Chains of darkness, p.9
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       Chains of Darkness, p.9

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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  Glancing at him, she saw a shard of guilt pierce his eyes and she regretted her words. She shot a hand forward and grabbed his wrist. “I am totally teasing you about that. And you didn’t kill me.”

  “I could’ve. Hell, I almost did.” He looked panicky, and the chain vibrated on her neck heavily. “I was out of control.”

  She held back a smile. “Well, think of it this way. If you’d succeeded, because of the chains, you would have died as well, so justice would have been served.”

  At that, his lips quirked. “You have the strangest way of looking at things.”

  She laughed. “I guess I do. Maybe it’s from having taken care of a kid for two years. We played video games a lot, and the movies he thought were the funniest drove me crazy and might have affected my ability to reason. Imagine.”

  He seemed to relax. He even separated the three-part stack so that he only ate two segments at a time. “I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to make sure you get home. I know we have a mountain to climb between finding the extinction weapon and rescuing Zoey, but we’ll get this done.”

  She nodded. Suddenly tears touched her eyes. “I’ve missed my family so much, my mom and dad, my brothers, even their horrible teasing.” A vivid memory came to her about how she’d go into the bathroom and when she came out, both her brothers would be waiting there as though standing in line. Her mother would just laugh when she complained.

  “You were robbed of precious time with them. Unforgivable.”

  She sipped her coffee, considering him. “So why exactly haven’t you become an Ancestral?”

  He shrugged, adding more syrup to his waffles. “For the simple reason that power corrupts, especially vampires. You have to understand, I’m Daniel’s son. I’m like him in more respects than Adrien is, and more than Marius ever was. I fear that I’d become like him—that instead of helping my world, I’d become the asset to Daniel he’s been hoping for all these years. You don’t know how much it plagues my mind.”

  “Lucian, I don’t think you see yourself clearly at all. You could never be that man.”

  His brows rose and his lips parted. “I’ll always be grateful that you’ve said that to me. But I want to change the subject just a little, something for you to think about. When the day comes that I take you back to Santa Fe, you’ll have the option of having your memories stripped. You won’t remember a thing. Your human specialists will call it selective amnesia because of what you’ve been through. I can do that for you, if you want.”

  Claire sat back in her chair, pondering his offer. Her gaze drifted back to the bed, to being with him. She’d lost the past two years, and yes, she wished her life had unfolded in a different way. But would she truly want to forget that she’d cared for Josh, or that she’d seen Lucian through a terrible bout of blood-madness, or that she’d had the most amazing sex of her life with him?

  What was the measure of a life except all the combined memories, good and bad? She was a social worker by profession, which meant she’d seen a lot of bad stuff touch the lives of other people. They often had to keep enduring child or spousal abuse, or the chaos of alcoholic parents, or drug-addicted family members who kept stripping a household to the bones financially.

  Not a single human she knew had the power to get rid of their memories forever.

  Why should her experience be any different?

  “You’re thinking about this really hard, aren’t you?”

  She shifted her gaze back to him. “You felt that from the chains?”

  But he nodded in the direction of her lap.

  Glancing down, she saw that her legs were crossed and so were her arms. She smiled. Body language really didn’t lie. “I was thinking about whether or not it would be truly wise to let all these memories go. I’m not sure I want to go that far.”

  “It would be a difficult judgment call, that’s for sure. But it’s available if you want it.”

  “Thanks.” She thought about picking up her fork again, but the remainder of her omelet had grown cold and she was no longer hungry.

  He wiped his mouth with his napkin and glanced at her plate. “Are you done? If so, we can head to Rumy’s.”

  “I am. Just give me a sec.” She took time to brush her teeth, which prompted him to do the same.

  Then, like any old couple, he held the door for her.

  But just as she would have crossed the threshold, she looked up at him, grabbed the front of his shirt, and pulled him down to her. Kissing him once on the lips, she said, “You’re a good man, Lucian, one of the best I’ve ever known. Don’t you forget that.”

