Aurelia clutched at her husband’s arm. “Do something, Aristes! This is your son!”
Count Corleanni put a hand up to calm her. “Come, brothers, let us discuss this matter. May we use your study, Ambrogi?”
“Certainly,” Aristes replied with an ingratiating smile. “If you will follow me.”
Betina glanced at my father and left with the members of the council. The countess shot another look at Aurelia, and then followed the others. As soon at the butler shut the door, Aurelia threw her arms around Epp. “You know your father and I will move heaven and earth to keep you and your mate safe, but you cannot defy the council. Please. It would destroy me if something happened to you.”
She shook with sobs and sank miserably into a chair. Epp sat next to her and said, “I promise you, mami, I’ll be careful. I’ll do anything they say, but I won’t leave my mate, no matter what.”
“I’m so proud of you,” she said.
My father was still in a daze after meeting Benita. He cleared his throat and we all turned to him. “So, who is Benita? Is she… uh… part of the council?”
Lucia smiled knowingly. “Gorgeous isn’t she? Yeah, she’s the only female on the council, well, if you don’t include Countess von Bitchen-stein.”
“Shh!” Aurelia hissed. “Stop that.”
I had to ask. “Did I notice some tension there?”
Aramis squeezed my hand to get my attention, then whispered, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Back to Benita,” Dad said, “and the whole vampire thing.”
His innocence made me smile. “What’s up, Dad?”
He shrugged. “You tell me. I laid eyes on the woman, shook her hand and it felt like fifty thousand volts shot through my arm. And did anyone else notice a really strong floral scent? Like a really nice flowery perfume?”
Raniero let his head fall back against the chair and stared at the ceiling. In an exhausted drawl, he asked, “Who wants to tell him?”
Aurelia looked at Dad and said, “Well, John. Your reaction to Benita, and her reaction to you, probably means that you are fated to be together as mates.”
Dad sat heavily in a chair and blinked at her. “Pardon?”
Marco explained, “Mates. As in, you’d be changed into a vampire and you’d have sex with her and you’d drink each other’s blood while you—”
Aristes opened the door and caught the tail-end of the Marco’s explanation. He shut the door quickly and barked at his son. “Marco!”
My father mumbled, “Mates. Blood. Sex. Right.” And then he promptly fainted. He fell forward and his forehead hit the table with a thud. We all winced.
I picked my father up and slung him over my shoulder. “Where can I put him?”
“On the living room sofa,” Aramis said. “You want me to carry him?”
“Oddly enough, I barely feel his weight.”
“Let’s all go out and wait in the living room,” Aristes said.
I laid my father down on the couch and Aramis got a cool facecloth. When I touched it to Dad’s skin, he started to groan. “Oh. Wow, my head. What… what happened?”
“You passed out,” I explained. “About the whole mate thing.”
Aurelia came in with a cup of coffee. “Here you are, John. Just try to relax.”
Dad sat up slowly. “So, what do I do now?”
Aristes smiled. “You don’t have to do anything, strictly speaking. When you’re ready, you could leave here and never see Benita again.”
“What would happen to Benita?” I asked. “I mean, wouldn’t she be miserable?”
“For a while,” Aurelia said, “but eventually she’d get better. A long time ago, she was in love with a human, but before they could be mated, he died in the war.”
“That’s so sad,” I said. “Was he in Iraq or Kuwait or something?”
Aristes glanced at Dad and said, “Actually, he died in the Italian Wars in 1495.”
“What?” Dad cried.
Blanca nodded. “Yeah, Benita’s old. Like, really, really old.”
Raniero snickered. “The ultimate cougar.”
Epp growled. “Can you all please just shut up and be serious? I’m a little stressed!”
“I’m sorry,” Aristes said. “Of course you’re nervous.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Yes, dear,” Aurelia answered.
I bit my lip. “I can hear cars out on the road and squirrels outside in the trees, but I can’t hear what the council are talking about. Why is that?”
“Dad’s study is soundproofed,” Aramis said. “Makes it easier for him to conduct private business without anyone listening in.”
Thus informed, I sat back and waited for what seemed like hours. Finally the study door opened and the council filed into the living room. The count’s face was so expressionless that I couldn’t possibly tell what he was about to say.
