"The Reverend wants to see you."
Phury looked up from the glass of seltzer he'd ordered. One of ZeroSum's bouncer mountains was looming over him, the Moor oozing a quiet threat.
"Any particular reason?"
"You're a valued customer."
"So he should leave me alone."
"Is that a no?"
Phury cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah, that's a no."
The Moor disappeared and came back with reinforcements: Two guys as big as he was. "The Reverend wants to see you."
"Yeah, you told me."
The only reason Phury slid out of the booth was because the trio seemed ready to carry him off, and he didn't need the kind of attention that would come when he smacked them around.
The moment he walked into the Reverend's office, he knew the male was in a dangerous frame of mind. Not that that was a news flash.
"Leave us," the vampire murmured from behind his desk.
As the room emptied out, he sat back in his chair, violet eyes shrewd. Instinct had Phury easing one hand behind his back, close to the dagger he carried on his belt.
"So I've been thinking about our last meeting," the Reverend said, making a temple out of his long fingers. The light over him picked out his high cheekbones and his hard jaw and his heavy shoulders. His mohawk had been trimmed, the black stripe no more than two inches off his skull. "Yeah… I've been thinking about the fact that you know my little secret. I'm feeling exposed."
Phury stayed silent, wondering where in the hell this was going.
The Reverend pushed back his chair and crossed his legs, ankle on his knee. His expensive suit fell open, revealing his broad chest. "You can imagine how I feel. How it keeps me up."
"Try some Ambien. That'll knock you out."
"Or I could light up a lot of red smoke. Just like you, right?" The male ran a hand over his mohawk, lips lifting into a sly grin. "Yeah, I really don't fee! safe."
What a lie that was. The guy kept himself surrounded by Moors who were as smart as they were lethal. And he was definitely someone who could handle himself. Besides, symphaths had advantages in conflict that no one else did.
The Reverend stopped smiling. "I was thinking maybe you could cop to your secret. Then we'd be even."
"Don't have one."
"Bullshit… Brother." The Reverend's mouth pulled up at the corners again, but his eyes were a cold purple. "Because you are a member of the Brotherhood. You and those big males you come in here with. The one with the goatee who drinks my vodka. The guy with the fucked-up face who sucks my whores. Don't know what to say about that human you hang with, but whatever."
Phury stared hard across the desk. "You've just violated every social custom our species has. But then, why should I expect good behavior out of a drug dealer?"
"And users always lie. So the question was pointless anyway, wasn't it?"
"Tread carefully, my man," Phury said in a low voice.
"Or you'll what? You saying you're a Brother, so I'd better shape up before you hurt me?"
"Health should never be taken for granted."
"Why won't you admit it? Or are you Brothers afraid that the race you fail will rebel? Are you hiding from all of us because of the shitty job you've been doing lately?"
Phury turned away. "Don't know what you're talking to me for."
"About the red smoke." The Reverend's voice was bladed like a knife. "I've just run out of it."
A flicker of unease tightened Phury's chest. He looked over his shoulder. "There are other dealers."
"Have fun finding them."
Phury put his hand on the doorknob. When it refused to turn, he glanced back across the room. The Reverend was watching him, still as a cat. And trapping him in the office with his will.
Phury tightened his grip and pulled, tearing the piece of brass right off. As the door lolled open, he tossed the knob onto the Reverend's desk.
"Guess you're going to have to fix this."
He took two steps before a hand grabbed onto his arm. The Reverend's face was hard as stone, and so was his grip. With the blink of a violet eye, something flared between them, some kind of exchange… a current…
From out of nowhere, Phury felt an overwhelming tide of guilt, like someone had popped the lid off all his deepest concerns and his fears for the future of the race. He had to respond to it, couldn't bear the pressure.
Riding the wave, he found himself saying in a rush, "We live and die for our kind. The species is our first and only concern. We fight every night and count the jars of the lessers we kill. Stealth is the way we protect the civilians. The less they know about us, the safer they are. That is why we disappeared."
As soon as the words left him, he cursed.
Goddamn it, you could never trust a symphath, he thought. Or the feelings you had while you were around them.
"Let go of me, sin-eater," he gritted. "And stay the fuck out of my head."
The hard grip dissolved and the Reverend bowed a little, a measure of respect that was a shocker. "Well, what do you know, warrior. A shipment of red smoke just came in."
