Chains of darkness, p.24
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       Chains of Darkness, p.24

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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  “You really gonna leave us, Claire?”

  She turned to Rumy. “I have to go home, to see my family. I have a different life to live.” But the words tightened her throat all over again.

  He smiled, the tips of his fangs as absurd as ever on his callused lips. “Well, you can always come visit.” He handed her his card, which had his phone number on it. She took it and tucked it away in the pocket of her jeans, but she doubted she’d ever see him again.

  He snapped his fingers. “Wait, I have something for you, a little going-away present. It’s not much, something smallish from one of my shops.” He reached into the drawer at his desk and pulled out a box with a big pink polka-dot bow on top. “Just something to remember us by.”

  “Rumy, thank you. You didn’t have to do this.”

  “Oh, yes, I did, because I want you to look at this all the time and feel guilty as hell about leaving us. No, don’t open it here. When you get to the hotel will be soon enough.”

  “Okay.” Tears once more bit her eyes. She felt an impulse to hug the vampire, but she knew, chains or no chains, that Lucian wouldn’t like it.

  Instead she extended her hand. He shook it once firmly, then let go, because Lucian was suddenly next to her, his hand on Rumy’s shoulder, pushing the small Italian vampire back a few feet.

  Claire glanced at Lucian, surprised. The connection was gone, but he was still behaving as though she belonged to him.

  He looked down at her, equally as surprised. “Claire, I’m sorry. Rumy, apologies.”

  Rumy waved a dismissive hand, but Claire threw herself into Lucian’s arms once more. I’m going to miss you more than words can say.

  He wrapped her up in his arms and hugged her hard. I feel the same way.

  The next moment, without another word, she was flying to Santa Fe.

  CHAPTER 14

  Half an hour later, Lucian stood in the middle of Rumy’s security briefing room. One of Rumy’s team, Alan, explained the explosives setup for the extinction weapon. He’d spent decades studying and making bombs, mostly as a hobby. Both Rumy and Lucian knew him well and trusted him.

  Lucian had left Claire in Santa Fe, but apparently his heart had remained behind. He’d never felt worse in his life and he hated not sensing what she felt because of the chains. He’d gotten used to feeling her one minute out of two.

  At the same time, he was surprised at how much still came through, apparently a sort of leftover effect of having been bound to Claire for the past several days. He could still feel her, if just to a small degree.

  “I’ll attach the trip wire to the bottom of the weapon.” Alan showed him a diagram. “All you have to do is to lift it up by the crane-loop, the way you did at Four Diamonds. And, boom.”

  Lucian was only half listening, but he needed to pay better attention. He nodded. “Got it.”

  Alan would help him rig up the extinction weapon to a boat, a twenty-foot vessel that Lucian planned to take to the center of Lake Como, surrounded by a disguise.

  Daniel had already agreed to meet with him, to talk things over.

  Lucian had suggested the location: a boat out on the lake.

  With his arms crossed over his chest, Lucian’s biceps flexed. The plan would work as well as anything else—maybe better, because Daniel wouldn’t easily be lured to the depths of a cave where all sorts of traps could be set, especially involving electrical fields. But he could easily flee a boat on open water.

  Daniel had indeed thought the idea perfection, no confining cave walls to hinder either of them. Maybe he wanted to pick up where they’d left off in Siberia.

  Bastard.

  He’d called Daniel, just to let him know he had the weapon and that he wanted to talk because certain possibilities had come to mind.

  Daniel had grown silent, then finally agreed. “Son, if you’re interested in a trade, I know I have something you’d be more than willing to exchange for the weapon.”

  His first thought was Claire, but Rumy had a security detail on her in Santa Fe and they’d been reporting in every fifteen minutes that all was well.

  Knowing, therefore, that Daniel wasn’t offering up Claire, he couldn’t imagine what could possibly tempt him. He’d already killed Marius and as far as he knew, Adrien was still hidden away in the Amazon cavern system.

