Chains of darkness, p.4
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       Chains of Darkness, p.4

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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“Sort of. I think he didn’t want to weigh me down with too many details.”

  He glanced at her. “So your name is Claire. What did you do before you were abducted? I mean, who are you? Where did you come from?”

  “Santa Fe in New Mexico. Do you know it?”

  “Sure. What was your life like there?”

  “Well, my family has lived in the area for three generations. I had my own place, of course, but my mom and dad were only a couple of miles from my apartment. My brothers are eighteen and twenty-one now. When Rumy brought me here I went on the Internet and found that they’re all doing well. Both the boys are in college.” She repressed a sigh. She didn’t mind sharing the details, but the conversation was reminding her way too much of her family and how much she missed them. She couldn’t imagine how hard her sudden disappearance had been on everyone.

  Lucian watched her closely. “And what about your friend, Zoey, were you always close?”

  She chuckled, though her throat had started to ache. “More like sisters. We grew up together. Lived on the same street. We even roomed in college. But we’re so different, I mean even physically, she’s shorter and has black hair, blue eyes. And she has a totally wicked sense of humor. She had really long fingernails though, with jewels on them.” When tears touched her eyes, she cleared her throat and changed the subject. “She majored in economics and worked for an investment firm.”

  “And you?”

  “I have a master’s in social work. Before being taken out of that club in Santa Fe, I worked with ex-prostitutes, not an easy job.”

  He frowned. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be.”

  She found it a lot easier to talk about her work rather than either her family or Zoey.

  She added, “Prostitution is rarely a first choice for these women. Most of them suffered horrendous childhoods before they entered the profession, so trying to extract them from that kind of work involved treating two layers of dysfunction at the same time.”

  “We have a similar problem in our world, especially working with the sex slaves we recover. There’s always a lot of damage.”

  She watched his gaze slide to the floor and his jaw flex a couple of times. “What are you thinking about?—because the chains tell me you’re really upset. Of course, I can see it as well. What’s wrong?”

  He met her gaze. “I’m thinking about your friend Zoey and my brothers, what we’ve all been through, including you. Daniel is the author of all this suffering, and I want him dead. You wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for Daniel—and then there’s Marius.” He shaded his face for a moment as grief swelled over him. She felt ill as she recalled the event. She closed her eyes and let the moment roll through them both, knowing this wouldn’t be the last time.

  When he drew a deep breath and seemed more himself, she asked, “So what exactly is Daniel’s role in your society? I mean, I know that he’s in charge right now, but what does that entail?”

  “Daniel set himself up as head of the Ancestral Council and now rules our five governing courts. He has tremendous power as an Ancestral. But he also has great wealth because of the sex-slave operation he’s built. That wealth has bought him many allies, which is part of the reason he succeeded in taking over the Council. Right now he’s damn near invincible.”

  “And what’s an Ancestral?”

  “It’s the name given to any vampire who achieves a certain level of preternatural power. Only a small portion of our population become Ancestrals, and Daniel’s at the top of that food chain.”

  A knock on the door made her jump.

  “Are you okay with someone else coming in here?”

  Claire glanced at Lucian, almost startled by the question. For some reason, maybe because of the brutality of the situation she’d found him in, she hadn’t expected him to be concerned about her comfort level.

  “And now you look surprised. You don’t think me capable of kindness or consideration?”

  She met his gaze. “I just thought, given what you’ve been through … I don’t know, you just surprised me.”

  He looked away from her, his jaw hardening. She hadn’t meant to offend him, but she could see that she’d touched a nerve. She just wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

  Rumy’s voice sounded through the door. “Okay to come in? I brought food.”

  “Well?” Lucian asked, but this time his voice had an edge.

  “Of course. It’s Rumy. And I’m sorry if I offended you.”

  His jaw worked. “You didn’t.”

  Right.

  “Come,” he called out.