The male brushed by and walked slowly into the crowd, his mohawk, his thick shoulders, his aura getting lost in the people whose addictions he fed.
Bella took form in front of her family's home. The exterior lights were off, which was strange, but she was crying, so it wasn't like she would have seen much anyway. She let herself in, turned off the security alarm, and stood in the foyer.
How could Zsadist do that to her? For all it hurt, he might as well have had sex in from of her. God, she'd always known he could be cruel, but that went too far, even for him…
Except it wasn't about retaliation for the social slight, was it? No, that was too petty. She suspected he'd bitten that human for a declarative break. Because he wanted to send a message, a totally incontrovertible message that Bella wasn't welcome in his life.
Well, it worked.
Deflated, defeated, she glanced around her family's front hall. Everything was the same. The blue silk wallpaper, the black marble floor, the sparkling chandelier overhead. It was like stepping back in time. She'd grown up in this house, the last young her mother would ever bear, the cosseted sister of a brother who loved her, the daughter of a father she'd never known…
Wait a minute. It was quiet. Way too quiet.
"Mahmen? Lahni?" Silence. She wiped her tears away. "Lahni?"
Where were the doggen? And her mother? She knew Rehv would be out doing whatever he did during the nights, so she didn't expect to see him. But the others were always home.
Bella walked over to the curving staircase and called out, "Mahmen?"
She went upstairs and jogged down to her mother's bedroom. The sheets on the bed were thrown back, all a mess… something the doggen would never have allowed normally. With a feeling of dread she went down the hall to Rehvenge's room. His bed was also disheveled, the Frette sheets and the heaps and heaps of fur comforters he always used thrown to one side. The disorder was unheard-of.
The house was not safe. That was why Rehv had insisted she stay with the Brotherhood.
Bella rushed out into the hall and ran down the stairs. She needed to be outdoors to dematerialize, because the walls of the mansion were all inlaid with steel.
She tore out of the front door… and didn't know where she could go. Not even she knew the address of her brother's safe house, and that was where he would have taken mahmen and the doggen. And she wasn't about to waste time calling him, not in the house.
There was no choice. She was heartbroken, she was angry, she was exhausted, and the idea of going back to the Brotherhood's compound made all of that worse. But she wasn't about to be stupid. She closed her eyes and disappeared back to the Brothers' mansion.
Zsadist finished quickly with the whore, then focused on Bella. Because his blood was in her, he could sense her materializing somewhere to the south and east. He triangulated her destination to the area of Bellman Road and Thorne Avenue: a very ritzy neighborhood. Obviously she had gone to her family's house.
His instincts fired up, because that call from her brother had been too weird. Chances were, something was going down over there. Why else would the male want her staying with the Brotherhood after he'd been about to slap a sehclusion on her?
Just as Z was going to go get her, he sensed her traveling again. This time she landed outside the Brotherhood's mansion. And she stayed there.
Thank God. He didn't have to worry about her safety for the time being.
Abruptly, the club's side door opened, and Phury came out looking decidedly stark. "You feed?"
"So you should go home and wait for the strength to kick in."
"Already has." Sort of.
Phury stopped talking, and both of them whipped their heads around toward Trade Street. At the alley's throat, three white-haired men dressed in black were walking past in I-formation. The lessers were staring straight ahead as if they'd found a target and were closing in.
Without a word spoken, Z and Phury took off at a silent jog, moving lightly across the fresh-packed snow. When they got to Trade Street it turned out the lessers hadn't found a victim but were meeting up with another pack of their kind—two of which had brown hair.
Z put his palm on one of his dagger handles and trained his eyes on the pair with the dark heads. Dear Virgin in the Fade, let one of them be what he was looking for.
"Hold up, Z," Phury hissed while taking out his cell. "You stay put and I'll get reinforcements."
"How 'bout you call" — he unsheathed the dagger—"while I kill."
Z took off, keeping the knife by his thigh, because this was a high-exposure area with humans around.
The lessers spotted him immediately, and they fell into attack posture, their knees bending, their arms coming up. To corral the bastards, he jogged in a fat circle around them, and they flowed with him, turning, coalescing into a triangle that faced him. When he backed into the shadows, they followed as a unit.
After darkness had swallowed them all, Zsadist lifted his black dagger high, bared his fangs, and attacked. He prayed like hell that when the violent song and dance was over one of the two dark-haired lessers had white roots at his scalp.