John kept his head down and tried to pull it together. The locker room was filled with steam and voices and the snapping of wet towels on bare butts. The trainees had ditched their sweaty jis and were showering before they took a food break and then hit the classroom part of the session.
It was all standard guy stuff, except John so did not want to get naked. Even though they were all his size, this was straight out of every high school nightmare he'd ridden out until he'd quit the system when he was sixteen. And right now he was just too flat-out exhausted to deal with the scene.
He figured it was about midnight by now, but he felt as though it were four A.M… like, the day after tomorrow. Training had been grueling for him. None of the other guys was strong, but all of them could keep up with the stances Phury and then Tohr introduced. Hell, a few were even naturals. John was a mess. His feet were slow, his hands were always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he had no physical coordination. Man, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find his balance. His body was like a shifting, lurching bag of water; if he moved in one direction, the whole thing flopped over on him.
"You'd better hurry," Blaylock said. "We've only got eight more minutes."
John eyed the shower's doorway. The jets were still on but there was no one in it as far as he could see. He stripped out of the ji and the jockstrap and walked quickly into the—
Shit. Lash was in the corner. Like he'd been waiting.
"Hey, big man," the guy drawled. "Really showed us a thing or two out—"
Lash stopped talking and just stared at John's chest.
"You little kiss-ass," he snapped. And then stormed out of the shower.
John looked down at the circular mark over his left pectoral, the one he'd been born with… the one that Tohr had told him members of the Brotherhood received on their initiations.
Terrific. Now he could add that birthmark to the growing list of stuff he didn't want to hear about from his classmates.
When he came out of the shower with a towel around his waist, all the guys, even Blaylock, were standing together. While they looked him over as a solid, silent unit, he wondered whether vampires had pack instincts, like wolves or dogs.
As they continued to stare at him, he thought, Um, yeah. That would be a big affirmative.
John ducked his head and went to his locker, desperate for the day to be over.
Around three A.M., Phury walked quickly down Tenth Street to ZeroSum. Butch was waiting outside the club's glass-and-chrome entrance, lounging casually in spite of the cold. In his full-length cashmere coat and with his Red Sox hat pulled down low, he looked good. Anonymous, but good.
"What's doing?" Butch asked as they clapped palms.
"Night was for crap on the lesser side. No one found any. Hey, man, thanks for company, I need it."
"No problem." Butch tugged his Sox cap down even more. Like the Brothers, he kept a low profile. As a homicide detective, he'd helped send a number of drug-trade folks to jail, so it was better for him not to be too conspicuous.
Inside the club, the techno music was annoying. So were the flashing lights and all the humans. But Phury had his reasons for coming, and Butch was being polite. Sort of.
"This place is just too frickin' precious," the cop said, eyeing a guy dressed in a hot pink leisure suit with makeup to match. "Give me rednecks and home-grown beer any day of the week over this X-culture bullshit."
When they got to the VIP section, the satin rope was lowered immediately so they could pass.
Phury nodded to the bouncer, then looked at Butch. "I won't take long."
"You know where to find me."
As the cop went for their table, Phury walked to the back of the high-ticket area, stopping in front of the two Moors who guarded the Reverend's private door.
"I'll tell him you're here," the one on the left said.
A split second later Phury was let in. The office was a cave, dimly lit with a low ceiling, and the vampire behind the desk dominated the space, especially as he got to his feet.
The Reverend was a jacked-up six foot six, and the tight mohawk he wore his hair in suited him as well as his fancy-ass Italian threads did. His face was pitiless and intelligent, placing him rightfully in the dangerous business he was in. His eyes, though… his eyes didn't fit. They were curiously beautiful, the color of amethysts, a deep purple that glowed.
"Back so soon?" the male said, his voice low, deep, harder than usual.
Get the product, then get a move on, Phury thought.
He took out his roll and peeled off three large. He fanned out the thousand-dollar bills on top of the chrome desk. "Twice the usual. And I want it quartered."
The Reverend smiled coolly and swiveled his head to the left. "Rally, get the male what he needs. And pad those O-Zs." A minion came out of the darkness and scooted through a pocket door in the far corner of the room.
