Authors: Ashley Meira
Noah wanted to tell him that child wouldn’t have existed if their sister had stayed. If he, if
, hadn’t convinced her to leave. But he didn’t. Lucas could have – and did, Noah supposed – made a living justifying his actions. It’s what made him such a dedicated worshipper…and impossible to reason with.
But that was why he was here, wasn’t it? To try and convince his baby brother to stop, no matter how futile it may be. And futile really was the word; this “difference of opinion” had been going on for decades.
So far, Lucas had never been able to bring himself to harm his siblings, which spoke volumes about his self-control. Unfortunately, that control did not extend past his brood. Noah looked at the bespectacled brunette hunched over a petri dish in the corner. Marybeth was the only ghoul Lucas had left. The younger vampire had killed the other eight following the last argument he’d had with his siblings.
Noah found it rather curious. Of all the servitors Lucas had amassed over the centuries, Marybeth was the only one to have lasted this long; three months ago marked her eightieth year of service, if Noah recalled correctly. Maybe Lucas had developed a soft spot for this ghoul? He sincerely hoped so. It would mean there was still a shred of humanity left within him, something to appeal to.
“Did you get my results?”
Noah snapped out of his reverie and handed Lucas the files Aiden had given him in New York. “According to Aiden, Orpheus is working well on humans…when it doesn’t kill them. There’s an eighty percent mortality rate.”
“Return rate?” Lucas asked, completely unconcerned with the percentage that had Noah questioning his ghoul’s sanity. Aiden had spent the five minutes following the announcement explaining exactly how toxic Orpheus really was. After that report, Noah had been even more motivated to convince his brother to abandon this madness. Then, he’d gotten wind of the fire, and the thought of his sister’s child running headfirst into danger…
He hadn’t even hesitated about pushing his brother’s sanity aside to help his niece. What did that say about him?
“Zero percent so far. None of them have come back.”
Lucas tapped a thin index finger against his chin. “The bodies?”
“Some are in the hospital, the rest were drained and tossed near the Hudson.”
“Well, the doctors won’t find anything. Those humans were given directions, weren’t they? That ghoul of yours didn’t–”
“Aiden didn’t forget.” And he never would. Who could forget being forced to sell death to children? The thoughts weighed heavily on Noah. “They were given clear instructions, but surviving is hard enough without having to play explorer.”
Lucas pursed his lips, that faraway look he got whenever he was deep in thought clouding his eyes. “Well, now we have thirty more vials…eighty percent mortality… That equates to 6 viable subjects per batch. This shipment plus the others we’ve already sent out should provide more data.”
“Excuse me, sir?” Marybeth approached, looking up at the men with purple, almond-shaped eyes. She was a small woman, but the way she shrunk into herself around Lucas made her seem absolutely tiny. Noah knew what it felt like to be so afraid of someone that you wanted to make yourself as small as possible. He also knew it wouldn’t stop someone if they truly wanted to hurt you. “Would you like me to fetch you both some blood?”
Noah shook his head. “No, thank you.”
Lucas grunted, twisting up his face childishly. The fact that he was relaxed enough around Marybeth to act like anything less than a sadistic statue had Noah’s heart throbbing with hope.
“You’re at your best when you’re fed, my lord,” she said softly. “And if I may be so bold, with this batch done and a lack of ingredients to make more, perhaps you should retire for the night? The sun will be up in a few hours – you can use the remaining time to unwind.”
He peered down at her like a scientist with his latest lab rat, but Noah knew his brother enough to notice the usual cruel edge Lucas’ eyes held when looking at anyone that wasn’t his brother or sister was missing.
“Fine,” he said. “I feel like drinking something fresh tonight. Go prepare one of the humans and take them to my study.”
“Yes, my lord.” With a bow, Marybeth exited the lab.
“Are you sure you don’t want a snack?” he asked Noah, eyes drifting towards the retreating ghoul’s back.
“I’ve eaten,” said Noah before pausing a moment. “Marybeth is quite competent.”
“She wouldn’t still be here otherwise.” Lucas plucked a vial, shaking it softly. Light purple smoke slithered around the dark purple liquid before melting back into the mixture. “Fancy a taste?”
“Isn’t it poisonous to vampires?”
“Would I offer it to you if it was?”
“Yes.” Noah smiled at the light banter. It had been so long since he’d been able to speak with Lucas without the other snapping. “But you’d stop me before I drank it.”