We all stood. The count motioned Blake over to stand in front of his jury. Epp went with him, clutching his hand tightly.
“Yes, sir?” Blake said.
“Young man,” the count said, “There are very serious charges leveled against you. However, due to several mitigating factors, we have decided you will not be put to death.”
Blake and Epp both exhaled shakily. Aurelia clutched at her husband, burying her face against his neck. Aristes hugged his wife tightly and smiled at Epp. The count cleared his throat and continued, “That being said, you still broke one of our most sacred laws, as well as the theft of Aramis’ phone, and giving access to a feeder club to a non-vetted human. In addition to that, your intended mate also showed the council great disrespect here today. Because of this, the two of you will be on probation for the next three months. You had better not put one finger out of line or there will be dire consequences.”
“We won’t, sir,” Epp said. He took Blake’s face in his hands and kissed him.
The count’s brother stood fuming as Epp and Blake kissed. The anger coming off the ancient vampire was palpable. I shivered and Aramis tapped me on the shoulder. When I looked at him, he spoke into my head. “Don’t stare at him. That’s Fumaro. He’s the worst of the bunch when it comes to evil vampires.” My mouth dropped open, but Aramis shook his head almost imperceptibly. “I have a feeling he’s in league with Blake’s dad. They’re both dangerous.”
I decided to try to speak into Aramis’ head. I didn’t know what to say at first, so I looked into his eyes and thought, “I’m thirsty for your blood.” He didn’t react, so I figured my attempt had failed. I tried again, “I want to suck you.“
Still there was no reaction from Aramis. Across the room, however, Nero groaned. “Oh my God, Eliot. I so didn’t need to hear that. Change the frequency, little dude.”
Aramis turned to Nero. “You heard that?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Nero replied. “Jesus. You gotta practice before trying to say stuff like that. You never know who you may talk to.”
Aramis and his brothers all laughed at my mistake. Embarrassed beyond belief, I wanted to run away, but Aramis’ arms held me tight. “All new vamps make mistakes, babe. Don’t sweat it.”
I tried to squirm out of his arms, but insisted on kissing me again in front of everyone. Lucia cooed, “That is so cute.”
Benita cleared her throat. “John, I wonder if I might speak with you alone, please.”
Dad went white, then blushed. “Uh… sure?”
“Good,” she said, and grabbed my father by the front of his shirt, dragging him out of the room. The sounds of something being shoved into the wall was followed by a grunt.
“Holy shit,” my father breathed.
“Oh my God,” I groaned. “Talk about not needing to hear that.”
Fumaro sneered, “That’s disgusting. Her and her… dogs.”
That did it. I growled and balled my fists at my sides so I wouldn’t punch him. “I’m sorry, Mr.… Duke, Earl, whatever the hell you are, but you need to can it. I don’t care if you’re the grand high poobah of the undead! You’re talking about my father.”
Belatedly, I realized that Fumaro was about a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me, and could probably melt my brain with his eyes. He didn’t though. He simply crossed the room so fast that he looked like a blur, grabbed me by the throat and hauled me off the floor. I tried to pry his fingers loose, but to no avail. Then I kicked him in the junk, which only made my situation worse. He howled in rage and his fingers tightened. My vision got blurry.
“Fumaro!” the count bellowed. “Release him immediately!”
He dropped me in a heap at Aramis’ feet and growled. “Brother, this brat has caused enough problems for us, and he has shown me great disrespect. I demand to be allowed to punish him.”
“You will not touch him,” the count replied. “It is you who has shown disrespect. Go wait in the car.”
Fumaro’s jaw dropped. “No! I am not a child you can send to the corner—”
“You dare to argue with me?” The count’s eyes turned liquid black and his fangs dropped. His muscles bulged and his nails lengthened into sharp talons. Apparently, this ancient vampire had powers beyond what any other had. He truly was the most powerful of all of us. Everyone in the room dropped to their knees in deference with their heads bowed, and I followed suit, leaving only Fumaro standing. I heard the count’s harsh voice and couldn’t help shaking in fear. He said, “You have tried my patience for the last time, brother. Go, before I destroy you where you stand.”