When they were alone, the Reverend came around the desk slowly, moving like he had oil in his veins, all sinuous power. As he circled, he closed in enough to have Phury slip his hand into his coat and find one of his guns.
"Sure we can't interest you in something more hard-core?" the Reverend said. "That red smoke is for low dosers."
"If I wanted something else, I'd ask for it."
The vampire stopped beside him. So very close.
Phury frowned. "There a problem?"
"You have beautiful hair, you know that? It's like a female's. All those different colors." The Reverend's voice was strangely hypnotic, his purple eyes purely cunning. "Speaking of females, I hear you don't take advantage of what's offered by my ladies here. That true?"
"Why do you care?"
"Just want to make sure your needs are served. Customer satisfaction is so damned important." The male moved even closer and nodded at Phury's arm, the one that disappeared into his coat. "Your hand's on a gun butt right now, isn't it? Afraid of me?"
"Just want to make sure I can take care of you."
"Yeah. In case you need a little Glock-to-mouth resuscitation."
The Reverend grinned, his fangs flashing. "You know, I've heard this rumor… about a member of the Brotherhood who's celibate. Yeah, go figure, a warrior who abstains. And I've heard a few other things about this male. He's down to one leg. Has a scarred sociopath for a twin. You wouldn't by any chance know of such a Brother?"
Phury shook his head. "Nope."
"Huh. Funny, I've seen you hanging around with a guy who looks like he's wearing a Halloween mask. Actually, I've seen you with a couple of big males who kind of fit some descriptions I've heard. You don't suppose—"
"Do me a favor and get me my leaves. I'll be outside waiting." Phury turned away. He was in a bad mood to begin with: frustrated that he hadn't found a fight, bleeding inside over being shut down by Bella. Now was not the time for conflict. He was on his last fucking nerve.
"Are you celibate because you like males?"
Phury glared over his shoulder. "What is with you tonight? You're always shifty, but right now you're also being a real asshole."
"You know, maybe you just need to get laid. I don't traffic in the males, but I'm sure we could find you one who'd be obliging."
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Phury snapped. He surged across the office, took the Reverend by his Gucci lapels, and nailed him into the wall.
Phury leaned on the guy's chest. "Why are you picking a fight with me?"
"You going to kiss me before the sex?" the Reverend murmured, still playing. "I mean, it's the least you can do, considering we only know each other professionally. Or aren't you into foreplay?"
"Now there's an original comeback. I would have expected something a little more interesting from you."
"Fine. How's this?"
Phury laid a hard one on the male's mouth, the kiss a punch between faces, not anything even remotely sexual. And he did it only to wipe the expression off the bastard's face. It worked. The Reverend stiffened and growled, and Phury knew he'd called the guy's bluff. But just to make sure the lesson was learned, he clipped the male's lower lip with a fang.
The instant blood hit his tongue, Phury yanked back, his mouth falling open. Through his shock, he breathed, "Well, what do you know, sin-eater."
At the sound of the word the Reverend cut all the bullshit, getting good and dead serious. In the silence he seemed to be considering his plausible denials.
Phury shook his head. "Don't even try. I can taste it."
Amethyst eyes narrowed. "The politically correct term is symphath."
Phury's hands tightened on the male out of reflex. Holy shit. A symphath. Here in Caldwell and living among the species. Trying to pass itself off as just another civilian.
Man, this was crucial information. The last thing Wrath needed was another civil war in the race.
"I should point something out," the Reverend said softly. "You turn me in and you're going to lose your supplier. Think about it. Where're you going to get what you need if I'm out of the picture?"
Phury stared into those purple eyes, still running through the implications. He was going to tell the Brothers as soon as he got home, and he was going to watch the Reverend closely. As for turning the guy in… The discrimination symphaths had faced throughout history had always struck him as unfair—provided they didn't start pulling shit out of their trick bags. And the Reverend had been running the club for at least five years with no problems linked to symphath behavior.