  She saw the doubt that flickered through his eyes, but rather than let him argue the point, she headed back up the hall in the direction of Rumy’s office.

  Once there, Rumy seemed oddly nervous, this time grazing the tips of his fangs with his index finger.

  “What’s going on?” Lucian asked. “You look like a mouse staring down a snake.”

  Rumy sighed heavily, turned around, then picked something up off his desk. Claire saw that it appeared to be a display board covered in green velvet.

  “What is this?” Lucian scowled, but Claire could feel through their shared chains that his heart rate had jumped a notch. He must already have an idea what they were looking at.

  “Gabriel had these delivered about two hours ago. They’re for you and Claire—but only if you want them. He said to tell you no pressure.”

  Claire drew up beside Lucian and watched as Rumy lifted back the velvet cover. Mounted on another piece of velvet were two sets of elegant silver chains, each made up of two rows of interlocking loops.

  “Hell the fuck no.” Lucian crossed his arms over his chest and glared.

  “Are these the double blood-chains?” Claire was so intrigued.

  “Yep, and only Ancestrals can wear them—and their partners of course. They also have the ability to jump-start Ancestral power. Gabriel had them made up special for Lucian and for you, if you want them. So what do you say?”

  Lucian snorted. “For starters, I’d rather be hung upside down and zapped with Tasers for the next century than put these on.”

  But Rumy smiled ruefully. “Okay, but tell me how you really feel.”

  Claire wasn’t surprised at Lucian’s response, since he’d told her of his reservations so recently. But she’d probably never get a chance to see this kind of blood-chain again, so she drew close. Power vibrated through her, even called to her from the chains. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of reaching out and touching one of the links. The next thing she knew, she was flying backward.

  * * *

  Lucian felt power surge through him from the double-chain the moment Claire made contact. He crossed to her quickly and picked her up in his arms. She was out cold again.

  She was breathing steadily, however, so he could at least relax about that. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the sudden burst of power had stopped her heart.

  Claire?

  Nothing returned.

  Yep, out cold.

  Though he had little enough experience with blood-chains, he still didn’t understand why Claire touching them would have resulted in such a swift, unexpected power boost. Even his chain sang with new energy and power flowed through his bones—an addictive, dangerous kind of power, the kind that lived in Daniel. What the hell had Gabriel been thinking to tempt him like this?

  Of course, the double-chain meant exactly what Rumy had said: If Lucian put it on, he’d become an Ancestral, something Gabriel had wanted him to do for a long time. Gabriel, an Ancestral in his own right, had been a surrogate father to him and to his brothers when they’d escaped Daniel’s house all those centuries ago. Lucian respected him, but he couldn’t take this step.

  Claire came around slowly, her eyes opening as she turned toward him. “What happened? And why do I feel so good? Like I’ve been drinking or something.” Absently, she plucked at his shirt just above his right pec.

&nbs
p; “Do you remember touching the chain Gabriel sent over?”

  “Vaguely. Hey, you’re holding me in your arms.”

  “I am.” Between the power surge and the fact that she’d recently fed him, his desire for her rose once more.

  His gaze fell to her lips and images suddenly filled his mind, of taking her to bed and showing her that he really knew his way around a woman’s body, being generous with her the way she’d been giving up her blood for him.

  Despite their recent agreement to keep things simple, if they’d been alone, he would have said exactly those words to her.

  But they weren’t alone and Rumy was grinning at him in that lascivious way of his. Worse, Claire was now rubbing Lucian’s pec with a sensual swirl that made him think if she dipped any lower and touched his nipple, he wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences.

  He knew by the shared chains that she was feeling it, too.

  Desire. Pure desire.

  And all because she’d touched the double-chain.

  How hard are you?

  Oh, God, Claire’s voice in his head really didn’t help, so he responded in kind. How wet are you?

  Enough to handle what you’ve got. Her voice sounded loose and needy inside his head.