I heard the front door slam and the count cleared his throat. I looked sideways and noticed everyone getting slowly to their feet. I also stood. I peaked at the count and saw that his terrifying claws and fangs had disappeared. His eyes were once again pale blue. Still, though, I was ready to crap my pants and I clutched at Aramis’ waist for support.
I heard Aramis’ thoughts. “It’s all right, El. He took your side over his brother’s. That’s a good sign.”
With a long sigh of relief, I nodded. The count said, “Come here, Eliot.”
My steps faltered, but I made my way across the room to stand in front of him. He raised an eyebrow. “You are a very brave and intelligent vampire, but you are also young and physically weak. My brother is several hundred years older than you. It is unwise to challenge a vampire who is so much stronger than you. Especially one as quick-tempered as my brother.”
“I know, sir. I’m sorry. I didn’t really think.”
He shrugged. “You defended your father’s honor, and I admire you for that. Now you must learn. With a little training, your strength will improve and your instincts will sharpen. It is up to your mate and his family to instruct you in our ways. I’m sure Aramis will help you.”
“Yes, sir,” Aramis said with a proud smile at me.
“Good,” replied the count. “Ambrogi, we will go now. Keep a strict eye on your son and his mate, and also this newborn. I have a feeling we may expect great things from him. Time will tell. Come, my dear.” He took the countess’ hand, then said, “Oh, where is Benita?”
The door opened and Benita entered, followed by my severely disheveled father. His shirt was untucked and his hair was sticking up in the back. He quickly tried to straighten himself out, without much luck. Aramis’ brothers snickered, but Aurelia hushed them.
Benita bit her lip and said, “I wonder if I might stay here for a few days.”
The countess sneered, but the count smiled. “Of course, Benita. You are free to travel as you choose. Brothers, go to the car with Fumaro.”
Until that point, I’d forgotten the other vampires in the room. They hadn’t moved an inch or said one word since they entered. Without a sound, they filed out, but it wasn’t a full minute before one of them raced back into the room. “Fumaro is gone!”
Fumaro raced through the woods, crossing the neutral territory and onto the Belanni estate. When he reached the house, he forced the door open and let it slam against the wall, shattering a vase that sat on the entry table.
Lilianna Becker hurried out from the living room, rage painting her face, but when she saw the vampire, she gasped. The viscount passed by without a word and kicked in the door to Becker’s study. Becker shot to his feet. “Corleanni! What the hell—”
Fumaro’s eyes went black and he hissed. “Listen to me!” When he had Becker’s full attention he said, “Your son has joined the Ambrogi.”
“He has tied himself to the second youngest son.”
Becker fell into his chair in utter disbelief. “Son? Do you mean that Blake is—”
Fumaro smirked. “Is getting fucked like a bitch? Yes. But that’s not all. Blake has also accused you of Galen’s murder.”
Becker stared at his desk as his world fell out beneath him. Could it be true that his beloved Blake would betray him? “How could he know about Galen?”
The viscount slammed his fist down on the desk. The antique oak splintered under the force. “You fool! I told you then you should have been more careful! You should have planned. Galen was supposed to have run away, but yet he left his car and all his belongings? Of course people would be suspicious!”
Lukas swallowed hard. “What did the count say?”
“He is going to investigate Galen’s disappearance.”
“Oh my God,” Lukas moaned. “And what of Ambrogi? Surely he will not accept Blake into his clan?”
“He has already done so. Your son is lost to you. Now you have nothing. One of the great families of the Belanni Clan has been reduced to dust because you could not control your own children! At least you got rid of Galen’s body, so there is no evidence.” The viscount towered over him and growled. “You did burn the body, didn’t you?”
Lukas slouched down in his chair and screwed his eyes closed. “I could not have risked the smoke and had police show up. So… I buried him.”
“Where?” Fumaro bellowed.
“Little Switzerland,” Lukas said quietly. “I hoped if he was ever found, we could blame it on the Ambrogi.”
Outside the door, Lilianna Becker shook with grief. For some time she’d wondered what had really happened to her eldest son. Now she knew. As quietly as she could, she went upstairs to gather what few things she could carry in her shoulder bag. Then she pulled on her coat and boots and jumped out the window. One way or another, she would save her son.