"We're going to strike a little deal," Phury said, glaring hard into that violet stare. "I keep quiet and you stay on the down-low. You also don't try to fuck with me again. I'm not going to roll over for you sucking on my emotions, which was what you were doing right now, wasn't it? You wanted me irate because you were hungry for the feeling."
The Reverend's mouth opened just as the door to the office swung wide. A female vampire barged in, only to stop dead as she saw what was undoubtedly a picture: two male bodies close together, the Reverend's lip bleeding, blood on Phury's mouth.
"Get the hell out of here," the Reverend snapped.
The female backed away so quickly she tripped and slammed her elbow into the doorjamb.
"So do we have a deal?" Phury bit out after she left.
"If you admit you're a Brother."
The Reverend's eyes flashed. "Just so you know, I don't believe you."
Phury had the sudden notion that it was no accident the Brotherhood thing had come up tonight. He leaned into the male. Hard. "Wonder how you'd fare if your identity got out?"
"We" — the Reverend dragged in a breath—"have a deal."
Butch looked up as the woman he'd sent to check on Phury came back. Usually the buys were over and done with quickly, but it had been a good twenty minutes.
"My boy in there still?" Butch asked, noting absently that she was rubbing her elbow like it hurt.
"Oh, he's in there, all right." As she shot him a tight smile, he abruptly realized she was a vampire. That little grin thing was a move they all pulled when they were out among humans.
And she was kind of attractive, he supposed, what with the long blond hair and the black leather at her breasts and hips. As she slid into the booth next to him, he caught her scent and thought idly of sex for the first time in… well, since he'd met Marissa over the summer.
He took a long drink, finishing the Scotch in his glass. Then he glanced at the female's breasts. Yeah, sex was on his mind, but more as a physical reflex than anything else. The interest was nothing like it had been with Marissa. Then the need had been… consuming. Reverent. Important.
The female beside him shot him a look as if she knew the direction of his thoughts. "Your friend might be in there for a while."
"They were just starting to get down to it."
Butch's head whipped up and he locked eyes with her. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, whoops…" She frowned. "Are you two together or something?"
"No, we're not together," he snapped. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Yeah, I didn't really think you were like that. You dress well, but you don't give off that kind of vibe."
"And my buddy's not into men, either."
"You sure about that?"
He thought about the celibacy and started to wonder.
Whatever. He needed another drink; he did not need to get into Phury's biz. Lifting his arm, he waved to a waitress, who rushed over.
"Another double Scotch," he said. To be polite, he turned to the female next to him. "You want something?"
Her hand landed on his thigh. "As a matter of fact, I do. But she can't give it to me."
As the waitress left, Butch leaned back in the booth, stretching both arms out, opening himself. The female took the invite, leaning into him, moving that hand south. His body stirred, its first sign of life in months, and he had some passing thought that maybe he could get Marissa out of his head if he had some sex.
While the female stroked him through his pants, he watched her with clinical interest. He knew where this was headed. He'd end up doing her in one of the private bathrooms over there. Would take maybe ten minutes, if that. He'd get her off, do his business, then beat feet to get away from her.
God, he'd pulled that quickie routine hundreds of times over the course of his life. And it was really just masturbation disguised as sex. No big deal.
He thought of Marissa… and felt his tear ducts sting.
The female next to him moved so that her breasts were on his arm. "Let's go to the back, daddy."
He put his hand over hers at his crotch and she made some kind of purring noise in his ear. At least until he removed her palm.
"I'm sorry. I can't."
The female pulled away and looked at him as if he had to be playing her. Butch stared right back.
He wasn't prepared to say he was never going to have sex again. And he sure as shit didn't understand why Marissa had gotten to him as much as she had. All he knew was that his old pattern of balling random women wasn't doing it for him. Tonight.
Abruptly Phury's voice cut through the ambient noise of the club. "Hey, cop, you want to stay or go?"
Butch glanced up. There was a slight pause as he speculated about his friend.
The Brother's yellow eyes narrowed. "What's doing, cop?"
"I'm ready to go," Butch said, smoothing over the awkward moment.
As he got up, Phury gave the blond a hard look. A real keep-your-yap-shut special.
Wow, Butch thought as they headed for the door. So Phury really was gay.