  We’re both feeling too much right now. Must be because of the double-chain.

  Maybe. Or maybe it’s just you, Claire. And how much I want you.

  Aloud, he said, “Rumy, would you give us a minute and turn off your damn security cameras.”

  “You got it, boss.”

  The moment he left, Lucian lowered Claire to her feet, then turned her in his arms, slanting a kiss over her waiting mouth.

  In turn, she grabbed hold of him, her fingers digging into the muscles of his arms, shoulders, back, whatever she could reach and fondle.

  His hands went straight to her bottom. He cupped her and pulled her against him, grinding into her. His tongue drove in and out of her mouth, mimicking what he wanted to be doing to her.

  When she suckled his tongue, he groaned.

  Finally he pulled back, breathing hard. Her lips were swollen, her light-brown eyes dilated. His gaze drifted over her face, memorizing her features that, because of the damn chains, seemed to have gained critical, life-altering importance to him in only a night and a half.

  He wasn’t sure what to say, but he would never forget this moment, her beauty, her long wavy auburn hair, her creamy skin, the small indentation in her chin, the laughter in her soft, light-brown eyes.

  She caressed his face. “You’re driving me crazy, you know.”

  “Same here.”

  He’d smiled more than usual in the past few hours. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that. Even with his brothers, smiling was rare. Marius had been able to make him smile, and on the rare occasion to laugh until his sides ached.

  His thoughts fell hard to that other reality: Marius.

  Now dead.

  What is it, Lucian?

  Just thinking about Marius. My brother is gone. Sometimes it hits me hard. I was thinking of him just now.

  She hugged him, and he returned the embrace.

  After a minute of just holding her, and once his body had calmed the hell down, he brought Rumy back in.

  At the same time, the landline on Rumy’s desk rang. He crossed the room to answer it, but after a moment he turned in Lucian’s direction, frowning. “What’s her name, the one asking about Zoey?”

  “Zoey?” Claire’s voice sounded small in the room. She glanced at Lucian and instinctively drew closer to him. He took her hand, holding it tight.

  Rumy kept nodding. “Repeat that last bit.” He paused. “Okay. And you’re sure they’re from a club in Santa Fe? What did you call it? The Prickly Pear?”

  Lucian heard a sharp intake of breath from beside him. “Oh, God, no,” Claire murmured.

  Rumy pressed two fingers to his temple, concentrating hard. “Tell me where they’re at again?” Another pause, then, “Thanks, Sam. I owe you one.”

  Lucian leaned close to Claire. “You were abducted from that club, weren’t you?”

  “Yes. This does not sound good.”

  Rumy settled the phone on its cradle. “Claire, were you taken from The Prickly Pear?”

  “I was.”

  “Shit. A vampire known to have connections in Daniel’s sex-slave operation owns that club. But one of my informants, who works at the Hawaiian cavern system, said a couple of girls arrived recently and they’ve been asking about Zoey and you. They said they were from Santa Fe. It can’t be a coincidence. Anyway, this system is a suspected trafficking center.”

  Lucian lifted a hand. “But the disguising effects there are some of the most powerful I’ve ever seen. We could never break through to see what was going on, because an Ancestral created the fields.”

  “Which means I might be able to help.” Claire squeezed Lucian’s hand.

  Rumy nodded. “That’s what I’m hoping. The owners of the pineapple-exporting firm are a couple of major slimeballs. I’m pretty sure they paid the Ancestral a huge fee—and maybe a percentage of their trafficking business—to get that level of protection and secrecy. Anyway, the informant talked to one of the guards about half an hour ago and here we are.”

  “What are their names? The girls who were taken, I mean.” Claire squeezed Lucian’s hand.

  “Amber and Tracy. Do you know either of them? Apparently Amber has straight black hair almost to her waist, if that’s any help.”

  “Oh, God.”

  Lucian felt Claire’s sudden horror and wasn’t surprised, as he glanced down at her, to find that she was trembling.

