Chains of darkness, p.25
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       Chains of Darkness, p.25

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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  Despite the slight distraction, he kept Daniel pinned. He wouldn’t let go of him now, even though he didn’t understand how Claire could have made use of the destroyed chain. He’d watched the expert clip every link then break the chain.

  But then he remembered Rumy’s gift, and he understood. He smiled and felt the strangest sense of relief: For a little while at least, he’d have Claire back with him.

  With Daniel under control and now dangling in the air, his weight growing heavier by the second as the life drained out of him, Lucian opened his telepathy. Claire, is that really you?

  Lucian, listen; Something’s wrong. I just heard from Zoey. She’s not dead and she’s there, somewhere near you. So is Marius. They must be hidden behind a disguise you can’t see. She said Daniel knows about the boat and the explosives and he’s going to use Zoey and Marius to guilt you into giving up the weapon. You’ve got to get out of there.

  Just as he returned his complete attention to Daniel, who truly felt close to death, Daniel suddenly shifted, broke out of Lucian’s grasp, then whipped into the air. He floated nearby and waved a hand in a wide sweep.

  Lucian turned to face him, levitating with arms wide to balance himself, and there they were.

  Daniel’s other sons, Quill and Lev, the ones loyal to their father, each held a chained-up prisoner. One was an emaciated woman, and the other …

  Lucian’s mind stalled out. He shook his head. Claire had already told him the truth, and now his eyes confirmed it, but he still couldn’t believe that Marius was alive.

  Lucian. I’m thirty seconds out.

  Claire again.

  You were right, both Zoey and Marius are here.

  Hold on. I can help.

  Daniel moved to float in front of him, just a few feet away, barely out of physical reach. “I was sure you didn’t bring me here to catch up. So I’m going to make this simple for you. No more games, no more trying to battle me to the death. If you want your brother and this human to live, you’ll hand over the weapon now.”

  Marius called out, “Don’t do it, Lucian.” Clearly, Daniel had feigned killing Marius while Lucian was caught in blood-madness, but Marius was as dull-eyed as the woman next to him. They’d both be dead soon without help.

  I’m almost there.

  But if Claire arrived, Daniel would have one more piece of leverage. He couldn’t let her get caught.

  Claire, stay away. You can’t help right now. I’ve got this.

  He met his father’s gaze. “Let Marius and Zoey go right now, and I’ll give you the weapon.”

  “You’ll have to detach the bomb, or did you think I didn’t know about it?”

  In that moment, Lucian realized that he’d lost the war. He could accomplish half his goal and save Marius and Zoey, but not his own life. At this point Daniel would never believe that Lucian could choose death over handing him the extinction weapon free and clear.

  He slowly levitated away from the boat, pulling his phone from his pant pocket and pretending that it was the detonator. “You have five seconds to choose, Daniel, or I’ll blow the weapon up. Let Zoey and Marius go. Now.” He started the countdown. “Five, four, three, two…”

  “Fine.” Daniel waved a hand.

  Quill dropped Zoey, who started to fall a hundred feet toward the water, her cry more a whimper than anything else. At the exact same moment, Marius fell. But despite his chains, he had enough power to fly after Zoey and scoop her up before she hit the water, then carry her in the direction of The Erotic Passage.

  Marius was free, and he’d saved Zoey.

  The original plan—to have Daniel take the weapon and blow himself up—had failed. Lucian had only one recourse that made sense to him. He had to destroy the weapon if his world was to survive and right now he intended to do just that.

  Lucian dropped into the boat knowing that at least he’d be keeping the weapon from Daniel’s hands. He’d lived four centuries. Long enough, and what better way to go than by protecting his world?

  * * *

  Claire reached the boat at the same moment as Lucian. But she had one advantage her vampire boyfriend didn’t. She quickly engulfed him in a disguise that even Daniel couldn’t see.

  Lucian already had his hand on the heavy iron loop at the top of the weapon, so she said, “Don’t do it, gorgeous, or we’ll both eat it. Now look up?”

