live without this human.

  He swallowed hard. He needed to feed. Warning tremors had been sitting offshore ready to blow in and swamp him hard for the past couple of hours. But he was sick of feeling this awful need, remnants of the blood-madness that each battle situation kept igniting.

  “You need my vein, don’t you?”

  He nodded. “I can feed elsewhere, Claire. You don’t need to keep donating.”

  “The hell you’re going to use some other woman, so long as I’m around.”

  Her eyes crinkled with amusement but he couldn’t respond in kind because all he could see was SANTA FE blinking like a shoddy hotel sign, over and over in his mind. Right now he hated the city and never wanted to see it again, or think about it, or picture Claire living there without him.

  She stepped back just a little, but took his hands in hers. “We have to say good-bye, don’t we?”

  He nodded. “We both know it’s for the best.”

  Her gaze shunted away. “And nothing material has changed except that we both have what we want, what we needed from each other: You have the weapon, and I know now that my friend is dead.”

  “I can take you straight home from here, if that’s what you want.”

  She gave a small cry and landed on his chest again, throwing her arms around his waist. I don’t want that, not yet. Not yet.

  He petted her head and dammit if he didn’t have tears in his eyes as well. He felt like he was losing his best friend and his lover in exactly the same moment. You can stay as long as you want.

  She held on to him and he felt his T-shirt grow damp. She stayed squeezing him hard for a long time, maybe until her arms started aching. “Claire, I’ll do whatever you want. Anything, just name it.”

  She finally drew in a deep breath and relaxed her grip. But without letting him go, she looked up at him. “I’ll tell you exactly what I want. I want you to take me back to Uruguay, where we’ll both be safe. I want to have a couple of steaks, maybe a salad, definitely a bottle of beer each, something dark, rich, imported.”

 
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