June 17, 2024

Vampires 3

Chapter One 

“Are we out of ice dragon blood again?” Mordyn asked, poking around the fridge in the lounge of his coven’s living quarters. “That’s the second time this month.”

“Didn’t know you were such a fan of dragon blood.” Keegan glanced up from his laptop. He’d settled on the couch with it, next to some of their other coven mates who were watching TV.

“It’s not about the taste.” Mordyn scoffed. “It’s summer. I want some ice dragon blood.” 

His friend shot him a funny look. 

Mordyn shrugged. Ice dragon blood was not actually any cooler than, say, fire dragon blood, but Mordyn liked to pretend that it was. 

“If you want something to cool down, stick a popsicle in some of the mage blood and put it in the freezer for a few hours.” Keegan’s attention returned to his computer screen, obviously done with the conversation.

Mordyn shook his head. Blood popsicles. Who the hell wanted frozen blood? 

Although…

The idea had a certain appeal.

If he sold it right…

Well, first he would have to get some popsicle sticks. They didn’t exactly keep those around at the coven. Maybe he could hit the store tomorrow. If he went now, he wouldn’t be back in time for game night, and that wouldn’t do, considering how many new members their coven had accepted over the past month.

Mordyn turned around to look at the vampires sprawling on the couch and sitting in the armchairs around the room. There were several new faces. Defectors who had fled their original covens. 

Such a thing was a rare occurrence within the vampire world. Most vampires stayed loyal to the covens that had taken them in as fledglings… but every one of these vampires came from a coven that dealt with mortal blood slaves, and every one of them was scared of getting caught up in one of the raids happening all over the kingdom. 

When the Smokey Ridge coven had been brought to trial a couple of months ago, many of the accused vampires had ratted out other covens caught up in the trade, hoping to lessen their own punishment. 

Things had escalated from there.

Mordyn had never known there were so many covens within the kingdom who kept mortal slaves. He wasn’t a bleeding heart or anything, hell, his heart barely even beat anymore, but there were some things he found hard to stomach. The way all these covens kept their slaves, breeding them like cattle, was one of them.

Of course all their new members swore they’d never been fans of the practice to begin with. 

Mordyn didn’t believe them, and he could generally tell when someone lied to him. 

But Altair had been happy to take in new vampires to bolster their small numbers. 

“Who cares what crimes they committed in the past?” he’d said to Mordyn. “We’ve all done terrible things. Every one of us. As long as they follow my orders going forward, I’m not bothered by anything their old leaders made them do.”

Mordyn wasn’t sure if that was entirely wise, but he wasn’t the boss around here. And the fact remained: their numbers had swelled dramatically.

Which was good. Because there was a good number of covens who resented them for kicking the hornet’s nest and setting the authorities onto all their fellow vampires in the slave trade.

Mordyn might not like his new coven mates, but he liked the idea of them being wiped out even less.

He sighed, turning to leave the room when someone switched the TV channel and a familiar face caught his attention. 

Apollo. 

The mortal had been on the news a lot lately, speaking about the raids against the vampires and what happened to the mortals who were freed and placed into the care of his organization. He wanted to raise awareness. 

But Mordyn didn’t hear the words he spoke. 

All his attention was taken up by Apollo’s appearance. He sported faint circles under his green eyes, and his ginger hair–a few shades lighter than Keegan’s–was longer than it had been a few weeks ago, a little shaggy. Probably because he’d been so busy he didn’t have time to get it cut. He’d always been like that. Putting his work first. 

A bitter smile played around Mordyn’s lips as he caught himself thinking of Apollo as if he knew the mortal intimately. 

His gaze lingered on the almond-shaped birthmark above the temple of Apollo’s left eye. 

The similarities were there, but this was not the man he’d once loved. 

This was not Jory.

“Can’t you watch something else?” he heard himself ask the other vampires in the room rather gruffly.

Keegan looked at him. “Why, does it bother you?”

Mordyn noticed that the remote lay next to his friend’s hand. Keegan was the one who’d changed the channel. 

Of fucking course. 

“You’re the one who’s bothering me.” Mordyn glared at him, then walked out.

“What crawled up his ass and died?” he heard one of their new coven mates ask as he was leaving.

Keegan didn’t reply.

Good.

It was bad enough that *Keegan* knew why Mordyn got so grumpy around the topic of this particular mortal. He didn’t need anyone else figuring out that his long-dead mate had been reincarnated.

***

Game night was rough.

Usually, Mordyn enjoyed their monthly gatherings, but with the influx of new members, their usual group had nearly doubled, and the newcomers didn’t know each other–or them–very well yet, so the conversations were stilted and the atmosphere was tense.