  Who is she? Who’s Amber?

  Claire turned toward him slightly. “Amber is Zoey’s younger sister. Lucian? Is it possible vampires just kidnapped Zoey’s sister?”

  Lucian frowned. “It’s possible, especially if she’d been hunting for information about Zoey.”

  “Doing her own investigation.”

  “And asking the wrong people.”

  “But what are we going to do?”

  * * *

  Claire still held Lucian’s hand. She had never felt so solemn in her life. This simple phone call to Rumy, a communication from halfway around the world, had just added a new layer of complexity. Not only was someone she knew in trouble, but the whole situation reminded her yet again of the dark forces she and Lucian fought.

  She knew Amber well, because she’d practically lived at Zoey’s house for over a decade and had even babysat Amber when she was a kid. Right now, she had to be eighteen, a very tender age for most young women.

  And if something wasn’t done right now, Amber would disappear into the vampire world’s sex-trafficking nightmare, just like Zoey had. Both women could be dead within two weeks. If not, they’d probably perish sometime in the next eighteen months.

  She looked into Lucian’s steely gray eyes. She felt his distress, even his anger at the abduction, at more innocent lives taken.

  He ground his teeth.

  “Lucian?”

  His rage made the chain at her neck feel hot, as though his anger burned within the metal and now scorched her skin.

  Then she felt it, an answering rage within her own spirit: at having been abducted herself, at losing two years of her life, at Zoey’s fate and now Amber’s.

  Still holding Lucian’s hand, she realized they shared the same understanding, as well as the same purposeful reaction.

  His gaze left the floor and slid in a long slow trek toward Rumy’s desk, landing finally on the green velvet display board.

  Claire felt her chain vibrate with another pulse of sudden, quick anger followed as swiftly by Lucian’s resolve. On every level, she saw what needed to be done, not just to save Amber from what sounded like an impossible-to-find trafficking center, but for the more inclusive purpose of tracking and locating the extinction weapon. In order to expand their tracking ability as well as to enhance her own ability to detect and cr
eate disguises, Lucian would have to rise to Ancestral status.

  Without the increased power, they would struggle to accomplish any of their goals, including rescuing Amber and her friend. Flight would remain unbearably painful for Claire, their current tracking ability was weak compared with their pressing need, and even if they somehow found the extinction weapon, Lucian wouldn’t have sufficient power to take Daniel on.

  But she recalled Lucian’s greatest fear: that in embracing the full potential of his power he would become like his father.

  She met his gaze, knowing he had a tough choice to make and that only he could make it.

  His lips turned down, and his gray eyes darkened. “I know the Hawaiian system. No one can get in. The disguises are beyond anything I’ve ever seen, maybe even beyond your current power, Claire. And that system is far away. I couldn’t even fly you there without causing you a shitload of agony all over again.”

  She looked deep into his eyes and saw everything there, the totality of his determination and how much he would sacrifice, just as she would. And here was a trait they shared in common, something that might be even more binding between them than the blood-chains. Each would sacrifice. Each would do what had to be done.

  She had to do this.

  So did Lucian.

  She might not understand all his reasons, but hers were simple: She knew Amber and she knew Amber’s mother. She couldn’t let this happen to either of those women, not when Zoey had been lost to her family for the past two years, maybe even forever. The household had endured enough suffering with Zoey’s kidnapping. But even beyond Amber’s abduction, there were thousands of young women in the same kind of jeopardy.

  And Daniel Briggs was behind it all. From what Rumy and Lucian had said, Daniel led the way when it came to sex slavery. And all roads seemed to lead back to him.

  She began to understand the impact the extinction weapon could have on her world as well. Once Daniel had full control of the vampire world, he could expand his vile sex-slavery operations so that more and more human women, just like Amber and Tracy, would fall victim to him. More than ever before, she saw the absolute necessity of making sure that Daniel’s plans failed.

 
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