  His voice had an authoritative ring. Rumy had told her that Lucian ran a small policing force in their world, protecting as many innocent people as he could from the depredations of Daniel and those aligned with him. Clearly, he was used to command.

  Rumy came in, along with wait-staff and a trolley bearing two covered dishes. Her stomach rumbled, partly no doubt because she’d just fed a vampire, but she also hadn’t eaten for several hours.

  Rumy glanced at Lucian. “You’re looking better.”

  “I feel much better, thanks to Claire.”

  * * *

  Later, after he and Claire had consumed a simple but savory meal of burgers and fries, Lucian knew the time had come to get down to business.

  Rumy had left so that they could eat in peace, especially since the subjects that would soon be under discussion weren’t going to be pleasant. But Lucian now got Rumy on the room’s landline and asked him to rejoin them, to discuss how to proceed with finding out what had happened to Zoey and with locating the weapon.

  When Rumy came in, however, he wore a serious scowl.

  “What’s wrong?” Lucian offered Rumy his chair, but the short vampire paced instead.

  “We’ve just had word that Daniel is offering a big reward to anyone who can give him solid information about the whereabouts of the remaining extinction weapons.”

  Lucian’s nostrils flared. “How much is the bastard offering?”

  Rumy turned toward him. “Millions, in increments, depending on the value of the information given. That asshole has set up a goddamn tip line.”

  “Oh, that’s bad,” Claire murmured.

  Lucian glanced at her, then back to Rumy. “Well, the good news is that it won’t be an easy process—he’ll have thousands of crackpots leaving false information. That alone will slow him down.”

  “But his organization is big enough to handle it. I think we’re in serious trouble. All he needs is the right bead on the weapon, and he’ll gain control of everything,”

  Claire tilted her head. “Do you think he did this because he no longer has you under his thumb?”

  “Maybe. This move smacks of desperation.”

  Rumy rubbed his thumb against the side of one of his always present fangs. He finally sat down on the edge of the bed, facing the table. Lucian’s gaze fell to the low steel bar that could be raised to hold one of the restraints. He didn’t want the reminder that at some point he’d once more spiral with blood-madness.

  “Rumy, is something else on your mind?” Claire asked. “Please, don’t hold anything back on my account.”

  Finally Rumy met her gaze. “Here’s the thing, Claire. I have a connection who found out who Zoey went to after she was abducted, because the truth is she never went to auction. Daniel kept her for himself.”

  Claire put a hand to her mouth. “Oh, God.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  Lucian watched tears rush to her eyes—this woman who wasn’t a weeper. But he couldn’t fault her, not when she’d just heard that her good friend had been at Daniel’s mercy for the past two years, if she’d even survived that long. He couldn’t imagine a worse fate for a young human female than to be taken into Daniel’s Dark Cave system.

  Claire, to her credit, straightened her shoulders. “Is there even the smallest hope she’s still alive?”

  “We have no way of knowing.”

  At that, Lucian shifted
his gaze back to Rumy, and a certain suspicion entered his head. “You haven’t told her everything, have you?”

  Rumy met Lucian’s gaze. He didn’t blink, but his tongue flicked out and licked both of his fangs. “I didn’t think it was wise.”

  Lucian’s temper shot through his skull and he was on his feet. “What the fuck? Rumy, are you telling me you sent Claire into that pit of hell to rescue me without letting her know the score first? Dammit, she should have had the facts laid out for her before she made a decision to do something that dangerous. You used her.”

  Rumy spread his hands wide. “I was thinking about you, boss, and about our world.”

  Lucian didn’t care. “The day we set the worth of our society above the value of the individual is the day we’ve lost the right to survive as a species.”

  “Lucian, as much as I want to believe that, we needed you here, doing what you’re doing now. I didn’t know what else to do. Adrien had to go underground to protect Lily and Josh. And you needed out of that hellhole. Daniel would have found a way to force you to do his bidding.”

  “You had no right to do this.”

