Dawn had arrived by the time Butch O'Neal pulled the Escalade into the courtyard. As he got out, he could hear G-Unit bumping at the Pit, so he knew his roommate was in. V had to have his rap music; the shit was like air to him. Said those bass beats helped keep the intrusions of other people's thoughts down to a manageable level.
Butch walked over to the door and punched in a code. A lock popped and he stepped into a vestibule, where he did another check-in. Vampires were big on double door systems. That way you never worried about someone flooding your house with sunlight, because one of the buggers was always closed.
The gatehouse, a.k.a. the Pit, was nothing too fancy, just a living room, galley kitchen, and two bed/bath combos. But he liked it, and he liked the vampire he lived with. He and his roomie were tight as… well, brothers.
As he walked into the main room, the black leather couches were empty, but SportsCenter was on the plasma-screen TV, and the chocolaty scent of red smoke was all around. So Phury was in the house, or had just left.
"Hello, Lucy," Butch called out.
The two Brothers came from the back. Both were still dressed in their fighting clothes, the leathers and the shit-kickers making them look exactly like the killers they were.
"You seem tired, cop," Vishous said.
"Actually, I feel strung out."
Butch eyed the blunt at Phury's mouth. Even though he'd put his drugging days long behind him, tonight he almost caved and asked for a hit of that red smoke. Thing was, he already had two addictions so he was kind of busy.
Yeah, sucking back Scotch and pining after a female vampire who didn't want him were about all he had time for. Besides, there was no reason to screw with a system that worked. The lovelorn crap fueled the boozing, and whenever he was drunk, he missed Marissa even more, so then he'd want to do another shot… And there you had it. One hell of a merry-go-round. Even made the room spin, too.
"You talk to Z?" Phury asked.
Butch stripped off his cashmere coat and hung it in the closet. "Yeah. He wasn't happy."
"Is he going to stay away from there?"
"I think so. Well, assuming he didn't burn the place down after he kicked me out. He had that special little twinkle in his eye as I left. You know, the one that makes your balls get tight when you're standing next to him?"
Phury dragged a hand through his outrageous hair. The stuff fell down past his shoulders, all blond and red and brown waves. He was a handsome Joe without it; with that mane, he was… okay, fine, the brother was beautiful. Not that Butch went that way, but the guy was better-looking than a lot of women. Dressed better than most of the ladies, too, when he wasn't in his ass-kicking clothes.
Man, it was a good thing he fought like a nasty bastard or he might have been taken for a nancy.
Phury sucked in a deep breath. "Thanks for dealing with—"
A phone rang on a desk full of computer equipment.
"Outside line," V murmured, going over to his IT command center.
Vishous was the resident computer genius in the Brotherhood—actually, he was the resident genius on everything—and he was in charge of communications and security at the compound. He ran it all from the Four Toys, as he called his quartet of PCs.
Toys… yeah, right. Butch didn't know jack about computers, but if those suckers were toys, then they were in the Department of Defense's playground, too.
While V waited for the call to dump into voice mail, Butch glanced at Phury. "So, have I shown you my new Marc Jacobs suit?"
"Did that come in already?"
"Yeah, Fritz brought it over earlier and fitted it."
As they went back to the bedrooms, Butch had to laugh. He was as guilty as Phury when it came to being a metrosexual thread humper. Funny, he hadn't given a shit about his clothes when he'd been a cop. Now that he was with the Brothers, he was working his walk in haute couture and loving it. So, like Phury, he was lucky he fought dirty.
The Brother was fondling yards of fine black wool on a hanger and making appropriate «ahhhing» sounds when V came in.
Butch and Phury whipped their heads around as the suit landed on the floor in a heap.
"Civilian male was abducted from the alley behind Zero-Sum tonight and taken to a place way out in the woods for the purpose of feeding Bella. He saw her. Talked with her. Somehow she let him go."
"Tell me he can find the place again," Butch breathed, aware of a suffocating urgency. And he wasn't the only one on instant alert. Phury looked so intense he didn't seem capable of speech.
"Yeah. He marked his way out, dematerializing two hundred yards at a time until he reached Route 22. He's e-mailing me the trail on a map. Damn smart for a civilian."