Altair had insisted that they all participate, though. “The sooner we all feel like one coven, the better,” he’d said. “Monday Madness is mandatory until I say otherwise.”

And so Mordyn sat at a table with four vampires whose names he barely remembered, trying to cheat at a card game he barely understood so he could get back to his room faster. 

The brunette vampire lady to his right was also trying to cheat. 

Her emotions gave her away. She was afraid of being caught. 

Unlike some other vampires, Mordyn could not turn his powers on and off. Another factor that had made the last couple of weeks rough.

All of these new vampires were anxious all the time. Their fear and agitation combined to grate on Mordyn’s nerves and made his head ache.

The real reason Mordyn had wanted the ice dragon blood. The blood of many ice elementals had a calming effect on vampires when ingested. 

Doubtlessly, that was also why it was always gone. 

Mordyn rubbed his forehead as one of the vampires he didn’t know threw down a card, and another, older male vampire cursed and picked up a pile of chips.

“I fold,” Mordyn announced, unsure if that was even an option, and not caring.

He rose without waiting for the others to finish the round, and walked out.

The hallways were quieter than the lounge. His vampire hearing was another currently unwelcome superpower he couldn’t turn off, but the noise was bearable out here, at least.

He reached the door to his bedroom, but before he could enter, the door at the other end of the hall opened.

One of the newbies stepped out. A short blond man with a pale scar across his throat. Mordyn couldn’t recall his name off the top of his head. Something starting with a T. Taron, maybe?

“You should be in the lounge,” Mordyn told him. “Game night is mandatory.”

“Then why aren’t you there?” the blond shot back. He held something in his hand. A bottle of ice dragon blood.

Mordyn’s eyes narrowed. Was this the person draining their supplies? Mordyn tried to get a read on him.

Taron, if that was his name, wasn’t especially anxious. A little surprised, maybe, at having been caught out, but not particularly worried. He didn’t think Mordyn was going to rat him out. 

Mordyn’s lips curled up. “I was just getting something from my room,” he lied, “and then I’m going back to the lounge. I’m very close with Altair, you see.” 

Now Taron was a *little* worried.

Good.

“I just prefer the quiet,” he said. “There’s been a lot going on since…” he trailed off. 

Was his coven one of the ones that had already been raided? Mordyn couldn’t remember. If it was, though, he could understand why the other vampire might feel distressed. 

“Tell you what,” Mordyn said, “you give that bottle of blood and I’ll forget that I saw you here.”

Taron’s hands tightened on the bottle, but then he extended his arm, holding the blood out to Mordyn.

Mordyn stepped forward, taking it from him. “Good,” he said. “Now I don’t have to make blood popsicles to cool down.”

The blond’s expression went from worried to confused.

Mordyn laughed, and then he took his leave, retreating to his room.

He closed the door behind him and exhaled, glad to be alone at last.

The blood in the bottle was warm, having been kept outside of the fridge for a while.

Mordyn uncorked it and drank straight from the bottle, swallowing the sweet liquid down his throat.

The tension left his muscles and his mind relaxed, the constant buzz of the thoughts of other vampires receding.

The blood had its effect. 

Even though it tasted wrong. 

All blood had tasted wrong since… since he’d lost his mate. 

It had been a long time ago. Close to a hundred years now. But Mordyn still remembered the pain as if it had happened yesterday.

His hand clenched tighter around the bottle as he lowered it.

For the first week or two after the incident, he hadn’t been able to drink at all, too sickened by the taste of blood that wasn’t his mate’s on his tongue, no matter that their bond had been severed and he had been ‘released’ to live off any blood he desired. The problem was that he didn’t desire blood that wasn’t Jory’s. 

Almost a hundred years later, he still didn’t. 

But he’d learned to drink past the weird taste, because he’d had to, and with time, he’d gotten used to drinking the blood of others again. He could even pretend to enjoy it. Sometimes, he could even make himself believe that he did.

He’d thought maybe one day he truly would enjoy it. 

Seeing Apollo, though, even just briefly on TV… 

He knew that he was wrong. 

*His* was the only blood he would ever truly enjoy.

“Fuck.” Mordyn put the bottle of blood away. He was never going to drink from Apollo. The man clearly hated vampires, and Mordyn couldn’t blame him. After what had happened to him in his past life…

He’d been killed by them. And Mordyn was the reason. There was no other way to see it. 

With a pang of guilt, he turned on his small TV and scrolled through the settings until he found a recording he’d made a few days ago of one of the interviews Apollo had given on the news channel.