  When he glanced up Lucian gave a shout that came straight from his gut. He saw the disguise there, and how furious Daniel was as he flew in quick streaks above them, unable to see the boat.

  Daniel roared his fury. His other sons took off in quick bursts of altered flight.

  Lucian caught her up in his arms and hugged her. “You came back.”

  “We can talk later. Let’s get rid of this weapon for good.”

  She felt Lucian’s uncertainly through the familiar vibration at her neck. “We can get out of this, Lucian. Trust me. The disguise will hold long enough, even through the blast, for us to get away.”

  He turned to her, his eyes searching her own.

  “Okay, this is how we’ve gotta do this thing. The second I lift the weapon and trip the wire, I’ll shoot straight up. You’ll have to hold the disguise tight or Daniel will be after us.”

  “Got it.” Claire smiled then eased into a grin. She shrugged. “Easy-peasy. Ready to go with the disguise when you are.” She stepped onto his foot and he slid his arm around her waist, pulling her close. She felt, in this simple way, like she’d come home. All her questions were answered. She knew, in the deepest part of her soul, that this was where she belonged.

  Glancing past him, she saw that Daniel seemed intent on their location. “Your father might have figured something out.”

  “Then we’d better go. Hold on.”

  “Do it.”

  * * *

  Lucian smiled. Claire had said that to him a lot over the past three nights: Do it.

  He pulled a battle chain from his leathers and with a quick jerk of his wrist caught the upper loop with the chain. He’d need that extra distance to keep from having his feet or legs blown apart. He gave a tug to make sure the chain held and sent a shot of pure power down his arm to secure the hold.

  “Ready?”

  With her arm snug around his neck, she whispered, “Ready.”

  Then he headed straight into the stratosphere, shooting skyward with Claire’s dense disguise surrounding them. He pulled the weapon up off the boat to trip the wire then, in that same split second, let the weapon fall back to the deck.

  By then he was two thousand feet in the air and moving fast.

  He heard the explosion then a moment later felt the power of the blast beneath him, but dimming by the split second until Claire’s voice reached him. Hey, vampire, it’s cold up here and now I can’t breathe.

  Lucian had gone far enough and fell away, heading south and west, in a trajectory toward Uruguay and his secure cavern.

  As soon as he had Claire safe in his home, in the living room, he checked her for injuries but found none.

  “You are fast,” she said.

  “Thank God you’re okay.”

  “Yeah, yeah. Call Rumy. Let’s find out what happened from where he sat.”

  He held her next to him as he made the call. “Tell me everything.” He put the phone on speaker so that Claire could hear as well.

  “Gabriel’s guard had orders to stay here until the situation resolved, just in case Daniel made a play for my club. But here’s how it went from my vantage. Daniel and his boys kept flying over the lake until the explosion. Each was blown back a few hundred yards, but unfortunately each recovered. They didn’t turn in my direction but took off, heading east, probably back to Daniel’s lair in the Dark Cave system. So they’re gone, as are the boat and the weapon. The lake’s a mess. I sent a crew out there, under the cover of my own disguise, to get everything cleaned up.”

  Lucian huffed a sigh. It was too much to hope for that the blast would have killed any of them
. “And Marius? Zoey?”

  “Marius said to tell you that he’s fine, but he’s in bad shape, like you were. He’s in blood-madness recovery now. Eve has about a dozen of her girls donating. He’ll be out of the woods in a couple of days. He said he and Zoey know some stuff about the Dark Cave system and he has a plan that’ll probably involve Zoey—but from what he can tell, she’s willing to do her part. She said to tell you, Claire, that as soon as she’s feeling better, she’ll call, and that she never stopped thinking about you. She said you were the reason she’d stayed alive as long as she had. She wanted to find you, if she could, and help you.”

  Lucian felt his chains vibrate heavily. He turned to look at Claire and saw tears running down her cheeks. He pulled her to sit down on the couch beside him, holding her close.

  “Claire?”

  “Just give us a minute, Rumy.”

  “Got it.”

