A COUNCIL OF WAR by D. B. Reynolds
Nick walked just ahead of Lucas as they moved down the wide corridor of the Chicago hotel. Chicago was Aden’s territory. Lucas and his people had flown in from Minneapolis right after sunset, staying there last night so that Lucas could have some time with his mate Kathryn, who was an FBI agent in the Minneapolis office. Aside from Lucas’s need to spend quality time with his mate, there was the fact that none of them had been too keen on spending their vulnerable daylight hours in another Vampire Lord’s territory, no matter that Lucas and Aden had been friends for over a century. It was one thing to party with a guy, it was another to trust your life and the lives of your people to his good will.
The hotel hallway bristled with aggression. Vampires from two separate security teams already filled the corridor, with more emerging from their separate suites to stare with thinly veiled suspicion at the new arrivals.
A pair of double doors opened at the far end of the hall, and Aden’s lieutenant Bastien emerged, followed by a stunningly beautiful female vamp. The female was Emelie, Rajmund’s lieutenant. Word was that she was as vicious a fighter as any male, regardless that she looked like she should be walking a runway instead of guarding the back of one of the most powerful vampires in North America.
Tension in the hallway drained abruptly as the team’s respective lieutenants headed Nick’s way, with Bastien smiling broadly. He and Nick knew each other well. Yet another result of Lucas and Aden’s longtime friendship.
“Nick,” Bastien greeted him warmly. The two of them gripped hands and thumped shoulders in the acceptably macho way of big men. Behind Bastien, Emelie was rolling her eyes.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t slam bodies along with the two of you,” she said dryly. “How are you, Nicholas?”
“How about a hug, then, Em?” Nick joked, laughing at the exaggerated look of horror Emelie threw his way.
Bastien stiffened to attention with military precision as Lucas caught up with them. “Lord Donlon,” he said with a small bow.
“Bastien,” Lucas drawled. “Is your boss inside?”
“He is, my lord.”
“Also inside, along with the ladies. This way, if you would.”
Nick and Lucas exchanged a look, agreeing without words that it was safe for Lucas to proceed. Not that there’d been much doubt. The three vampire lords were meeting to discuss their mutual defense. They were allies of a sort, at least for now. Such an alliance went against centuries of vampire history both on this continent and elsewhere. But when times changed, survivors changed with them. And one thing vampires had always been good at was survival.
Nick and Lucas followed Bastien and Emelie into the elegant hotel suite. The rest of their team stopped at the entrance, remaining in the testosterone-filled hallway with the other security types while Nick closed the door so the meeting could begin.
Turning from the door, Nick scanned the room quickly. Aden stood near a wall of windows, his head bent to listen to something his mate, Sidonie, was saying. Her mass of red curls sparked gold in the lights from the city outside the glass.
Continuing his scan, Nick noticed someone moving around in the bedroom on the right, someone both female and human. Nick caught a flash of blond hair and knew the person was Rajmund’s mate, Sarah.
Nick’s gaze shot leftward as Rajmund rose from his seat on an uncomfortable-looking designer sofa to greet Lucas. None of the vampires in this room were small, with the exception of Emelie, and even she was six feet tall, albeit a very slender six feet. But Raj, as Rajmund preferred to be called, was bigger than any of them, well over six feet and probably close to 300 pounds of pure muscle and meanness. Raj was said to be friends with Raphael’s former lieutenant Duncan, who was now a Vampire Lord in his own right, with his HQ in the human capital of Washington, DC. But in this room, and given the friendship between Lucas and Aden, Raj was the odd man out, and he clearly knew it.
“Lucas,” Raj said, his voice a deep rumble that conveyed no emotion at all, his gaze the icy blue of his Polish ancestors.
“Raj,” Lucas responded with his usual easy and relaxed demeanor intact. Lucas was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, and not someone you wanted to cross, especially when it came to the people he cared about. But as for the rest of it . . . Lucas Donlon enjoyed life too much to get stressed over details. Until he did. And then all bets were off.
Lucas nodded at the glass of vodka in Raj’s hand. “Any decent Scotch in this place?”
“What would you know about decent Scotch?” Aden said, crossing from his spot near the window to grip Lucas’s hand, the two of them bumping shoulders much the way Nick and Bastien had earlier.
“I’ve had good tutors,” Lucas said cheerfully. “What’s available?”