  After he’d set the time of the meeting with Daniel, he’d called Gabriel to warn him what was going on and to let him know where Claire was. Gabriel said he’d keep his eye on things until Lucian had finished off Daniel once and for all.

  With Claire protected, he stayed with the bomb and the extinction weapon. He watched both put aboard the boat, a job performed beneath several layers of disguises, the trip wire attached.

  Dawn crept close—it was an hour away, no more, when Lucian finally piloted the small craft out to the center of Lake Como, alone, to face his bastard of a father. Lucian knew that he sat on enough firepower to get blown into a million pieces, but he really didn’t care. He might even have to pay that price, but he’d do it, for Marius’s memory alone, if it meant ridding his world of Daniel Briggs forever.

  * * *

  Claire held the curtain back in her room and stared down at twelve, twelve, vampires in the hotel parking lot. She could see a variety of disguises around a team that looked like a special ops force.

  Lucian’s concern for her safety had driven a stake through her heart all over again. And now that she’d admitted exactly how much she loved him, tears had been just one of the effects of her exile in Santa Fe. And she wasn’t a weeper. She’d only been in the hotel a couple of hours, and it already felt like a decade.

  She kept thinking about her family and returning to them after a two-year absence, what that would be like. She tried to imagine picking up the pieces of her life once more, listening to her friends complain about things like bad haircuts, or the hardship of having to choose a new car, or the price of gas.

  She stretched out on the bed and kept staring at the ceiling as though the drywall and texture could give her answers to questions she couldn’t quite bring herself to frame in actual words. She longed to see a cavern ceiling again, maybe the one with light-blue wavy lines where she’d first taken care of Lucian.

  She couldn’t even ask her questions, however, because they were ridiculous. Could she make a life with a vampire in a world on the brink of annihilation? Could she live a life that played out only at night? Could she feed a vampire from her vein for years and decades on end? Could she truly leave her family and her life behind?

  She’d already made her decision, anyway, so she didn’t need to pose the questions at all.

  Rolling onto her side, she saw Rumy’s present still sitting unopened on the nightstand. Maybe because she was feeling so low, she thought this might be a good time to see the smallish thing he’d given her as a going-away present.

  She sat up and drew the gift onto her lap. She pulled the bow apart and lifted the lid.

  What stared back at her was a set of double-chains, exactly like the ones she’d had removed, only the links were all intact.

  Then she understood. The moment she put her fingertips to the chain, a familiar vibration passed up her arm. She felt all that Lucian was flow through her like a welcome cool breeze on a warm day.

  A card lay within.

  She opened it and saw that the author wasn’t Rumy at all, but Gabriel. “Claire, this is a second blood-chain forged from Lucian’s blood. I wanted you to have it, just in case. I know my son; he’ll never bind himself to another woman. He won’t want to. I have no expectations—but should you change your mind, and feel the need, you’ll have the chain in hand. He doesn’t know I’ve done this; he would be furious. But you have a practical turn and I know you’ll do what you need to do. You’ve proven yourself a dozen times over the past few nights. One last bit of information: I’ve modified this chain, and distance shouldn’t be an issue. Godspeed. Gabriel.”

  And Claire’s heart started to ache
all over again.

  A new blood-chain.

  And Lucian.

  All she had to do was put it on.

  The call to do just that was more powerful than she could have imagined.

  * * *

  Lucian sat on the boat waiting for Daniel. He held a beer in hand, wanting to look casual, though feeling anything but.

  Five minutes till game time.

  He wore battle leathers stocked with chains and daggers, no jacket, just a formfitting tee, fighting boots.

  He didn’t know what Daniel expected to happen tonight, but Lucian intended to go to war.

  Once again he crossed his arms over his chest, the bottle of beer dangling from between two fingers. He wished that Claire was here, that he was still bound to her, but only for one reason: He missed the hell out of her. That damn ache in his chest kept expanding.

  And there was the hard truth about Claire and what the blood-chains had really done to him: They’d forced a love he’d never expected to feel.

  He loved Claire.

  He knew that now.