The look on the count’s face scared the crap out of me. Aramis held me tighter and whispered reassurances.
“Track him!” the count ordered.
“We did,” one of the vampires said. “He crossed the property line and went into Belanni lands. We did not dare follow until we consulted you.”
“Who are the Belanni?” I asked.
Blake sank into a chair. “It’s my dad’s clan. Fumaro’s gonna tell Dad that I accused him. Holy shit. He’s going to destroy me.”
Aristes shook his head. “You are part of my clan now, Blake. They will not lay a finger on you.”
One of the guards came in and said, “Sir, we have captured a Belanni sneaking onto the estate. Shall we bring her to you and the count?”
“Yes,” demanded Count Corleanni.
When the guards brought in the trespasser, Blake gasped. “Mom!”
Mrs. Becker looked as though she’s seen a ghost. “Blake!” she cried. “You’re all right. Listen. I heard them talking.”
“Who?” the count asked.
Lilianna fell on her knees bowed her head. “My husband and your brother, sir. Fumaro came to the house and began shouting at Lukas. I listened while they spoke of… murdering my son!” All of the energy left her body and she slumped forward, holding herself up with her hands. “Poor Galen. Thrown into a hole in the ground like a dead animal.”
The count’s eyes were wide. “Buried? Lukas didn’t burn the body?”
She shook her head. “No. He said it would have attracted too much attention. Instead, he buried Galen.”
“Where?” Aristes asked.
“In the neutral lands. He thought that if it was discovered, he could blame the Ambrogi.”
Several of the Ambrogi, including my mate, growled fiercely. Corleanni snapped his fingers and his brothers followed him out of the room. Mr. Ambrogi said, “Marco, Raniero, come with me.”
“Be careful!” Aurelia cried. “Becker could have guards everywhere!”
Aristes kissed his wife. “We will bring ours. And we have the count. Nothing will get past him.”
They hurried out, and we all sat around the living room in various states of anxiety. No one said anything. Ten minutes went by, and still we heard nothing. Then, twenty-five minutes after we left, we heard several vampires crossing the lawn.
“Thank God,” Aurelia said, and she stood to look out the window. I heard a quiet pop, then glass breaking, and then Aramis’ mother slumped onto the floor. There was a bullet hole in the middle of her chest.
“Mom!” Aramis screamed. He jumped up to help her, but another shot took him down.
“No!” I cried, but I could barely hear myself over the sound of glass shattering and bullets flying. Blake and Epp barely made it off the couch before they were hit. The countess was the next to be shot, followed by the girls and Blake’s mother. Benita shoved my father onto the floor, and was then brought down by a bullet to the chest. The carnage around me rooted me to the spot. I was the only vampire left. Suddenly, the door opened and Fumaro stood there, with a gun pointed at my head.
Two guards I didn’t recognize entered and he gave them instructions in Italian. One of them grabbed Mrs. Becker. I thought the other one was going to take me, but he crossed the room and lifted my father off the floor.
Dad reached out for me, “Eliot, help me!”
“No!” I begged Fumaro, “Please, don’t do this. Kill me, but don’t hurt him!”
A slick, evil grin spread across Fumaro’s face. He said, “You are to blame for all of this, Eliot.”
Another pop, and everything went black.
John was sandwiched between two large vampires in the back seat of a sleek, black sedan. He looked out the window, watching the trees fly by as they sped down the highway. With every passing minute, his captors took him farther south, farther away from Eliot. The last he saw of his son was when a bullet struck Eliot in the chest, and he crumpled to the floor. The memory made John’s stomach turn. To fight the nausea, he gripped the leather seat and exhaled slowly.
Fumaro turned in the front seat to face John. With an evil smile, he asked, “Something wrong?”
“You bastard!” John cursed through clenched teeth. “What did you do to my son?”
“It should have been fairly clear that I shot him.”
“B-but he’s not dead, right? He can’t die, can he?”
The viscount rolled his eyes. “Of course he can die. Even vampires can’t survive with no head.”