“There’s some forty-year-old Glenfiddich, if that suits,” Aden said, rounding the bar and pulling out a crystal tumbler. “Have a seat.”
Lucas nodded, accepting Aden’s invitation for what it was, an attempt to get everyone to settle down and relax, never an easy thing with three Vampire Lords in the same room. Lucas sat on one of the two big chairs, lounging back as he always did, with Nick taking up station behind him. Aden handed him a glass filled more than halfway with a tawny gold Scotch that had a wonderful aroma, or what the Scotch snobs would call a nose. Nick wouldn’t be drinking tonight, though, no matter how enticing the nose was.
Raj sat back down on the sofa, one arm stretched along the back, the other holding a crystal tumbler of vodka that was frosty with condensation.
“So,” Aden said, taking the chair next to Lucas.
“So, war is coming,” Raj said what they all were thinking.
Lucas nodded soberly. “Raphael thinks the Europeans will come at him first.”
“Makes sense to take out our strongest fighter if they can manage it,” Aden agreed.
“He also thinks they’ll make their move soon,” Lucas added. “He’s sensing a disturbance in the force lately.”
“Bet you’re glad I made you watch those movies now,” a woman muttered from the other side of the room, clearly forgetting about vampire hearing and not intending to be heard. She should have known better by now. Her name was Sarah, and she was mated to Rajmund.
Raj glanced over at the bar where Sarah was perched on a bar stool next to Sidonie. The two of them were sipping fine champagne and giggling like school girls. Sarah caught Raj’s amused look and gave a little wave of acknowledgment. She was a pretty little thing, short and curvy, with long, blond hair, and an admirable chest. Not that Nick would ever admire said chest. He valued his life too much to risk Raj’s displeasure that way.
“So, we three have agreed to back up each other when the war comes,” Aden said, ignoring the amusing interplay between Raj and Sarah. “Duncan has said he’ll help out Anthony. But who helps Raphael?”
“I do,” Lucas said quickly. “If he needs it.”
“What if they succeed in taking out Raphael?” Raj asked, voicing something none of them wanted to consider.
“They won’t,” Lucas said clearly.
“But what if they do?” Raj persisted.
The already charged atmosphere of the room soared into the stratosphere as Lucas stood, power rolling off him in waves so hostile that Raj and Aden both leapt to shield their respective mates. This was one of those times when cool and relaxed Lucas disappeared. He wasn’t entirely rational when it came to Raphael, who was his Sire and the closest thing he’d ever had to a father. Although Nick was probably the only vampire in the room who knew that.
“If Raphael dies, then we start killing,” Lucas snarled savagely. “And we keep killing until any of those fuckers left alive crawl back to the holes they came from.”
With that pronouncement, Lucas spun on his heel and stormed for the door. The meeting was over.
“Lucas.” It was Aden who spoke up, their century of friendship overriding Lucas’s rage.
Lucas paused, one hand on the door knob as he turned to give Aden a decided unfriendly look.
“We will all fight to the last man to protect what is ours, and that includes our friends. You know that.”
Lucas nodded tightly, then pulled the door open and strode out into the hallway, Nick following, and the security team falling in without a word. They remained silent in the elevator and through the crowded lobby, showing no regard for the humans who shuffled aside, staring at the fast-moving huddle of big, hard men. Had the humans recognized Lucas for what he was, Nick thought to himself, they’d have been cowering in the corners instead of gawking like tourists.
Lucas didn’t say anything until they were in the SUV and heading back for the airport.
“Something’s up with Raphael,” Lucas muttered for Nick’s ears only, explaining at least part of his furious reaction upstairs. “I don’t know . . .”
“Can you call him?” Nick asked.
Lucas shook his head. “Whatever it is, it’s happening right now. He doesn’t need to be distracted by me calling to worry like an old woman.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to Raphael, Lucas. Even if he wasn’t the biggest badass on the planet, he has a whole security team full of hugely powerful vamps to back him up.”
Lucas forced a grin. “I won’t tell Cyn you forgot about her backing him up.”
Nick grinned back. “I didn’t forget. I was afraid to utter her name. She scares the hell out of me.”
Lucas chuckled, but it was a weak effort, quickly replaced by a worried scowl. “The war has already started, Nick. I feel it in my gut.”
“Then we’ll fight, and we’ll win,” Nick said, his own gut tightening with worry and determination. “That’s what we do, Lucas. We win, and we survive. Because there’s no other choice.”