  Imagine Zoey worried about me, when she was the one who’d been auctioned and used. She covered her face. By Daniel.

  Claire, she wouldn’t have known what happened to you, that you’d been in Florida taking care of Josh. She would have assumed you’d been sold into slavery as well.

  I know.

  He gave her another minute to regain her composure. She pulled a tissue from the pocket of her jeans, a wad of them, and blew her nose. “Sorry, Rumy, I kinda lost it, but I’m back. So Zoey’s fine?”

  “Marius had enough strength to get her to the back entrance, but my staff was waiting for them. She’s very weak, but we’ll take care of her, you know we will. One of our medics has her on a blood transfusion right now and we’ve got a healer coming in soon. She’s eating chicken broth as we speak and talking about needing to get back to the Dark Cave system; she says five human slaves die every day and an equal number are brought in to replace them. She seems determined. I recognized the fire in her eye. Looked like your fire, Claire. Damn, I’m glad you’re back. You staying this time?”

  Lucian’s heart stopped. He couldn’t breathe. Her answer had more significance than anything else he remembered from his four centuries of life.

  She shifted in his direction and settled a hand on his face, staring into his eyes. “Rumy, I’m going to say something to Lucian, but you can listen, too, if you want.”

  Lucian met her gaze, his heart slamming around in his chest. Claire spoke softly. “I was in that hotel room maybe an hour when I knew I couldn’t stay in Santa Fe. The moment I saw the chains, the ones Gabriel sent by way of Rumy’s gift, I knew I couldn’t return to my old life. I don’t understand all the forces that brought me here, that landed me in the middle of your life, but if you’ll have me, if you want me, I’ll stay.”

  “Do I want you?”

  Lucian forgot about the phone and about Rumy. He turned toward Claire and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her hard, driving his tongue deep.

  Finally, he pulled back and stared into her eyes. “Do I want you? More than life itself. I never thought to have a woman in my life, any woman, vampire or otherwise. But you came, showing up in the Dark Cave system, in that pit, surrounded with a disguise that fooled even Daniel.

  “I didn’t want to let you go the first time, but I thought you should have a chance at the life you wanted. I wasn’t even sure I deserved you.”

  “Are you sure now?” She petted his cheek and kissed him, then drew back.

  His lips curved up, and he leaned his forehead against hers. “I’ll always doubt that I deserve anything. That’s the truth of what happened to me, the darkness that will always live in me. But I don’t care, either. I want you and so long as you want to be here, with me, that’s all that matters.” He kissed her again.

  Rumy chimed in. “Hey, someone bring me some popcorn. This is getting good. I’m hearing slurping noises.”

  Lucian chuckled as he drew back and Claire grinned.

  Lucian returned to the task at hand, angling toward the phone. “Let Gabriel know that the weapon’s been destroyed. I suppose you’ve already told him about Marius.”

  “He knows on both counts, and he’ll be here in about twenty minutes. He might take Marius back with him, but something tells me he won’t be anxious to leave Zoey. I think she might have fed him, as weak as she was. She has recent, unhealed puncture marks in her throat.”

  “What does that mean?” Claire asked.

  “When the holes don’t close up, death is near. Don’t worry, we got her in time.”

  He watched her swallow hard and nod several times in a row.

  “Oh, and one more thing, Lucian. Gabriel said he thinks you should join Adrien in the Amazon system. Catch your breath and we’ll all figure out what to do about Marius and Zoey, okay?”

  Lucian met Claire’s warm brown eyes once more. How does that sound? Could you handle going underground for a while? With me?

  I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.

  This time, before he kissed Claire again, he ended the call then turned his phone off.

  * * *

  “What happened to your hair?” Josh asked the obvious question and it was such a young-boy thing to do that Claire ran to him and picked him up in her arms. Despite how big he was, she swung him in a circle. Siphoning Lucian’s power had a lot of advantages.

  So much had happened in such a short space of time that it was hard to remember she hadn’t been separated from him for very long at all, just a few days.