He’d watched it three times already since it aired.

In it, there was a moment when Apollo looked straight at the camera that always made a shiver go down Mordyn’s back. On the outside, he looked so different from Jory, but all his mannerisms, the way he carried himself, the way he moved–those weren’t different at all from what Mordyn remembered, and it made him ache to see it in this new form. He missed everything about his mate. How he laughed. The way he smiled. That sparkle he got in his eyes whenever he was passionate about something.

When the video ended, Mordyn played it again. 

He paid no attention to the words that were exchanged between Apollo and the interviewer. Something about mortal rights and what to do with the rescued slaves. What other covens they were investigating and how laws might be changed. 

Mordyn cared very little about any of that.

But the sight of Apollo was like balm for a wound Mordyn had never quite managed to stop picking at. Balm and salt at the same time, because he knew he would never touch his mate again. This man had no memories of their time together, and if he did, he’d probably hate Mordyn for what he’d done to Jory.

But Mordyn kept watching the video, anyway. Just to see those familiar eyes, that familiar smile. The birthmark he’d kissed so many times.

It was a bit masochistic, maybe, to torture himself like this, but it was no less punishment than Mordyn deserved for his crimes. 

His fangs dropped, wanting nothing more than to sink into Apollo’s neck and drink from the artery there.

But he would never. 

This time he would choose his mate’s happiness, not his own. 

A knock came at the door, startling him. Hastily, he turned off the TV before his boss entered the room.

Altair’s gaze swept over the space and then landed on Mordyn.

“Hiding away from the rest of the coven?” the vampire lord asked.

Mordyn forced a smile. “Come on, Alt,” he said. “Everyone needs a little privacy every now and then, even in a coven.”

“On game night?” Altair raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re usually the one to drag *me* there.”

Mordyn shrugged. “Not feeling like it tonight.”

Altair eyed him for a moment longer, and then he closed the door to Mordyn’s room behind him. “You’ve been out of sorts for a while. Care to tell me what is going on?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” The lie was automatic. No one in the coven knew that Apollo was his reincarnated mate. Keegan might have an inkling, yes, but Keegan didn’t count. He always knew things he wasn’t supposed to know. It was his thing.

“Even your fledgling is concerned,” Altair said. “He mentioned that you yelled at him.” 

Mordyn grimaced. That was not something he was proud of. He’d snapped at Mikael a few days ago when the kid had asked him what was wrong. “He ran to you?” 

“Of course not. I approached him, and he only talked because he’s worried about you. we all are.” Altair paused for a moment. “Is it because of the newcomers? Are they troubling you?” 

Mordyn remained quiet. 

“I could read your thoughts,” Altair reminded him. “But I’d rather not. You’re my friend before you are my servant.”

Mordyn swallowed, and finally spoke, telling a half-truth. “It is the newcomers,” he said. “Their emotions are all over the place. You know how it can get for me.”

Altair studied him, but eventually nodded. “They haven’t had the easiest time settling in, but we need them to bolster our numbers.”

“Are they really going to be loyal to us? They’re all defectors.” Mordyn frowned. He didn’t have to play up his distaste for defectors. Betraying your birth coven was one of the worst things a vampire could do. 

If you couldn’t trust your own coven, you had nothing in this world.

Altair shrugged. “The covens they’ve left are terrible. There were good reasons to desert.” 

“In that case they should have done that years ago, rather than now. Now they’re only doing it because they don’t want to face prison or execution. They don’t care about the mortals they tortured.” 

Altair tilted his head to the side. “You think they could have fled their covens at any time? Do you remember what I had to do to get Iskander out of *his* original coven. You know most vampire lords and ladies don’t simply let their servants walk. They’re making use of the general chaos right now, and the fact that their bosses are busy with the authorities.”

Mordyn huffed. He didn’t like it, but Altair made a valid point. “Fine. Whatever. Sorry about skipping out on game night.”

Altair gave him a long look. “It’s fine. I’m glad someone volunteered.” A smile stole on his face. The kind that didn’t bode well for Mordyn. 

“Volunteered?” he asked, dreading the answer.

“Well, you folded before anyone else did, and you know what that means.”

Mordyn groaned. Really? “I have to organize the next special event?”

Altair smirked. “Don’t look like that. You’re good at planning parties. Besides, you’ll have help.”

Help.

Right now, the last thing Mordyn wanted was company. Especially if that person was likely to be one of their new coven members.

“Who?”

The smirk on the vampire lord’s face grew. “Well, there was another vampire tragically absent from tonight’s activities.”

