Authors: D. B. Reynolds
“Not necessarily,” Raphael responded.
“But in any event, I don’t believe he’s after my territory.”
“Not that he wouldn’t take it, given the chance,”
Raphael waved a dismissive hand. “He could never hold it. I can name ten of my people offhand who could defeat him and take it for themselves if he succeeded in killing me. In fact—”
“Okay,” Cyn interrupted, wanting them to stop talking. Just the thought of Raphael dying made her heart hurt. She put a hand to her chest as if to rub away the ache. Raphael reached over and took the hand, bringing it to his lips for a gentle kiss, as if he understood the cause of her disquiet.
“He will not
. You will not be rid of me that easily.”
Cyn met his gaze,
looked away. When she turned her attention back to Jared, she was all business.
“So then, why go after Raphael at all?”
She caught Jared’s quick questioning glance at Raphael, as if asking how much he could say. She supposed it was unusual for a human woman to be involved in the grim discussion of who was trying to kill someone and why. Even more unusual when
being hunted was her mate
a vampire lord.
Raphael squeezed the hand he was still holding. “Cyn is my closest advisor, Jared, and a skilled investigator. You may share whatever details or speculation we have.”
“Very well, my lord,” Jared acknowledged. “We can only speculate, Ms. Leighton,” he began, but Cyn immediately interrupted him.
“Call me Cyn,” she repeated.
“Or just Leighton if you prefer.
The whole Ms.
gives me hives.”
Raphael breathed a long suffering sigh, and she turned to him with an unrepentant grin, dipping her head briefly to his shoulder.
Jared gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. “Well . . . Cyn,” he managed. “We believe
is worried that Lord Raphael will assist Lucas if they go to war. Or, I should probably say ‘when’ since war is almost certain to start between them any day now.”
“Lucas is the Plains Lord, right?” she clarified, with a questioning glance at Raphael. “His territory is between you and
“More or less,” Raphael confirmed. “
has been provoking this war for some time, but Lucas has been forced to hold back, only putting out fires, so to speak, along their border.”
“What’s holding him back?” Cyn asked curiously. “Is he too weak for a full-scale war?”
“Not at all,” Raphael said quickly. “I believe Lucas will defeat
quite handily when the time comes.”
“Unfortunately,” Jared chimed in, “the FBI is sticking its nose into Lucas’s business right now. They’re supposed to be visiting his ranch, but they keep delaying, and he doesn’t want to start a war with the FBI breathing down his back.”
Cyn repeated in disbelief. “Are we talking actual cows and horses?
That kind of a ranch?”
The corner of Jared’s mouth lifted in amusement. “No cows that I know of, but lots of horses. Lucas breeds them, mostly for his own pleasure, I think. But he sells a few.
Makes a pretty penny, too.
He apparently knows what he’s doing.”
“Huh. What does the FBI want with a horse breeding vampire?”
“It’s a missing person investigation. The missing man apparently hooked up with a vampire or two.”
“Missing person isn’t usually an FBI gig,” Cyn commented. “Especially not since nine eleven. They’re focused on other things.”
“You’re right,” Jared agreed. “But this one’s personal. Lucas made some calls to our people at the FBI. The agent hanging up Lucas is running this one on her personal time. It’s her brother who’s missing.”
“Lucas has been stalling, waiting for this FBI thing to blow over,” Raphael added. “But he can only wait so long before his own people start doubting him. The FBI woman was delayed, or so she claimed, but is finally supposed to arrive next week.”
“The only good part is that she’s a woman,” Jared said, exchanging a knowing glance with Raphael.
Cyn frowned and gave Raphael a questioning look.
Raphael smiled briefly. “Lucas has a way with women. He claims it’s because he loves them all, and they know it.”
“I think he just talks a good line and women—” Jared cut himself off with a quick glance at Cyn. “
women fall for that smarmy Irish charm of his.”
The words were harsh, but Cyn sensed affection underneath. “So
to Raphael. “You
Raphael dipped his head slowly. “I am his Sire, my Cyn, though few are aware of our relationship. But Lucas is a vampire lord and fully capable of defending his territory. He doesn’t need my help.”
Cyn studied Raphael, trying to figure out if he’d go to Lucas’s aid if necessary. She understood why he wouldn’t come out and say it. Or at least she thought she did. First, it would undermine Lucas’s authority to suggest he needed help to hold his own territory. Vampires were very prickly about stuff like that. But
or maybe it was just a continuation of the first reason, if Raphael said he would help Lucas, it implied Lucas couldn’t do it on his own, that
didn’t believe in him. The relationship between Sire and child was a powerful one. For
to believe he’d lost Raphael’s confidence on the eve of battle would be a devastating blow. She hadn’t been with Raphael all that long, had never witnessed a full-fledged vampire war, but the vampire skirmishes she’d witnessed were nothing to sneeze at. They were short, brutal and bloody. And in the end, the losers were quite literally blowing in the wind.
But while this was all very interesting, there was nothing here to help
problem, which was figuring out who was trying to kill Raphael.
“Okay, so we believe
hired a human sniper to take out Raphael,” Cyn confirmed, dragging the conversation back on course.
“Why do you assume he was human?” Jared asked, frowning. “Vampires have far superior night vision.”