  He’d reached that age, however, and pushed her away, his cheeks reddening. “Stop it, Auntie Claire.” But he grinned, and his eyes shone. “I want you to meet my mom.”

  Claire turned toward Lily, and a stream of understanding and affection flowed between the women. They were family now, bonded to brothers.

  An embrace followed, and Claire’s shoulder grew damp really fast. “Thank you for taking care of him,” Lily whispered. “Thank you, Claire, from the bottom of my heart. I owe you so much. I can never repay the blessing that you were in Josh’s life while we were separated.”

  Claire drew back, her own emotions threatening to stampede her, but she didn’t exactly think it would help Josh if the two women in the room dissolved into tears.

  The Amazon cavern system, though deep underground, had the most humidity of any of the caves Claire had been in. But a breeze blew through, so that the large living area, decorated in bright colors like Lucian’s Uruguay cave, was very comfortable.

  Lucian and Adrien were deep in conversation, each wearing a scowl and standing with his arms crossed over his chest. They would have a lot to discuss, maybe even plans to make where Marius was concerned—or more important Daniel.

  Claire kept her attention fixed on Josh and Lily. She wanted to hear their stories, especially what had happened to Josh after she left the Florida compound. Josh related being taken by Daniel and gave a brief description of what had to have been horrifying events at the Pit, that place of execution where Lily and Josh, as well as Adrien, had almost lost their lives.

  “You should have seen Adrien.” Josh’s eyes were wide, his voice hushed. “He looked like something out of a movie.”

  Lily explained, “He fully embraced his Ancestral power in that moment and saved both of us because of it.” Her large hazel eyes glowed with affection as she slipped her arm around Josh, then glanced at Adrien. Love lived there now, in this newly created family. “I still can’t believe it was only a few days ago. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime.”

  Claire understood exactly what Lily meant. “Same here.”

  “So what happened when you left the compound?” Lily asked.

  But Claire glanced at Josh. There was no way she would launch into a description of everything that had happened, not in front of a child and especially not Josh, who had suffered enough.

  Lily picked up on the cue and told Josh he could play video games for half an hour, if he wanted to.

  Claire had never seen a boy leap so fast off a couch, but he came to a screeching halt at the doorway. “Claire?”
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  She turned to look at him, her eyes once more wet. “Yes?”

  “You’ll still be here, right?”

  Claire glanced at Lucian then back at Josh. “Absolutely.”

  “Good. Adrien bought me a new game. You’re gonna love it. Wanna play now?”

  “Maybe in a little bit.”

  “Okay.” Then he was gone.

  Claire met Lily’s gaze once more, and as before understanding passed between them. She suspected Lily’s journey had been similar to her own, since they’d each bound a powerful vampire to them with blood-chains.

  When Lily asked Claire if she’d like to sit down and share a glass of wine, Claire agreed readily. It seemed so normal a thing to accept a glass from Lily—like talking the day’s events over with a girlfriend. In this case, however, events had to do with the monster that was Daniel and the hell he’d put all of them through.

  Claire outlined all that had happened, and Lily did the same.

  When each fell silent, enough of their histories shared for now, Claire turned to Lucian and Adrien. They still stood together, still scowling.

  “Lucian does that a lot. The line between the brows, I mean.”

  “I know exactly what you mean.”

  “But he laughs more now.” Claire smiled, glancing at Lily once more. “I can at least do that for him.”

  Lily reached over and took hold of her hand, squeezing gently. “I’m glad you made it and I’m so glad you stayed.” She spoke quietly. “These men, what they’ve been through…”

  “And they’re so deserving.”

  “Yes, they are.”

  “What’s going on?” Lucian called out.

  Claire set her wineglass down and rose to her feet. On impulse—maybe because she was so grateful to be here, to be alive, to be with him—she crossed to him and put her arm around his waist. He held her against him, his expression somber.

  The chains at her neck vibrated heavily and she felt a tremor pass through him. He still wasn’t past his blood-madness, but he was holding steady. “We’re just sharing, that’s all.”

 
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