Mordyn sighed in resignation. That had to be the vampire he’d gotten the ice dragon blood from. “Taron?”

“His name is Tarek,” Altair corrected him. “But yes, he was missing. It’ll be good for you two to work together on this. You’ll get to talk to some of our new members a little more closely.”

Mordyn rolled his eyes. “Great,” he muttered, but Altair ignored his sarcasm completely.

“I’ll leave you to your solitude now,” the other vampire said as he turned around, opening the door. “Do make sure to talk to your fledgling.”

“Will do, boss,” Mordyn promised.

He waited until Altair closed the door behind him, and then he pulled the bottle of blood back from his shelf and took another gulp, trying to ignore the taste of wrongness.

If they wanted him to plan a party, he’d plan a party. 

Maybe it would take his mind off other things if nothing else.


New Chapter

Apollo was tired of all this.

The reporters, the cameras, the people staring at him everywhere he went—he’d known it would be a part of this job when he’d signed up for it, but hadn’t thought things would get this crazy.

He hated being in the spotlight all the time. He’d taken this job so he could help other mortals, not so he could be asked inane questions day in and day out. Questions like, ‘How do you deal with not having any magical powers of your own while going up against vampires?’ and ‘Aren’t you worried that these covens might retaliate?’ and ‘How did you get to be so brave?’

As if he was *brave* for refusing to agree with the treatment his kind suffered all over the planet. As if it wasn’t his *duty* to stand up for his people when no one else would do it.

This kingdom was handling it better than most, to be fair. That was why Apollo had moved here when he’d heard that the reigning dragon king had taken a shine to mortals.

The sun kingdom was very different from the place Apollo had been born.

The sun kingdom was very different from the place Apollo had been born. He’d never been a citizen of a proper kingdom before. Hell, his place of origin wasn’t even a proper country, since no one had laid claim to it. Or, at least, no one had *successfully* laid claim to it. Many nations had certainly tried. 

Apollo had heard tales about how green the area used to be, full of exotic and valuable magical plants. 

It had been hard for him to believe when he looked outside his window and saw only brown, barren ground as far as the eye could see. Nothing grew outside of carefully tended greenhouses, and the land had yet to recover from the wars fought over it. 

As the story went, the warring nations had retreated after the area had been devastated and robbed of its natural resources. No one wanted to take responsibility after the fact. 

Gradually, the abandoned lands, situated on the borders between Thornwood, Myria, and the Elven Lands had come to be known simply as ‘the Fringes.’ A lawless place that turned into a hub for all kinds of people who weren’t wanted anywhere else. 

Mortals were at a disadvantage there just as much as they were everywhere else, but in a place like the Fringes, people tended to band together to survive, mortals and paranormals alike. Apollo’s family had lived with a group of wolf-shifters who valued his parents for their ability to treat wounds and various illnesses without the need for magical remedies, which were often hard to come by.

In turn, the wolves had protected them from anyone who might have meant them harm. 

More importantly, they’d taught Apollo how to defend *himself.*

Even today, Apollo considered this the most valuable skill he had. He’d never been among the mortals snatched away by vampires, and that wasn’t going to change any time soon. He knew where to stab and how.

He killed his first vampire when he was sixteen.

And he wasn’t going to be happy until they were all gone. 

Shaking his head to clear his dark thoughts, Apollo walked into his office. It was late. Most of the staff had already left for the day, but he still had paperwork to do. He wasn’t going to be happy until *that* was done, either.

His secretary was waiting for him, a tall woman named Ceska who was part nymph. Her hair was long and green, and her eyes were large and blue like the sea, and even though she looked nothing like Apollo’s sister, her caring nature reminded him of her every day.

“Hey boss,” she greeted him. “You look beat.”

“I am,” Apollo admitted.

The day had started early and gone into the night with barely a pause.

Ceska nodded and handed him a stack of papers. “This is what came in during the afternoon,” she said. “And I’ve forwarded some messages to your email as well.” She waved her hand and a screen appeared in the air before her. With the touch of a finger, she sent it to hover in front of Apollo. “All of these papers still require your sign, also.”

“Got it.” Apollo minimized the screen with a flick of his wrist. It had taken a considerable amount of time for him to learn how to operate these things. They hadn’t had technology like that in the Fringes. At least not unless it was stolen off a passing caravan, and even then, they would have scavenged it for parts or sold it on. 

The budget the king had granted him for his operation here still boggled his mind. 

He could learn how to deal with paperwork and computers if it allowed him all the resources he could possibly need.

