Authors: Amity Cross
ove Like Blood (Royal Blood
#5) by Amity Cross
Copyright © 2016 by Amity Cross
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All song titles, song lyrics, products, networks and brand names mentioned in this book are the property of the sole copyright owners.
he truth may hurt
for a little while,
but a lie hurts forever.
The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.
he motel room
smelt like mothballs, stale beer, and piss.
I leaned against the wall, peering through the curtains at the darkened street below.
There was movement behind me and the sound of springs coiling as a heavy body sat on the bed.
I glanced at The Hangman before allowing the curtain to flutter back into place.
Why had I aided the man again? My father was dead, word had already begun to spread, and I was now free. I was still bound to many things, but a master was not one of them.
His name was Vaughn. He stirred up things I didn’t understand. He knew me. He knew who I had been before...before
. Something buried and long forgotten had bid me to save his wretched life.
Where did I have left to go? Who did I have but myself?
Nowhere and nothing.
A woman with no name, no memory, no past, and no way of telling truths from lies. What was I meant to do now?
Drift or implode.
Even I was smart enough to understand that something wasn’t right.
I was broken.
the woman named Mercy, the woman I had been tasked with gleaning information from about the defector Xavier Blood, and I almost felt a sense of respect. The way she defied everyone and everything, even the most excruciating pain, to remain loyal to him.
It was almost admirable if not stupid. I knew of love, but if I’d ever felt it, then surely I’d remember the fire I saw in her eyes.
I looked inside my heart and only saw blackness.
Then they had brought in The Hangman—the elusive, slimy worm that he was He’d been savagely beaten, but even in my coldness, I could see he was a handsome man. Handsome men had no place in my world unless I was contracted by my father to kill them.
The Hangman had stared up at me with an unfathomable expression. One laced with recognition and shock. He spoke my name with a reverence I had never thought any man could possess.
Greggor had called him Vaughn and had taunted his prize in front of him—that prize was me
I didn’t remember… It was all lies.
Pain splintered through my mind, a pain so sharp I almost faltered. My lips parted as my breathing hitched, and that was as much indication as I would allow to surface. It was already too much. Pain was weakness. Pain was death.
against the wall by the window, I peered out into the night. A lone sentry on the edge of the world.
I bunched my hands into the sleeves of my top like a teenager with identity issues. It wasn’t in the least bit ironic that half that statement was completely true. Without my father and Royal Blood, I didn’t know who I was, let alone what I was meant to do. No orders meant no direction.
For the first time, I was on my own—at least, in the life that I could remember, that is.
The sound of a 747 roared overhead as it came into land at the airport, which was three miles west of our location. Red and white lights flashed on each wingtip as it soared through the blackness, and I blinked hard. Red and white. There was something about those colors that stirred up something in my mind. Something slippery that was just outside of my reach.
It was the first time he’d used my name since the room in the compound. The room that was meant to be the last resting place of the scoundrel known as The Hangman. The room where I was meant to kill him.
Letting the curtains flutter back into place, I turned back to the bed. He was trying to sit up against the headboard, but his injuries seemed to be making it difficult.
After leaving the compound in Bristol, I’d taken The Hangman and driven him far away from that place. After finding a roadside motel, I’d taken the car and dumped it two miles northeast. All distinguishing marks had been removed from the vehicle months ago by Royal Blood, the engine number filed off, and any serial numbers wiped clean. The plates were fake, but I’d unscrewed them and tossed them into a bin on the way back to the room where The Hangman had slept, unaware that I’d ever been gone. He’d been utterly spent, exhausted from his time in captivity and from whatever had transpired before.
“Where are we?” he asked when I remained silent.
I stared at him, willing any of this to make sense. Willing that something in his features would explain why I had thought it was a good idea to save his life.
“We’re near an airport,” he mused, wincing as he leaned back against the headboard. “We were in Bristol, and judging by the time we were in the car, it could only be Heathrow or Luton. Manchester is too much of a stretch. Too far from anywhere.”
I narrowed my eyes. Best to keep him guessing, but he’d find out on his own soon enough.
Hawkes. The man who’d been waiting on the fringes of the compound. The man built like a mountain with a shaved head and pockmarked skin. The man who’d seemed like a fucked-up father figure to The Hangman.
His expression changed when I wasn’t forthcoming. “Lorelei,
“I let him go,” I replied blandly, realizing it was the first time I’d spoken to him since I’d pushed him into Hawkes’ car almost a day ago.
His eyes widened, and I suppressed the urge to roll mine. He thought I’d killed his right-hand man? The one who’d risked his own life to save his master?
. I knew what he was worth.
“He will contact me when and if he has anything to report,” I said, leaning back against the wall.
Vaughn visibly relaxed. “What is he looking for?”