  * * *

  Claire felt so sick to her stomach that she struggled to hold down the meal she’d just eaten. Daniel had bought Zoey, and Rumy hadn’t told her something so critical that Lucian was actually yelling at him.

  And though she’d asked if Zoey was still alive, something about Lucian’s outrage indicated that her friend was probably long dead.

  She stared at the beige carpeting beneath her bare feet, working at taking in long deep breaths and trying to ease the constriction of her throat.

  Lucian paced now, while Rumy sat like a schoolboy in trouble staring up at his teacher.

  Claire spoke up. “I want to know everything.”

  Lucian turned to her and nodded. He stopped next to his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, then turned to glare at Rumy. “Give her the statistics. All of them.”

  “Fine.” Rumy met her gaze, but he’d never looked sadder. “The sex trafficking of humans in our world is brutal beyond description. I don’t allow anything like that in the clubs in my complex. There are organizations, like Starlin, that have built empires around trafficking, but everyone knows I disapprove of slavers of any kind. Everyone who works for me earns a decent wage.”

  “I believe you, but I think you’re tiptoeing around the subject. What stats was Lucian talking about?”

  Rumy drew a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling. “In the initial stage of captivity, a small percentage of humans, about fifteen percent, will not live beyond the two-week mark even if they’re treated well.”

  Claire’s throat hurt. “And after two weeks?”

  “A second transition occurs at six months, but the survival rate at that point drops to fifty percent.”

  Claire tried to process what he was saying, but she kept stumbling over the 50 percent figure.

  Half.

  Half died at six months.

  Had Zoey even made it to the six-month mark?

  She stared at Rumy, her eyes narrowing all on their own; maybe if she squinted it would help her brain figure this out. “We’re talking about a diminishing chance of survival. So what happens after six months?”

  Rumy grew very still. His tongue once more made a nervous appearance between the fang-tips then disappeared.

  She looked at Lucian. He stared at her from beneath his heavy scowl and thick straight brows.

  She felt it again, that weight in him, the heaviness he carried around in his soul that had more to do with the responsibility he felt toward his world than anything else.

  He didn’t take his eyes off her as he said. “Tell her the rest, Rumy.”

  She shifted to stare at Rumy once more.

  He continued, “By the two-year mark, there’s only an eight percent chance she’s still alive.”

  “Eight percent?”

  “In a decent situation, eight.”

  “And Daniel bought her.”

  “Yes.”

  Eight.

  And Daniel was the one who’d killed his own son, Marius, in front of Lucian.

  Once more, her stomach seized. She wasn’t even sure her heart beat any longer. It was one thing to not know; another to suspect the worst. But hearing a figure like “eight percent” shifted Claire’s perceptions of the situation. These were the hard facts, and given the solemnity that vibrated against her neck, the reflection of Lucian’s emotions in this moment, she knew Rumy was telling her the truth.

  Lucian drew close to her and took her hand. “He should have told you, Claire.”

  She stared up at Lucian, her heart heavy. He’d lost Marius today and maybe she’d lost Zoey, though she couldn’t be sure. Maybe she should be angry that Rumy hadn’t told her everything, but she wasn’t. She’d done a good thing, perhaps even a critical one in bringing Lucian safely to The Erotic Passage. If anyone had a chance of ending Daniel’s reign, Lucian did.

  Rumy’s phone rang, and he stepped into the hall to answer it.

  “I’m so sorry, Claire. This isn’t good news, and again I wish like hell that Rumy hadn’t used you the way he did.”

  When Lucian let her hand go, she rose to her feet. “You know what? I’m fine with it. Because you’re safe and after what I saw Daniel do, Rumy’s right, your world needs you here right now.”

  “I think that’s really generous of you.”

  Rumy reentered the room, a slight frown on his brow.

  Lucian glanced at him. “Anything we should know?”

  Rumy still held his phone in hand. “I’ve got several calls to return, which is a good thing—one of them might actually be a lead that will pan out. As soon as I heard that Daniel was offering a reward, I alerted my network, asking for any information that might surface about the extinction weapon. Let me see what’s going on.”