“I’ve set the wards on your apartment,” Ceska continued while he flipped through the papers. “They were due a renewal.”

“Thanks,” Apollo told her absently.

“I still think you’d be safer if you moved into the gated community.” She leaned against her desk, folding her arms in front of her body. “There are guards there.”

“I don’t need a gated community,” Apollo said. “Let’s leave those houses to the people who truly need protection.” If things continued the way they were going, there were going to be a lot more mortals in need of housing soon. Traumatized mortals who would benefit from a gated community a lot more than Apollo would. “You can go home for the day, Ceska. I’ll finish these up and then leave as well.”

She hesitated. “Sure you don’t need me for anything else?”

“Positive.” He flashed her a smile. “You’ve already done more than enough. I’ll see you in the morning. Have a good night.”

“If that’s how you want it,” she said. “See you tomorrow!”

Once she was gone, Apollo settled down to work. He wasn’t sure how many minutes ticked by, or what time it was precisely when he finally put the last paper away into its folder.

He rubbed a hand over his tired face—he really needed some sleep—and then rose from his chair. His limbs felt heavy as he crossed the floor. He’d been working too much lately and sleeping too little. Maybe this weekend he’d find the time to rest a little.

He was almost at the door when the lights cut out.

The room was plunged into sudden darkness and his heart rate spiked as adrenaline rushed through his veins, his fight-or flight response kicking in.

There was someone in the room with him.

Without even thinking, Apollo drew his knife from the hidden pocket in the seam of his pants and turned toward the threat, forcing his own breath to calm so he could hear the movements of his opponent.

“You really think that little knife can protect you?” The voice came from behind him.

Apollo didn’t hesitate, turning on his heel and lunging, aiming for where he thought the other man stood. 

Apollo’s knife met only air.

Fuck.

His heart pounded a staccato rhythm against his ribs. 

Apollo couldn’t see his attacker, but he knew that it was a vampire with a certainty that seeped into his bones like cold dread. 

A chuckle sliced through the silence, cruel and knowing. “Pathetic.”

Before Apollo could pivot, iron-like arms ensnared him from behind. A breath fell cold against his ear. “Your little raids, they’ve been a thorn in our side for too long. Tonight, they end.”

Apollo struggled against the vice grip, but it was like wrestling with steel cables. Worse yet, the vampire took his knife, and the next moment, a sharp pain flared across his cheek as his blade was turned against him, drawing a line of fire along his skin.

He gasped at the burn of it. 

That wasn’t a shallow cut.

“Tasty mortal blood,” the vampire hissed. “Smells so nice.”

Anger boiled within Apollo, overshadowing the pain. He struggled to force his hand into his pocket, fingers fumbling until they closed around the small pouch he always carried. 

Before the vampire could hurt him again, he squeezed his eyes shut and threw the pouch at the ground. 

A burst of flash powder ignited in a blinding light. The vampire released him with a roar of surprise and rage, hands flying to his eyes.

Apollo didn’t waste a second. He whirled around as soon as he could move, grasping for another weapon hidden on him.

He found the stake by touch alone and swung with all his might until it found its mark in the vampire’s chest—a sickening crunch as it pierced undead flesh and heart.

The vampire gave a short howl, and then he was dead. 

The overhead light flicked back, the sudden brightness disorienting after the darkness, but Apollo’s eyes adjusted just in time for him to watch his attacker turn to ash, his remains scattering across the floor like sinister confetti. 

Breathing hard, Apollo swiped at his bleeding cheek, grimacing at the sting. That wound would need tending to soon—but before that, he needed to contact Ceska. Who knew if he was the vampires’ only target tonight?

He looked at the pile of ash on the floor. The vampire must have been young, to turn to dust so quickly after death. It was a damn shame too. Apollo would never be able to identify him now–or learn what coven he’d been a part of.

Picking up his phone, he glanced around the office space. Adrenaline still raced through his veins, making him extra cautious. Had the vampire on the floor brought any friends with him? 

It didn’t look like it.

He dialed Ceska’s number and waited for her to pick up. “C’mon,” he murmured, tapping his fingers against the side of his pants.

Finally, Ceska answered her phone. “Boss?” 

“Chess,” Apollo ground out as pain pulsed through his cheek. “When you renewed the wards on my place, did you also renew the wards on the office?” 

She cursed loudly.

“Yeah,” Apollo said. “I thought so.” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. “Call the cleaning service we contracted. And then come in. Quickly please.”

“Already on my way,” Ceska assured him. “Be there in five.”

Apollo ended the call with another sigh and sank back down into his office chair. This was not how he’d envisioned his evening going, but in the grand scheme of things, it was only a minor disruption.

