Read Kick The Candle (Knight Games) Online

Authors: Genevieve Jack

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BOOK: Kick The Candle (Knight Games)
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“Compulsion. Men pay her to have the vamps in the place compel young women to be interested in them. It’s like a supernatural roofie. Only, sucks to be the vamp. No pun intended.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. “Wait. Human men? How do they even know about the vamps?”

“They don’t really. They think Mill Wheel is like an escort service. They pay for the girl. The girl gets compelled. The queen vamp gets her money, and the slave vamp gets drained.”

Gross. How many girls had been taken advantage of? “What do you mean drained?”

“Compelling someone in a way that will last long enough for the men to, uh, get their money’s worth, is extremely draining, and we weren’t allowed to feed on the customers. Most of us subsisted on sewer rats and pig’s blood from the butcher. But with the number of regulars she had, I was starving to death. If it wasn’t for Julius, I’d probably have walked into the sunlight.”

“You’re lying. I caught a vamp feeding on a girl there last week.”

“Some of the vamps try to take a sip when they’re compelling the girls. It’s like a waitress pilfering fries off her customers’ plates.”

I rubbed a hand over my face, disturbed with the analogy. “So, Julius saved you from the vampires who turned you?” Gary couldn’t be trusted. I needed a way to verify if what he was saying was true. “What’s this femme fatale’s name anyway? The one who turned you?”

“Anna Bathory.”

“Bathory? Why does that name sound familiar?”

He didn’t answer me but took a step closer. “There’s one more thing I have to tell you. I don’t want to, but Julius says I can’t leave until I do.”

“What is it?”

“Rick was there.”

“Where? At Mill Wheel?” I had this horrific thought Gary was going to say Rick paid for sex by compulsion, but knowing how women looked at him it seemed unlikely.

“No. He was there in the alley when Anna changed me. He knew who I was, and he could’ve stopped it, Grateful.”

“What?” Suddenly, the cold night air seemed too thin for my lungs. I cocked my head to the side. “How would you even know what he looked like?”

“I didn’t know who he was exactly, but he’d been following us for weeks. In hindsight, I’m sure he was checking in on you. Rick knew who you were long before you or I did. Anna turned me in the alley behind Mill Wheel. Drained me to the point of death, then fed me her blood. While she was…drinking…I saw him, the guy I’d seen at the grocery store and our favorite restaurant. He was perched on the roof, watching. He looked almost happy about it. I suppose it got me out of the way.”

“You’re saying, he watched it happen and did nothing?”

“Nothing. After I was turned, I asked Anna who he was and she explained.”

“Did he know what was happening? Does he know what’s going on in Mill Wheel?” Inside my gloves, my hands were shaking. I told myself again that it probably wasn’t true, just Gary up to his old tricks or Julius trying to get under my skin. But my stomach sank. One memory kept popping into my head, the night after Rick and I had slain Marcus at Tiltworld. I’d asked Rick if he knew that Gary was a vampire and he’d denied it. But there was something about the way he said it. I’d always suspected he was lying. I’d just had this overwhelming feeling that night that Rick was keeping something from me.

Gary shrugged. “I’m not sure what Rick understood or didn’t understand. He’s been around a long time. Seems like he should know what someone being turned looks like.”

The night pressed in around me and my shoulders slumped with exhaustion. I glanced at my watch. After ten. “I think you should go now, Gary,” I said flatly. “Unless there’s something else Julius wants you to tell me?”

“One more thing. It’s true what Julius said. You didn’t need Rick to become the witch, Grateful. You would have become who you are no matter what. Rick manipulated you into thinking you needed him. He tricked you into binding yourself to him again. The caretaker orchestrated his position at your side, and he did it at my expense.”

I stared at him blankly, letting what he said sink in like a topical poison. “Just go.”

To his credit, he left. Three steps into the yard, and he broke apart, melding with the darkness and blowing toward the city. I sat out there, staring at the spot where he’d last been, losing time to the insecurities that played out in my head. When I looked at my watch again, it was after eleven. I forced myself up, out of the chair, and stomped down the street and across the bridge.

Rick was standing in the road naked. I couldn’t tell if he was getting ready to shift or had just shifted back. But he was staring in my direction. We shared a strong connection. He’d been waiting for me. He knew I was upset.

“Is it true?” I asked, shoving him in the chest with my gloved hand.

“Is what true,
mi cielo
?” His face took on a stony expression, eyes black, lips a straight line.

I ran through my memories of Gary and our conversation now that I knew Rick was paying attention. He could see my thoughts when he tried. It was easier than trying to explain the whole thing.

“He consented,” Rick said flatly. “There was nothing I could do. Anna wasn’t breaking the law.”

“Why did you lie to me? That night, after Tiltworld, you said you didn’t know that Gary was a vampire.”

“I didn’t. Not for sure. More than half of attempted vampire conversions end in death. Either the vampire drinks too much or the human body rejects the change. It’s true I saw Anna start the process, but I never saw Gary wake up. I didn’t know for sure he’d been turned.”

“Splitting hairs, Rick.”

He straightened his spine. “I did not lie to you.”

“Is it true that you’d been following me and knew that Gary and I were involved?”

“Yes, I’ve known you since you were born.” Rick took a step toward me, his bare feet crunching on the snow.

“Then you must have known how upset I’d be when Gary didn’t come home. I thought he’d abandoned me. How could you let that happen?”

“He consented.”

“So now you’re all about the rules.”

“There are rules for a reason.”

“All you had to do was interrupt her, jump down from your perch and say ‘hey Anna, did this guy consent to this?’” I tossed up my hands in frustration. “You could have used your power to compel the truth out of Gary. You didn’t have to fight Anna or start a supernatural war. All you had to do was your
job!
You should have made sure Gary was able to consent
.

