Nervous agitation shot through Johnathan McCombs as he paced his living room, cell phone in hand, while his sire told him about the emergency Enforcer meeting that had just been called.
The urgency of the situation puzzled Johnathan. “What’s happen—”
Alex cut him off. “Just get up there now.”
“I’m on my—” The line went dead before he could finish.
He shoved the phone in his pocket, grabbed his keys, and bolted out the door. As he tore up the mountain on his V Star, he realized he’d forgotten his helmet in the rush.
The Lansford Strip and the sprawling city surrounding it grew distant in his mirrors until trees engulfed the view. When he came to the winding back roads, he slowed down so he didn’t scrape metal when he leaned his motorcycle into the turns.
The ride took ages even though he twisted the throttle tight on the straightaways. Hopefully an animal didn’t run out in front of him and cause him to wipe out. Sure he’d survive without the helmet, even heal quickly, but he’d rather avoid road rash on his face and a cracked skull.
His heartbeat quickened but his breathing remained calm as he navigated in the afternoon sun. By the time he reached the dirt roads that led to the Evanko Compound, his heart sped faster. He hated these meetings, hated being around people, but he had committed himself to helping Alex by joining his Enforcer team a few years ago. He couldn’t back out now.
Johnathan eased off the throttle further to keep from losing control on the unforgiving terrain, though his vampiric strength and reflexes made it far easier for him than it would have been for a mortal. Before long, the roar of a car’s engine thundered behind him. As the vehicle bore down on him, the rumbling mingled with that of his motorcycle. It was a familiar sound.
Alex’s Challenger filled his mirrors with black and chrome. The poor son-of-a-bitch probably hated reining in his Hemi to a crawl behind Johnathan.
The gates to the compound hung wide open, and the log mansion grew out of the ground as if it had always been there. The green metal roof enhanced the illusion, making the home blend in with the surrounding trees.
Everyone else had beaten them there. The usual vehicles already sat empty in front of the oversized garage. Johnathan parked beside Donovan Evanko’s Escalade, and Alex pulled in next to him. Before Johnathan cut the engine, the gates closed.
By the time Alex exited his car, Johnathan stood at his door. “What the hell is going on?”
Alex slammed the door and strode toward the house. “I have no idea. Donovan called and said Olivia wanted us to get our asses up here immediately.”
“Nice of her to call you herself.”
Alex shrugged, and when he rang the doorbell, Donovan yelled for them to come in.
Johnathan followed his sire to the great room at the back of the home. It was the normal routine. The Enforcers and their team along with Donovan’s Sweeper Team gathered there for every meeting—at least the ones that didn’t take place at Donovan’s nightclub, Nocturnal Surrender.
Although, something was different this time.
The other vampires in the room sat silent as the Evanko brothers stared each other down. Ever since Bastian Evanko had returned from exile, everyone was on edge. Mixing him in Enforcer business when he obviously held a grudge against them made no sense. Still, the lead Enforcer, Olivia Fournier, had insisted on it. As the junior Enforcer, Alex had no say in the matter.
Johnathan and Alex took seats between Donovan and Olivia. And waited.
Donovan eventually turned to Alex. “Thanks for getting here so fast.” He nodded at Johnathan before focusing on Olivia. “Would you like to fill them in or should I?”
The blonde Enforcer avoided Donovan’s stare. “It was your mission. You can explain.” Her old-world accent almost eased the harshness of her tone, but not quite.
Can’t anyone get along?
If they kept fighting amongst themselves, there would be no way of defeating the Hunters. Sad thing was the ruling Elders had determined Lansford to be ground zero for whatever the Hunters were planning. And this band of misfits held the fate of vampire survival in their hands.
Shit, the fact that I’m involved proves the standards are lax.
Donovan cleared his throat and sat up straight in his leather armchair. “My Sweeper Team gained access to Lansford Biotech and uncovered some disturbing information.” He glanced around the room. “Apparently the Elders were right. The company is a front for the Hunters’ base of operations. Worse yet, they’re working on some sort of biochemical weapon to take us out. All of us around the globe. At the same time.”
Alex coughed. “How could they manage an attack of that magnitude without exposing us to humans?”
The conversation hummed around him, but Johnathan tuned it out, barely believing what he’d heard. Surely something like that was impossible. He hadn’t lived for over six hundred years to die at the hands of the Hunters. Hell, he was still a baby as far as vamps went. It had taken him this long to start dealing with his issues from all those centuries ago. Really, he hadn’t begun to live yet. Staring down eternity he’d never felt rushed.
“Maybe they want to expose us,” Johnathan blurted, interrupting his sire mid-sentence.
Silent tension filled the room until Olivia spoke. “Johnathan may be right. If they expose us, they will have far more help to destroy us.” She finally met Donovan’s eyes. “Are you certain there were no specifics on what type of biochemical weapon they have planned?”