Five minutes later, Ceska stormed inside his office with wide eyes that grew even wider when she spotted the ash on the floor.

Apollo waved her in. “I killed him,” he said. “We’ll have to contact the police.” 

“Never mind that now.” Ceska rushed over to him. “You’re bleeding.”

“I noticed.” Apollo grimaced. 

“My car is parked right out front.” Ceska grabbed his arm and pulled him upright. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“Only if you call Vallar on the way.” Apollo followed her, trying his best not to get too much blood on the floor. “Everybody else needs to know to be on their guard. I’ve already contacted Orion, but I couldn’t reach Vallar or Darian.”

“I will,” Ceska said as she pushed him out into the hallway. “Now let me drive.”

Apollo let himself relax, if only marginally. Ceska would do as he told her, and everything was going to be okay.

Probably.

Apollo groaned.

“What?” Ceska ask. “Does it hurt very bad?”

“No,” Apollo grunted. “I just realized this story is going to be all over the news tomorrow.” 

Just what he needed. 

More fucking interview requests.

“You worry about the strangest things.” Ceska shook her head, then bit her lower lip. “I’m so sorry I forgot about the wards.”

“It’s fine,” Apollo said as they reached Ceska’s car. “It was only a matter of time until one of them got reckless.” He smiled, then winced when the motion pulled at his wound. “It means they’re getting scared. That’s good. We’ll destroy them, Chess.”

“Damn straight,” she muttered, unlocking the car doors with a touch. “They’ll pay for hurting you.”

Apollo suppressed another smile as he climbed into the car.

He *would* make the vampires pay. For all the pain they’d caused their mortal slaves, for all the years mortals had had to live in hiding for fear of them… 

And for killing Apollo’s little sister. 


New Chapter 

Mordyn stared at Taron—no—*Tarek*, his new coven mate, trying very hard to keep up the pretense of someone who enjoyed the presence of their new coven mates. He’d promised Alt he’d be civil, at least. As much as he didn’t like how things were developing, Mordyn knew that his friend had a valid point: they needed to stick together and show a united front if there was a chance in hell that they’d get out alive if any coven attacked them. And with how many covens they’d pissed off, that was a real risk to account for.

“We have to plan a party?” Tarek asked, raising an eyebrow. “Is this really the time to be partying when so many of our fellow vampires are being persecuted?” 

“Didn’t you say you were glad to get out of your old coven?” Mordyn countered.

Tarek scowled. “That doesn’t mean it’s not upsetting to be forced to watch my own kind get hunted like prey.”

“If they didn’t want to be hunted, maybe they shouldn’t have treated mortals like prey.” Mordyn went around the bar and poured himself a glass of mage blood. It was Saturday, but still early, and they were almost alone at the club.

Tarek looked like he was biting back a lot of the words he wanted to say. Probably something about the natural order of things. Mordyn was glad that he didn’t speak–and also that Tarek didn’t get overly emotional. In fact, Mordyn got barely any read off the guy at all. 

He sipped at his drink and regarded Tarek. “Everybody needs to do their part in this coven. We make most of our income running this club.” He gestured around. “Our monthly events are a big part of that.”

“Fine.” Tarek folded his arms before his chest. “What kind of event is it supposed to be?”

Mordyn shrugged. “It depends on how creative you feel like being. Usually, we try to do something different each time, to keep things interesting.”

“Interesting,” Tarek repeated flatly. “Like what?”

“One month, we had a masquerade,” Mordyn told him. “Another time, we organized a dance competition, but that kind of got out of hand when one contestant tried setting his rival’s pants on fire with a spell. We had to stop the whole thing after the first round.”

A ghost of amusement flitted over Tarek’s features. “Sounds fun.”

“Yeah, it usually is.” Mordyn let himself relax a little, remembering that night. It had been pure chaos. The mage had been banned for life, of course. Only an absolute idiot started a fire in a vampire club. 

He took another sip of his drink. 

Maybe planning this event with Tarek wouldn’t be so bad. At the very least, the work would take his mind off other things. It would give him an excuse to be too busy to watch TV with the others as well, and if Keegan wanted to talk to him, he could claim that he was too tired. 

Yes, this would do well. 

“How about we brainstorm a few ideas?” Mordyn suggested. “I’ll start. We could do a karaoke night.”

Tarek frowned. “Would sirens be allowed to compete?”

Mordyn waved him off. “Not too many sirens in this part of town.”

“No? We had a couple of sirens around Sapphire Square. Always liked to sing, those two.” Tarek paused as a wistful look entered his eyes. “They were great fun to be around.” 