“Yeah, but this guy was set up well before sunset. Sniping is a unique skill, almost a science. And I’m not talking about the people who do it as a competitive sport. I’m talking about the guys who learned their trade in the military or law enforcement, guys who’ve killed more than once. They don’t drop down, pull up a rifle and shoot. They need prep time. The gun has to be
the field has to be clear. They need to know the conditions and calculate accordingly.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the landscape down that valley, but I have, and in daytime. There’s no place there for a vampire to tuck himself away for the day in order to be in place for a sunset hit. Trust me, once we find the shooter’s nest or hide, you’ll discover he’s human.”
* * * *
While Jared and Cyn debated the likely identity of their sniper, Raphael studied his mate, watching her lovely face, sensing the fine mind revealed in every word she said. He was also trying to discern exactly what she’d been doing with the extra time she’d taken to change clothes. He didn’t for a moment buy into the breathless act she’d put on. Oh, certainly, she’d been rushed, but not because it took so long for her to shower and change. He lived with this woman. He knew
how long it took her to get ready, whether in a hurry or not.
No, he was quite certain she’d been pursuing some personal avenue of investigation on the shooting. Never mind that he didn’t want her going after whoever was behind this. She’d do it anyway, and they both knew it. What made him suspicious was that she didn’t want him to know the specific path of inquiry she’d been following. She hadn’t had time for more than a phone call or two, but to whom? There was her former mentor back in the LAPD, Dean
. He was a homicide detective now and might well have some useful resources. But
opinion that the shot had come from a rocky lump of hillside several hundred yards distant. Raphael was no expert on these things, but he doubted even the LAPD saw many sniper quality kill shots, so
Raphael shut down his instant surge of anger as a suitable name came immediately to mind. Colin Murphy. The former Navy SEAL who was now mated to Sophia, Lord of the
. Murphy and Cyn had forged a friendship on that terrible day last November, when Cyn had almost died. Raphael had very nearly killed Murphy right along with
bodyguard Robbie, furious that they’d survived unscathed while his Cyn had been fighting for her life. It had been Cyn herself who had wasted what little breath she had to plead for their lives. Thoughts of that day still had the power to shake him to his very soul.
Cyn paused mid-sentence, turning to meet his gaze with a solemn stare. She would have sensed the surge in his emotions through the mate bond. While she couldn’t read his thoughts, she was a very intuitive woman, and she knew Raphael well. He stretched out a hand, and she took it, linking her fingers with his.
“Turns out Jared and I have
in common, Raphael,” she said, smoothing over the moment, and obviously aware that he’d not been listening to the conversation.
“I actually saw Cyn when I was there, my lord,” Jared provided.
“Though I didn’t know who she was at the time.”
Raphael shifted his gaze to Jared. “You were at
estate?” he growled.
“Only the first evening, my lord.
I left later that same night. I’d gotten what I came for, what you sent me there for. If I’d known who she was to you, of course, I’d never have left her there alone.”
Cyn reacted predictably to this with a dismissive huff of breath. “I was perfectly fine, and you’d only have gotten in my way. Worse, you probably would have scared the hell out of Mirabelle, and she’d never have left that horrible place with me.”
Jared seemed somewhat taken aback at this dismissive assessment, while
, who’d been listening silently until now, snorted in amusement. It was a rare display of emotion for his taciturn security chief. Cyn had that effect on his vampires.
“Very well,” Raphael said abruptly. “
, if you would finish briefing Jared on the security situation and what’s being done to track down this assassin, please.”
“I’d like in on that briefing, too,” Cyn said.
“Not tonight,” Raphael said flatly. “We have other plans.” He stood, still holding onto her hand, and gave her an expectant look. Cyn gazed up at him with a frown. She knew they didn’t have plans. In fact, their plans had originally involved Raphael being tied up in meetings most of the evening. But he knew she wouldn’t question him in front of his vampires, either.
She nodded and let him pull her up and into the circle of his arm, his hand resting on her waist.
Jared pushed back from the table and stood immediately. “Sire,” he said, bending his head in respect. “Cyn, it was a pleasure to meet you at last.”
“Thanks, and I’m sure we’ll be working together on this.
, we’ll talk later,” she added, slanting a sideways glance at Raphael.
Raphael herded Cyn out of the conference room,
strode down the hallway to their private quarters, holding her hand tightly. Cyn hustled to keep up with him, but her legs were nearly as long as his, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. She remained silent until they reached the privacy of their room, but he’d no sooner closed the door, than she rounded on him.
“What plans?” she asked immediately. “Is there something about this assassination attempt you haven’t told—” Her words cut off as she finally registered his anger.
“Raphael?” she said cautiously.
“My Cyn,” he purred, reaching out and brushing a lock of hair away from her face, letting his fingers glide down over her jaw and neck, before wrapping them around her nape.
Sensing his mood, Cyn leaned away from him, pushing back against his hand.
“You’ve been busy tonight,” he said, gently massaging the back of her neck.
He saw the war in her expression as she decided whether to tough it out or simply to admit what she’d done. Admission won. Mostly, because she was too proud to lie, but also, he was
because she knew he’d discover the truth eventually and be twice as angry.