“Oh, I think there are specs, but we need someone to break the government-grade encryption on their computers to find them.” Donovan rubbed the back of his neck. “We have to accept the fact we are in a different age. They’ve evolved and we haven’t. There has to be somebody on one of the teams who can hack into their system.”
Kade Delacroix, Donovan’s second-in-command, let out a disgusted grunt. “You know most vampires are technologically impaired. It’s not like we adapt fast, and computers are relatively new when compared to our lifespans. Maybe there’s a newly-turned somewhere with skills, but how would we know?”
Bastian jumped up and glared at his brother. “Tell them, Donovan.”
The elder Evanko shook his head. “Not now, Bastian. We’re not wasting time with—”
“Tell us what?” Olivia glowered at Donovan then turned to his brother. “Go on, Bastian.”
“Put it this way, I had a lot of time on my hands while I was in exile. When you’re not allowed human contact, you need something to occupy you.” Bastian paced in front of the oversized window. “I doubt there’s a better hacker than me anywhere.”
Great, now we need him.
Donovan shot to his feet and stared down at Olivia. “Don’t even think about using my brother—”
“No, Donovan.” Olivia rose, holding up a hand to silence him. “You should not think to question me.”
Within seconds, an explosion of shouting echoed off the high ceiling. Donovan and Bastian argued with Olivia, referencing seemingly personal problems that made no sense. Whatever had gone on between them was affecting work. If they didn’t get their shit together, it could cost the lives of everyone in the room, as well as their entire species.
Before an all-out vampire brawl broke out, Alex stood and stepped between the Evanko brothers and Olivia. “We have to focus on what’s important. Our survival. We must work together. This fighting will not do.” His soothing drawl defused the tension in the room.
Strange thing was Olivia hadn’t pulled rank on either of the brothers to end the fireworks. The looks passing between her and Donovan spoke volumes—hatred and desire mixed. And if a vampire could kill someone with a glower, Bastian would have taken Olivia out.
Johnathan might have enjoyed the show if the situation wasn’t so dire.
We are screwed.
Olivia gestured for the others to take their seats. “I want Bastian on this as of yesterday. We need all the help we can get.” She turned to Donovan. “You can supervise your brother and begin his training—since you are so concerned for his safety.”
More glares shot between the two while everyone else in the room stared, dumbfounded, as if they had missed something.
I sure as hell did.
Donovan conceded with a nod, and Bastian folded his arms over his chest, grinning. The younger Evanko had made no secret of the fact he wanted more involvement in the missions, and he was obviously satisfied he’d gotten his way.
The meeting continued without any further interruptions, and a few hours later, the details of each team member’s role in the new plans were hammered out. But with everything riding on Bastian Evanko, the Hunters might end up prevailing—even though they were human.
When the meeting wrapped up, Johnathan said a hasty goodbye to Alex and the others, avoiding any uncomfortable personal interaction. Although he loved his sire, Johnathan enjoyed the self-imposed isolation he lived in lately. Besides, ever since his past had slammed into him with a vengeance, he was lousy company.
While everyone meandered to their vehicles, he tore off down the paved drive, slowed for the dirt road until it gave way to asphalt, and gunned it home, cornering faster than he should. He had an appointment to get ready for, and he had decided earlier in the day to reveal his secrets tonight to his mortal psychotherapist, Stephanie Taylor. Yes, it terrified him, but the damn meeting had only strengthened his resolve. If his species—his life—was about to end, he at least wanted a clear conscience beforehand.
Not that he’d resigned himself to death. If they were going down, they’d sure as hell go down fighting.
In some strange way he was actually relieved to know he would be opening up to Stephanie. He could deal with the issues from his past and the new threat to his future.
Glad she’s bound by confidentiality.
Stephanie had been overwhelmingly compassionate over the few months he’d been seeing her for weekly therapy sessions. In that time, he’d explored her mind, took in her emotions, and used every last vampiric power he possessed to ensure she could be trusted.
The problem was she kept secrets that danced just beyond his grasp. They felt personal and painful, things he understood all too well.
Still, he had no doubt she was a good person. One he’d like to know on a more personal level if not for the professional boundaries she clung to.
It had been a long time since he’d truly allowed anyone in, and every time he had tried in the past, the asshole inside him came out to ruin the party. Not just with women, but with the men he had tried to befriend, as well. Hell, Alex probably only tolerated him because he was Johnathan’s sire. If Alex hadn’t turned him, the other vampire would surely want nothing to do with him.
Just like everyone else.
He’d been on autopilot the entire ride home, and when he pulled into his driveway, he breathed a deep sigh of relief. The safe haven of his house always eased his tension. He could hide from the world in there.
He could hide from the past.
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