“Take your pick,” I retorted. “Royal Blood is splintered, The Watchman may or may not be dead, your friends may or may not be brainwashed…or dead. Who knows. We need information, and I don’t trust him with you.”
He snorted. “If you think X and Mercy—”
“I don’t care,” I spat.
“You don’t care?” His shoulders sagged.
He was disappointed, but I wasn’t made to care. The Watchman didn’t
to give me that kind of ability. Caring was weakness, and weakness only had one ending—a shallow grave.
“Don’t be a fool, Hangman,” I hissed. “You know what I am.” Rounding the bed, I snatched up a towel and a pathetic little round soap, and tossed them at him. “Clean yourself up. The last thing I need is to bury your infected corpse.”
Holding the towel against his chest, he slid off the bed. His furrowed brow was the only indication as to the pain he was in. On the surface, he looked like he’d been pounded repeatedly with a mallet. His face was caked with dried blood from a dozen cuts on his lips, forehead, and nose. His shirt was stained and stiff with it. Underneath the surface, there was a possibility of severe bruising and cracked ribs. His left eye was already puffy and darkening to a rich shade of purple.
He looked like a mangy animal that needed to be put out of its misery.
But I couldn’t kill him. Not yet anyway. Vaughn knew things. Things that I had to find out for myself if they were true or not. Things that held the answers to the question I’d never thought about asking until the moment I saw him on the floor at my father’s feet. Until the moment he’d spoken my name like I was his lover.
What was the question? Just the only one that all of humanity strived to understand—why are we even here in the first place? Why does any of this fragile life matter? What was the point? Who were we to the universe?
If what I was led to believe were true—that I was in love with The Hangman before—what would that mean for the future? Once the layers of my training were peeled away and only the woman remained…
who was Lorelei?
Vaughn shuffled into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. A moment later, the sound of running water filtered through the cheap chipboard and into the bedroom.
Vaughn can save you
Xavier Blood’s words came back to me with a clarity that was startling. Even more so than the predicament I now found myself in. I was making irrational choices when I should have been calculating them with logic.
Logic said that I should have put a bullet into The Hangman’s head and taken my father’s empire for myself. I should have taken what he’d built and made it better. Grander. Ruled without bias and feeling. Become a tyrant.
Royal Blood would thrive under my rule. Its blackness would spread across the globe, turning the oceans red with blood. It would rain down onto the great nations of the world, pouring down the sides of mountains into rivers and streams, filling the gutters of every city, flowing from every tap, collecting in puddles that children would play in. It would fall until the world lived in fear. Fear would be the only emotion that remained.
The assassin and her empire.
a face washer against my bloodied lip, I winced.
The hard, clinical light from the fluorescent tube buzzed overhead as I attempted to clean myself up in the tiny motel bathroom.
Lorelei was in the next room.
Lorelei didn’t care…or did she? She’d dragged my sorry ass halfway across the country with Hawkes, who she’d sent off on some secret intelligence gathering mission.
Staring into the mirror at my pulverized face, all I could see was the moment Greggor had paraded his prize in front of me. Lorelei.
A vision of blood flashed into my mind.
Blood was everywhere. Dripping from her fingertips and pooling on the concrete beneath her. Hanging from her ankles and bleeding dry.
A day and a half ago, Lorelei had been a specter. A ghost from my past, who I’d loved and lost for eternity. The woman I’d wanted to give up everything for. I almost had, but it had been too late. She’d died, and it had been all my fault. My shortsighted attempt at loving her had ended her life.
Love hadn’t been enough to save her then, so what chance did I have of saving her now? She was an entirely different woman. Her base code had changed, and her personality had been rewired.
Wiping at the dried blood caked on my face, I scowled. All this time, everything I’d been through was a lie. Had it all been that pointless? No one could have known this was the end fate had in store for me…for Lorelei.
That room… I couldn’t help dwelling on the words Greggor had spat out at me.
He sold her to Jacques Lafayette. My little girl, Hangman. He sold her into sexual slavery. I saved her from Lafayette’s clutches while you ran away with your tail between your legs like a dog. You led her into this. You are the only one to blame.
I thought she was dead. I’d seen her body, but Sykes had drugged her with tetrodotoxin, a drug that slowed the recipient’s heartbeat to almost nothing—a drug that mimicked death.
I was a fool. All this time, I was a fool.
I’d gone to her funeral, her very real-looking funeral. I was on the run from Royal Blood, from the Necromancers, from Intelligence, so I’d remained in the car, watching them lower her casket into the ground from afar. I’d been a shell of a man for so long that when I’d reawakened from my haze, it’d been into something else. A darker version of myself.
Without a normal life to maintain, I could be anything I wanted to be without fear of being exposed. I could be a murderous psychopath and revel in it…and I did.
We both died that night, and both of us were reborn from the misery that followed.