Mordyn eyed him curiously. “They ever let you drink?” He’d never had blood fresh from a siren, and he couldn’t help but wonder. It likely wouldn’t satisfy him any more than the mage blood he’d just sipped, but still… you couldn’t blame a vampire for fantasizing.

Tarek’s lips curled up in a grin. “Oh yes.” He leaned closer, his voice dropping conspiratorially. “Their blood tasted like sex.”

Mordyn blinked at him and then laughed. It wasn’t even forced. The way Tarek talked about sex was just so… matter-of-fact. “If we do end up going with a karaoke event,” Mordyn said, “maybe you should invite your friends.”

“They’re a couple, actually,” Tarek said. “And yeah, they might like to come over. If they do, I’m sure I can hook you up.”

“Thanks for the offer,” Mordyn said as he took another gulp. Maybe if he met those sirens he could convince himself that he really wanted to drink from them. It would be a new experience, in any case, and those were hard to come by after you’d lived a century or two.

“So any other ideas you might like to explore?” Tarek asked. “What about an auction?”

Mordyn tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. “Interesting. What would we auction?”

Tarek shrugged. “Whatever. People can bid for a date with someone they like. Don’t we have a super popular vampire in our coven? The OnlyFangs guy? He could draw in a crowd, I’m sure.”

“He’s not single,” Mordyn told Tarek. “But I could ask him to come out and sign some stuff, at the very least.” The idea had some merit. In any case, it wasn’t something they’d done before, and maybe they could get some of the new vampires to participate. ‘Introduce’ them to the community, as it were. “We could also have other items to auction.”

“Sexy underwear?”

Mordyn snorted. “Maybe.” He was going to add something when the door to the club opened and Mikael strolled in as if Mordyn had summoned him by mentioning his name earlier.

His fledgling was looking at him as if he wasn’t quite sure if his presence was welcome, and Mordyn chided himself for having been an ass to him the other day.

He’d always tried to maintain a good relationship with the kid, and Mikael had done nothing to deserve Mordyn’s anger. He was just worried and wanted to understand what was going on with his sire. That wasn’t something Mordyn could fault him for.

“Mikael,” he called out, motioning for the young vampire to come over.

Mikael hesitated for a split second, then joined them. “Sire.”

Mordyn put on a smile. “This is Tarek,” he introduced the other vampire. “He and I were just wondering if you could sign some fan merchandise at the event we’re planning for next month.”

Mikael shrugged. “Sure.” He glanced at Tarek, then back at Mordyn. “Have you seen the news yet?”

“The news?” 

Mikael pulled his cellphone from the front pocket of his jeans and tapped it a few times with a finger until a video appeared on the screen. It looked like the local news channel, and Mordyn’s heart dropped when the familiar image of Jory’s reincarnation flashed on screen.

He snatched the phone from the kid’s hand. Why was Apollo’s head bandaged like that?

Mordyn’s gaze slid down to the headline beneath the video. “Mortal Right Activist Attacked by Vampire.”

His stomach dropped.

“He killed the vampire who attacked,” Mikael said. “Pretty badass.”

“He’s lucky it didn’t kill him,” Tarek commented.

Mordyn didn’t reply, because that was exactly what *he* was thinking. Apollo could have been killed last night, and easily too. If a vampire managed to sneak into his office building… it was a miracle that he was still alive. Mortals were so damn fragile. Mordyn knew only too well.

He watched the video, unable to tear his gaze away from Apollo’s face. The wound was on his cheek, he learned. The information let him breathe easier, but only slightly. 

“Mordyn?” Mikael asked. “Are you okay there?” He sounded concerned. He *was* concerned, radiating worry that mingled with Mordyn’s own, and Mordyn had to stop himself from snapping at his fledgling again. It was hardly Mikael’s fault that the man Mordyn had once loved had been injured while Mordyn pretended not to know him.

And Mordyn really had to pull his shit together if he wanted to keep up that pretense.

He handed Mikael his phone back. “Why did you think I needed to see this?” 

Mikael frowned. “Keegan said you should.”

Keegan. Mordyn wasn’t surprised, except for the part where his friend had stooped so low as to use his own fledgling against him. 

“Where is he?” Mordyn asked.

“I think he went back to his room.” He licked his lips. “Did I do something wrong?” 

“No,” Mordyn said, forcing his anger down. Mikael was not the person it needed to be directed at. In all honesty, Keegan wasn’t that person either, but at least he deserved it. 