John’s face blanched. He couldn’t focus on that right now. He had to believe that Eliot was alive, and was planning on rescuing him from the sadistic vampires that now held him captive. Yes, Eliot was smart. He and Aramis and the others would figure out how to save him. They had the count, Mr. Ambrogi, Benita…
The thought of the stunning female vampire made John shiver. Even when he was still attracted to Eliot’s mother Karen, he’d never had as strong a reaction to her as he had with Benita. When the vampire shoved him against a wall and kissed him, the blood in his veins turned to fire and the need for more of this woman consumed him. She shoved her hands down the back of his jeans and squeezed his ass while he worked his lips down her slender throat. They parted before they ripped off each other’s clothes and fucked right there in the hall, but it was clear to both of them that their little romp was just the beginning.
The memory stirred his blood again and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Fumaro chuckled. “Thinking about Benita, eh?”
John tried to ignore him, but Fumaro sent his thoughts into John’s head. “She’s stunning, isn’t she? You should see her body: high, firm breasts, with nipples begging to be sucked.” John thought of maggots, train wrecks, anything that would distract him from the vampire’s lurid description, but the voice kept on. “Long legs to wrap around your waist while you thrust into her heat, over and over—”
“Stop it!” John screamed. The other vampires laughed at his torture, and they began speaking in German, which he couldn’t understand. The car slowed and pulled into a driveway. The sun was setting, but John could still make out the sign.
“An Air Force base?” he asked incredulously. “Won’t you be sort of conspicuous here?”
Fumaro shrugged. “Why? It’s not like they don’t know vampires exist.”
John was stunned. “What?”
Becker scoffed. “You seriously think that the government doesn’t know about us? How could we possibly conduct our business without them knowing? I pay a great deal of money to be able to keep my jet here.”
“Air Force Four,” Fumaro joked. “Fly wherever we want with no questions asked.”
“Where are we going?” John asked. “Please tell me. What are you going to do to me?”
Fumaro smirked. “My daughter is in need of a mate.”
John’s mouth fell open in shock. He felt a pinch in his arm, and shook his head to fight the sedative’s effect. “No,” he mumbled. “I won’ do it.”
As he lost consciousness, John heard Fumaro make a phone call. “Hello, darling. Papa has a wonderful surprise for you.”
When I came to, everything was in a state of utter chaos. There were vampires everywhere, some with weapons, and many on phones. All around the room, bloody sheets and rags covered chairs and floors. I sat up and felt like someone had stabbed me through the heart.
“Holy fuck!” I hissed, and collapsed back to the floor. Aramis rushed over and knelt next to me. His shirt was a bloody mess, but he looked unharmed. I threw my arms around him and pulled him down. “You’re okay. Thank God, you’re okay. But… wait. Dad. My dad! Oh my God, where’s my father? I’ve got to find him.”
I hopped to my feet and gasped in pain. Aramis pushed me down into a chair. “Ssh. Stay calm, babe. We’ll find him. You need to finish healing.”
Benita was sitting on one of the sofas, shaking with grief. Aurelia had a consoling arm around her, but it wasn’t really helping. “Gone,” Benita moaned. “He’s gone! I know Fumaro. He’ll kill him, just because he belongs to me. After all these years, I meet my mate, and now…”
“Hush,” Aristes said. “Benita, my dear. Do not worry. Fumaro would not be so stupid as to kill John.”
I sobbed and held my head in my hands. Aramis said, “Dad, what can we possibly do?”
“We can use the tracking device that I had the doctor at the clinic implant behind John’s ear.”
“The what you what?” I cried.
Aristes looked sheepish. “Well, I may have promised the council that I would keep track of your father’s whereabouts until he was fully vetted into the clan. And I figured the easiest way would be a tracking device. It didn’t hurt.”
“Dad!” Aristes barked. “That is so not right.”
“Basta cosi!” The count yelled. “We need to find out what has happened here! Ambrogi, get your men started with the tracking device. Aramis, explain what you saw.”
“Well,” Aramis began, “about twenty minutes after you left, we thought we heard you all walking across the lawn. When Mom stood up to see, they shot her. Then bullets came flying from all directions. They must have known that you’d all go tearing off to find Galen’s body.”
“It’s all my fault,” Blake said miserably. “John’s gonna die and it’s all my fault.”
“Shut up, Blake,” I snapped. “Swear to God, if anyone says that one more time I’m gonna slap the fuck out of them. My father is not dead.”