  He seemed to consider the situation, then addressed Claire. “I’m sorry for what I did.”

  “It’s okay. I understand your reasoning, and I actually agree with you. Lucian is needed here. You did the right thing.”

  Rumy held her gaze for a long moment, finally nodding several times in a row. “All right then.” He shifted to Lucian. “Listen, let me follow up on the leads. In the meantime, why don’t you show Claire the main part of the club.” He then slapped his pant pocket, dipping inside. He drew out two crimson tickets. “And Eve sent these along.”

  Lucian glanced at them, scowling. “I’m not taking Claire to a sex show.”

  Rumy shrugged. “You know Eve. She thinks everyone will love her stuff. But it might be a good thing to expose Claire to other parts of the Erotic Passage because who knows what will happen down the line. At least take her to see the band. Well, keep your phone handy.”

  With that, he took off.

  Claire stared at the tickets, then picked them up. They shimmered. “The Ruby Cave.” She glanced at Lucian. “Am I to understand that Rumy just suggested we go clubbing, then hit a sex show?” She didn’t know whether she was more appalled or amused. She decided it was the latter and laughed.

  “You know, Rumy might be right, maybe not about Eve’s show, but let me ask you something. What’s it been like since Rumy brought you here?”

  “Like being thrown into a giant washing machine during the agitation cycle.”

  “That’s what I thought. So why don’t we do exactly what he said? Or at least the first part. The club does have a great band.”

  “You’re serious. But what about the extinction weapon? We should be looking for Zoey.” She felt panicky, afraid that if she changed her focus for even a second, she’d miss a critical opportunity.

  Lucian put his hand on her shoulder and gave a squeeze. “There’s nothing either of us can do right now. Rumy’s put out his feelers and he’ll get a hit back—you’ll see. Then we’ll move forward. In the meantime, he is right. We’ll both function better if we pace ourselves. This is going to be a tough process that wil
l not resolve itself overnight.”

  Claire allowed herself to relax into the moment. Her experience as a social worker, which involved managing frequent crises among her clients, kicked in. “You’re right. I need to let events unfold and I would like to see more of Rumy’s club.” She glanced down, looking at her pants. “Are jeans acceptable?”

  Lucian smiled. “No. This isn’t exactly a casual atmosphere, but no worries.” He gestured to the rack near the dresser. “Rumy provided a wide array of attire.”

  Claire moved to the rack and flipped through several of the dresses, her brows lifting. “Some of these are not fit to be worn anywhere, except maybe The Ruby Cave.” She drew out a short black dress with simple lines. “But here’s one that might do.” She held it to her chest. “Though I have to ask one more time: Are you sure we should be doing this?”

  He nodded, and the soft vibration at her neck confirmed what she saw in his face. “This is a good thing. Did you and Zoey go clubbing often?”

  “We did. We’d meet up with a lot of our friends, dance, occasionally drink just a little too much.” For just a moment she got lost in the memories, but she gave herself a shake. “All right, then, I guess we’re heading to Rumy’s club.”

  She gathered up all that she would need and headed into the bathroom. When the chain at her neck gave a tug, Lucian moved closer to the dresser as well, helping with their ongoing proximity issue. “Take your time.”

  Those words, spoken in just that way, gave her pause as she glanced back at him over her shoulder. He had a wonderful voice, deep and resonant. But he was also very considerate, something she hadn’t expected from his kind. “Thanks.” She moved into the bathroom, closing the door. This almost felt like a date.

  * * *

  Lucian stared at the back of the door, not quite certain what to think. Was he really taking Claire to the club? It would have felt like a date if their situation weren’t so dire.

  When Rumy had made the suggestion, his first reaction had been just like Claire’s: They had more important things to do than to dress up and listen to a band. But the part of him that had served as a warrior for centuries also knew the need for downtime so he’d put himself in her place.

 
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