Rick looked toward the cemetery. “It didn’t occur to me at the time.”

“It didn’t
occur
to you?” I gaped at him.

Can you honestly say that no part of you wanted him to die?”

He blinked at me and I got the strangest mix of emotions over our connection. I couldn’t decipher all of them: defensiveness, possessiveness, guilt, and under the lot of it, love. I didn’t want to feel that part at the moment. It was like finding a rose blossoming in the center of dog poop.

“I did not kill Gary,” he said. “The boy consented. I heard Anna ask for his consent, and I heard him answer in the positive. I couldn’t interfere without risking a backlash from her and her supporters. True, his response might have been compelled. I didn’t think so.”

“You didn’t think so, but you didn’t check.”

“No.”

I shook my head.

He rushed me, grabbing my shoulders and shaking. His black eyes met mine. “I would be dishonest if I said I was disappointed. He left you, stole your money. You deserved better.”

Through my teeth, I let him know I wasn’t buying it. “Gary said he was compelled by Anna to do those things. Why would you assume his consent wasn’t compelled too? If you’d been following us, you had to know there was some compulsion going on. And if you suspected any compulsion at all then you should have suspected she compelled his consent. You let him die—”

“It was meant to be!” he snapped. He paced away from me, hands on his naked hips. I was reminded again how cold it was outside.

“Julius says you manipulated me to get what you wanted, to secure your place as my caretaker.”

Rick whirled on me, finger pointing at my nose. “You can’t believe that.”

“I don’t know what to believe.” I spread my hands. “I’m supposed to be this all powerful witch but it’s
you
who are immortal. It doesn’t make logical sense. If I was as powerful as you say I was, why did I need you?”

His face paled, then contorted as if he was at a loss for words. “I can’t explain to you why. The magic wasn’t my doing.”

I shook my head. “You are keeping something from me. You may not have lied to me outright, but you didn’t tell me the entire truth. This is a pattern with you. Just like when we first met. You have to be upfront with me. I want to know the truth. The whole truth.”

He brought his face close to mine. “The truth is, I died every day I saw you with Gary. I’d waited so long to have you back.” Closing his eyes, he said, “I was happy the day she turned him. I knew our meeting was close then. When I finally had you, I delayed telling you because I knew it would be difficult for you to believe. I wanted you to have time to enjoy the unfolding of who you are.” His eyes opened again and they were black as death. “But I am your Caretaker.
You
chose me for this role. I didn’t lie to you about that or anything else. You needed me. Julius is deceiving you.”

What could I say to that? Everything he said was plausible, even if not entirely logical. And as I searched our connection, he seemed to be telling the truth. Still, one thought ate at me. If he knew what Gary had meant to me, how could he let him die, knowing how it would hurt me?

“I floundered for months,” I whispered. “I contemplated suicide. Do you remember, Rick, how I had to see a therapist because I thought I was unlovable. Your inaction left me destitute. I barely avoided bankruptcy for God’s sake!” The memories of that time in my life left my chest heavy with anger and betrayal. At that moment, I wanted to hurt Rick like he’d allowed me to be hurt.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. He did not sound sorry. “I wish it could have been different, but things happen for a reason.”

Whether Rick realized it or not, he’d injured me. I knew I should ask him more about Mill Wheel and if what Gary said went on there was true, but I couldn’t get past the personal stuff. Gary’s abandonment had caused major issues in every aspect of my life, and he had the nerve to stare at me with that icy expression and say everything unfolded like it was supposed to? Fuck that. Fuck him.

“You know what I wish? I wish I’d had a
choice
! I wish I’d never made
you
my caretaker. Magic may bind me to you but make no mistake, Rick, if I had a
choice
I’d walk away right now. You had no right to fuck with my life like that.”

He took a step back like I’d physically punched him. “I’ll fix this,
mi cielo
. I’ll find a way to prove to you—”

“Save it. I wish I’d never met you. Just stay away from me. I can’t even look at you right now.”

I pulled away, began walking home. He started after me. I stopped, glared at him until his feet halted at the force of my will. When I was sure he understood exactly how serious I was, I headed home.

Chapter 8
My Confidant

B
y the time I reached my house, it was after midnight, but there was no way I was going to be able to sleep. Poe, who must have been watching from a distance, met me at the door and flew in to perch on the banister.

“He’s right, you know. The caretaker is not allowed to interfere with vampire activity if the human consents.”

I placed a hand on my hip. “But if vampires can compel humans, how do we know what’s legitimate consent or not?”

He fluffed his wings in response and turned away from me.

“Exactly. Keep your beak shut if you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

At that, he turned completely around, his back to me. Raven cold shoulder.

My brain flipped Rick’s side of the story over in my head, searching for the seams, then mused over everything Julius and Gary had said. I needed to talk it through and not with a snarky familiar. I tried to call Michelle’s cell phone, but the call went straight to voicemail. If she’d been working tonight, I’d call the hospital, but Wednesdays were her day off, and I couldn’t call her home number without waking the baby. A best friend never, ever wakes another friend’s baby.

I paced the floor. The whole situation made my skin crawl. If Julius was telling the truth, then I was literally in bed with the enemy. He had to be lying. Why would I believe a vampire over my caretaker? So then, why was I still thinking about this? On impulse, I grabbed my keys.

“Not a good idea,” Poe said over his shoulder.

I gave him the finger and slammed the door behind me.

 

* * * * *

L
ogan’s apartment was on the top floor of a secured building ten minutes from Valentine’s. I stormed through the front door, still worked up over my argument with Rick. A white haired man in a uniform eyed me suspiciously from behind a large, circular desk in the atrium.

BOOK: Kick The Candle (Knight Games)
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