  He loved her with all his heart.

  Since the chain removal, he could no longer blame the chains for what he felt, for the intensity of his feelings toward her. He’d been told from the beginning that the blood-chains didn’t lie, but he’d never quite believed what he’d felt for Claire, not until this moment. With the chains gone, he could no longer deny that, despite who he was, despite that his DNA gave him the soul of a monster, he’d fallen in love with a human and for the first time in his life he could picture a different kind of life.

  Claire. Claire.

  He’d sent the telepathic word shooting into the void before he could stop himself.

  But nothing came back.

  * * *

  Claire.

  Still sitting on the bed, Claire tensed up, having heard Lucian’s voice, as a clear as a bell, dead center in her brain.

  Lucian?

  Though she responded immediately, she could tell her reach, without the blood-chain, went about as far as the wall in front of her. As an Ancestral, he could reach her—yet he couldn’t hear her.

  Was he okay?

  She rose up from the bed and started to pace. She kept glancing at the chain in the box on the bed. Her heart started to race.

  Why had Lucian called out for her? Was he in trouble? Did he need her?

  She thought about putting the chain on, but she wouldn’t be able to remove it if she did, so she hesitated.

  There was something else she could do, however.

  She placed a call to Rumy’s office. After being handed over twice by his security team, she finally reached him. “Lucian called out to me. What’s going on? I’m assuming you’re watching.”

  “I’ve got my binoculars, and right now he’s okay. No Daniel yet, though. He’s thrown a heavy disguise out there—nothing I can’t see through because let’s face it, Lucian doesn’t have your ability in that arena and I have my own awesome level of power. But the lake is quiet.

  “Sure you don’t want to come back? I can have one of my detail bring you over here right now. None of them can fly as fast as an Ancestral, but they’re the next best thing and pretty damn fast.” Rumy suddenly paused. “Okay, hold on. Daniel-the-asshole just arrived.”

  Claire pressed a hand hard against her chest. “What’s happening? Rumy, talk to me.” She should be there.

  “Holy shit, Lucian just pulled out his long chain and he’s rising into the air.”

  “He’s going to fight Daniel.”

  “Yes, he is.”

  “What’s Daniel doing?”

  “Smiling. What else?”

  “He’s going to kill him.”

  “Listen, Claire, I don’t mean to put undue pressure on you, but I think you should be here. You’ve been our boy’s backup from the moment I took you to the Dark Cave system. Sure you don’t want to come?”

  “Just hold on. Let me think.” She held the phone away from her, panic gripping her heart like a fist.

  She paced fast now. She didn’t know what to do.

  Dammit.

  * * *

  Lucian rose into the air, his gaze fixed on his father, who smiled.

  Whirling his battle chain, Lucian said, “You don’t really think I brought you here to have a father–son, chat, do you?”

  Daniel levitated twenty feet away from Lucian. His smile had dimmed a little. His gaze for a brief second fluttered down to the extinction weapon, widened, then returned to Lucian. “You want me to fight you for it?”

  “Yes. I do.”

  He took on his most patronizing air. “You’re making a mistake. I have over fifteen hundred years on you. Do you honestly believe, even for a second, that you can take me?”

  Lucian had long ago lost any desire to play by the rules when it came to the master rule-breaker himself. Instead of engaging in conversation, he shot forward, chain spinning, and sent the wheel of silver in an arc that would have taken the head off most vampires.

  But Daniel was an Ancestral. He shifted to altered flight and reappeared behind Lucian, using a blade to just graze his shoulder as Lucian darted out of the way.

  Lucian’s blood was up and he had just enough blood-madness going on to give him a spurt of strength. He brought forward his new Ancestral powers, and his vision and reflexes improved.

  He drew a dagger at lightning speed and let it fly. How surprised Daniel looked when it caught him in his right forearm. The momentum of the hit sent also sent Daniel spiraling backward as he removed the dagger.