Butch ran out to the living room, heading for his coat and the keys to the Escalade. He hadn't taken off his holster, so his Glock was still strapped under his arm.
Except V got between him and the door. "Where you going, my man?"
"Has that map come through your e-mail yet?"
Butch glared at his roommate. "You can't go out during the day. I can. Why the hell should we wait?"
"Cop" — V's voice grew soft—"this is Brotherhood business. You're not going in on this."
Butch stalled. Ah, yes, shut down again.
Sure, he could work around their periphery, do some crime scene analysis, get his gray matter churning over tactical problems. But when the fighting started, the Brothers always kept him off the field.
"Goddamn it, V—"
"No. You're not handling this. Forget it."
It was two hours later before Phury had enough information to go to his twin's room. He figured there was no point in getting Zsadist agitated with a half-story, and it had taken a while for the plan to jell.
When he knocked and there wasn't an answer, he stepped inside and winced. The room was cold as a meat locker.
Z lay on a couple of folded blankets in the far corner, his naked body drawn up tightly against the chill in the room. There was a sumptuous bed not more than ten feet away from him, but it had never been used. Z slept on the floor always, no matter where he had lived.
Phury walked over and knelt down beside his twin. He wasn't going to touch the male, especially when he would be caught unaware. Z was likely to come to on the attack.
My God, Phury thought. Asleep like this, all his anger banked, Z was almost frail.
Hell, take back the almost. Zsadist had always been so damned thin, so terribly lean. Now, though, he was just big bones and veins. When had this happened? Christ, back during Rhage's rythe, they'd all been naked in the Tomb, and Z certainly hadn't looked like a skeleton. That had been only about six weeks ago.
Right before Bella's abduction…
"Zsadist? Wake up, my brother."
Z stirred, black eyes opening slowly. Usually he came awake in a rush and at the slightest noise, but he'd fed, so he was sluggish.
"She's been found," Phury said. "Bella's been found. She was alive as of early this morning."
Z blinked a couple of times, as if he weren't sure whether he was dreaming. Then he hefted his torso off the pallet. His nipple rings caught the light from the hall while he rubbed his face.
"What did you say?" he asked in a gravel voice.
"We have a bead on where Bella is. And confirmation that she's alive."
Z grew more alert, his consciousness moving like a train, gathering speed, creating power with its momentum. With every second the force of him was coming back, the vicious vitality surging until he no longer looked weak at all.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
"In a one-room house in the woods. A civilian male got loose because she helped him escape."
Z sprang to his feet, landing in a lithe punch to the floor. "How do I get to her?"
"The male who escaped e-mailed V the directions. But—"
Z headed for his closet. "Get a map for me."
"It's noontime, my brother."
Z stopped. Abruptly, a blast of cold came out of his body, making the temperature of the room feel balmy. And those black eyes were dangerous as hammer claws when they flashed over his shoulder.
"So send the cop. Send Butch."
"Tohr won't let him—"
"Fuck that! The human goes."
"Zsadist—stop. Think. Butch wouldn't have any backup, and there could be multiple lessers at the location. You want to risk her getting killed in a botched rescue attempt?"
"The cop can handle himself."
"He's good, but he's only a human. We can't send him in there."
Z bared his fangs. "Maybe Tohr is more worried the guy will get pinched and squeal about us on one of their tables."
"Come on, Z, Butch knows shit. He knows a lot of shit about us. So of course that's part of it."
"But if she helped a captive escape, what the hell do you think those lessers are doing to her right now!"
"If a pack of us go at sundown, we're more likely to get her out alive. You know that. We have to wait."
Z stood there naked, breathing deeply, his eyes narrow slits of rank hatred. When he finally spoke, his voice was a nasty growl.
"Tohr better pray to God she's still alive when I find her tonight. Or I will have his fucking head, brother or no brother."
Phury shifted his eyes to the skull on the floor, thinking that Z had already proven how good he was at decapitation.
"Did you hear me, brother?" the male snapped.
Phury nodded. Man, he had a bad feeling about how this was going to play out. He really did.