“Maybe.” A small, surprisingly genuine, smile tugged at the younger man’s lips.
He regretted the words even before they finished passing through his lips. “Would you stop Marybeth, I wonder?”
Lucas’ smile vanished instantly, the humor on his face replaced with dark suspicion.
Ah, welcome back, brother.
“What makes you ask that?”
“Nothing.” Noah shrugged. “She was here, and the thought just came into my mind.”
His brother didn’t look the slightest bit appeased. The words had been a mistake, a slip of the tongue brought about by memories of a past where Lucas had been a small, frail,
child. Highlighting any of Marybeth’s virtues wouldn’t have fazed Lucas, but highlighting anything about Marybeth in relation to him personally would certainly lead to trouble.
And her death.
Lucas had devoted his life to his family, to his brother, sister, and father. To allow anyone else in was a cardinal sin he refused to break. Noah knew his brother was too unhinged to allow such a thing to happen. He’d destroy anything that stood in the way of his “perfect” family. Even if it could end up being the best thing to happen to him.
The way Lucas’ face darkened confirmed Noah’s thoughts. It was a subtle change, a frostiness overtaking steel grey eyes, a thinning of pale lips, the slightest tightening of the brows. But for Lucas, it screamed enraged paranoia. What Lucas didn’t understand was a threat. What was a threat got destroyed.
Noah reached a hand up to stroke his baby brother’s cheek. Lucas’ jaw twitched, but he let out a deep exhale and closed his eyes a moment before relaxing into the touch. “It was a slip of the tongue, Lucas. I’m just getting old.”
Lucas scoffed. “You’ve always been old.”
And just like that, the bomb was defused.
Or rather, the timer reset. Can anyone ever truly defuse you now, dear brother? I hope so.
“How is she?” Noah asked softly.
“Cori?” Lucas looked away. “She’s the same as usual. Worse, even. I don’t understand women.”
You don’t understand anyone. Not anymore.
“After I told her about the half-breed, she locked herself in her room and is refusing to see anyone.”
Noah’s eyes widened a fraction of an inch before he caught himself and fixed his mask back on. “You told her about…Morgan’s brother?”
“Of course. What was I supposed to do? Keep it a secret? Lie?”
“Was that really wise, Lucas? She’s been upset enough as it is. Why bring this up now? Especially when we’re so close to a breakthrough?”
Lucas frowned and let out a huff. “She’s my sister. I won’t lie to her. Don’t you think she deserves to know the truth? She had a mission and let her guard down. I was just reminding her the reality of the situation. She needs to know who her real family is: us. Only us.”
See? The perfect blend of self-justification and maniacal sense of family.
We all love in different ways.
“Don’t talk to me about love,” he spat. “Haven was for love. I wasted a lot of time and resources on that ceremony, trying to unlock the Spire that way so we wouldn’t have to do this. Do you think I would have gone through all that trouble if I didn’t love her? I did that to try and spare her the pain of losing a child! I love her; I did it all for her!”
Noah hadn’t been there, but he’d heard the story. It was true Lucas had only performed that ritual as a mercy – for lack of a better word – to their sister. But the massacre of an entire caravan? The manipulation of one hunter to murder the head of his family? Abducting innocents? He killed Lady Maxwell to hurt Morgan, to try and break the girl despite her being his sister’s child. Even when he wore the shredded veil of love, Lucas’ cruelty shined through.
“It’s because we’re so close that I told her,” Lucas continued. “She’s been withdrawn from us for over eighteen years, brother. It’s been long enough.”
Noah swallowed thickly. “Hasn’t she already done her part?”
We need her
.” It wasn’t an answer, but it was what Lucas believed. “She has to help us like before. We were made for this, Noah. It’s our destiny, and she knows it.” Lucas’ voice rose in pitch and he grabbed his brother’s arms, his eyes wide. “She came back to us. So, why isn’t she helping us? Doesn’t she know how important this is? Doesn’t she love us?”
Lucas’ eyes flashed red as his nails dug into Noah’s arms, leaving bloody gouges in their wake. He had him in a death grip, but Noah couldn’t fault his brother after seeing the look in his eyes. Lucas was mad, yes. Evil, even. But he was still family, he was still the baby brother Noah and Corrigan had sworn to protect. The innocent desperation in his eyes as he looked up at his older brother was heart-wrenching, and Noah had to force himself to keep eye contact.
“Of course she loves us, brother.”
She just loves her daughter more.
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