  Lucian flew after him, and saw the same dagger in Daniel’s hand flying toward him. He shifted his waist, rolled, and two seconds later he heard the small piece of metal buzz past him, then drop into the lake.

  By then he had a shorter chain out. He let it fly above Daniel’s head, and wrapped quickly.

  But Daniel was fast, and instead of trying to relieve the pressure, he flipped his feet up and slammed into Lucian’s stomach. Lucian somersaulted through the air. By the time he righted himself, Daniel had the short chain from around his neck and threw it toward the lake.

  He levitated in the air, smirking at Lucian. Why are you doing this, Lucian? Can’t you see I’m toying with you?

  Like hell you are.

  Lucian attacked once more, ready to tear his father apart physically. But as he grabbed Daniel’s right arm, he felt the slice as Daniel stuck a blade deep across his ribs.

  Lucian had battled for centuries, though, and a little blood and pain weren’t going to stop him. Daniel, believing he’d made a serious score, remained where he was in a fairly relaxed stance, still smiling. When he figured things out, Lucian was on him and had him in a headlock, spinning him again over the lake, holding him.

  If he could just keep holding him like this, Daniel would lose consciousness. Then he’d break his neck.

  * * *

  Claire stared at the phone. She kept hearing Rumy call for her: “Claire. Claire. They’re battling midair right now. Claire!”

  She set the phone on the bed next to the blood-chain, still uncertain about what course to take.

  She stared at the chain.

  She’d felt the vibrations when she’d touched it.

  Maybe if she just held it, without putting it on, she’d have a sense of what was happening. Maybe then she’d know what to do.

  She leaped and grabbed the chain, holding it with both hands, staring at it, willing it to give up the information she needed.

  But what came to her had nothing to do with Lucian at all, or Rumy.

  Instead, she could hear a new voice in her head, a woman’s voice. Claire. Oh, God, please hear me, Claire. You’ve got to get over to Lake Como. Daniel has us hidden behind a disguise that Lucian can’t see and once he reveals us, Lucian will die. Please, Claire. You’ve got to come. Please.

  Claire’s lips parted. She couldn’t breathe.

  For a moment she thought she was hearing Eve’s voice. But no, she woul
d have known her friend’s voice anywhere: Zoey.

  She blinked.

  Zoey.

  She shook her head. Impossible.

  Zoey? she called telepathically.

  Claire. Oh, thank God you’re there. You’ve got to get over here. Lucian doesn’t know what Daniel has planned. He’s lied to you both; I’m still alive, so is Marius. Lucian thinks he’s winning, but Daniel knows about the explosives in the boat. He’ll make Lucian choose and you know what Lucian will do. He’ll sacrifice himself thinking he’ll be saving us. Claire, you’ve got to come. If you don’t save him, he’ll die.

  Claire didn’t pause for even a second to figure any of this out. She just accepted what Zoey had told her. Every instinct in her body screamed the truth at her: Lucian was in danger, Zoey was alive, and if she didn’t help the man she loved, he was going to die.

  Claire?

  I’m coming.

  She shut down the telepathy, then slid the chain over her neck and felt it lock in place. Lucian’s power began to flow, even thousands of miles away from him, just like that.

  She contacted Rumy and had one of his men come to her. He saw the chains at her neck and said simply, “My orders are to obey your commands.”

  “Good.”

  She had him assemble Rumy’s security team, the one assigned to her, and the next moment she held on to the lead man. As a unit they shifted into altered flight, heading east.

  They moved fast enough that they’d be in Italy in a matter of minutes. Still, she’d flown with Lucian. Never would she have thought altered flight could feel so damn slow.

  * * *

  Lucian had Daniel pinned, one arm behind his back. With his free arm, he surrounded Daniel’s neck in a tight grip, his Ancestral power at full bore, and felt him slowly losing consciousness.

  Lucian had achieved the impossible. He’d gained control of the psychopath.

  That was when he felt his chains begin to vibrate and an awareness of Claire fill his senses. She was in flight, and somehow she was attempting to speak to him telepathically. But how was this possible?

 
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