Without another word, Mordyn left the club and went straight to Keegan’s room. He didn’t bother to knock on the door—he just barged right in.

Keegan was at his computer, as usual. He didn’t look up from whatever he was reading when Mordyn entered, even though Mordyn wasn’t quiet about his entrance. “What’s your problem?” Mordyn demanded.

Keegan glanced at him. “I wasn’t aware that I have a problem.”

Mordyn’s gaze narrowed. “It’s one thing for you to get on my case, but to send the kid? Really?”

At that, Keegan turned around in his chair to face Mordyn fully. “You’ve been avoiding me, but I knew you wouldn’t avoid Mikael.”

Mordyn’s lips tightened into a thin line. “He’s not your tool to use.”

“Oh? So you didn’t want to know about the danger Apollo is facing?”

The words came like a punch to the gut. Mordyn sucked in a breath. He both wanted and didn’t want to know. All this time, he’d made himself stay away from Apollo by convincing himself that the man was safer without him in his life.

It had been stupid of him not to expect something like this. 

Why did Apollo have to make it his mission to go up against vampires?

What was Mordyn supposed to do? 

He could hardly stand by and watch him get torn to pieces all over again.

“What do you know?” Mordyn spat, well aware that he was using Keegan as a vent for his frustration, and that he wasn’t being fair, but he didn’t care about being fair just then. His mind was racing, his chest tight and his instincts were screaming at him to do something, anything, about this situation.

Apollo could have died last night.

Mordyn’s hands balled into fists.

He glared at Keegan, who remained unresponsive. “Did you know that someone was going to attack Apollo?” 

Keegan sighed. “It was always a possible. He leads a dangerous life. Why do you think I’ve been trying to nudge you in his direction?”

“Why do you ever do anything?” Mordyn asked. “To annoy the crap out of all of us.”

“No,” Keegan said evenly. “I usually act to protect the people I care about.” 

The calmly spoken words took some of the wind out of Mordyn’s sails, leaving behind the cold fear and dread that had settled in the pit of his stomach as he watched that news report. “You don’t care about Apollo.” 

“But you do,” Keegan reminded him. “I know what happened with Jory, and I know that you’re trying to stop history from repeating itself, but if you allow vampires to kill Apollo then–“

“Stop.” Mordyn held a hand up, his jaw clenched as he spoke the word. The last thing he needed was Keegan spelling out the obvious.

Jory had been killed by vampires while Mordyn was elsewhere. 

He’d failed to save Jory, failed to keep him safe, and now his mate had a new life where he was putting himself in mortal peril on a daily basis.

Mordyn didn’t want to lose him again.

But how could he hold on to someone who didn’t belong to him? 

Apollo wasn’t *his* the way Jory had been. Apollo would likely never want to be his, and after the way Mordyn had failed him in the past, he certainly didn’t have any right to claim him as such. 

“What do you expect me to do?” Mordyn finally asked, the fight gone from his body.

Keegan’s expression softened. “Be honest with yourself, for once. What do you *want* to do?”

Mordyn swallowed.

What did he want to do?

He didn’t even have to think about it. He *wanted* to keep Apollo safe from harm, wanted him to be happy, wanted him by his side, wanted to see him laugh and smile the way Jory had when Mordyn tried to cook mortal food for him.

He wanted to be there for him, to love him, to protect him from everything bad in the world and to be there when he woke up every morning.

He wanted to wash him under the spray of the shower and kiss his forehead. Wanted to listen to his heartbeat, feel the warmth of his skin.

Taste his warm blood on his tongue.

 But he’d given up the right to make any of those things happen a hundred years ago.

“I want,” Mordyn said. “For him to not get killed.”

Keegan raised an eyebrow. “Is that all?”

“Yes,” Mordyn snapped at him and spun on his heel, marching back out of the room. He needed air. He needed to calm down and get a grip, before anyone else saw how much all this was affecting him.

Keegan didn’t say anything, letting him leave without further comment.

Outside, the sun had gone down, leaving a dark blue sky in its place, stars twinkling faintly above. Mordyn walked out to the edge of the rooftop terrace and sat down with his legs dangling over the ledge.

He stared at the city lights, but he wasn’t seeing anything. Instead of the streets below him, he saw the apartment he used to share with Jory, saw his mate’s dead eyes staring back at him.

He’d found him there, lying on their shared mattress, blood everywhere, eyes open.

Dead.

Mordyn had fallen down next to him and stayed there until his sire had dragged him away. Dry for a month, he hadn’t been able to fight the other vampire, or he would have.

In his pocket, his phone vibrated, drawing him back from the memories and the sorrow of those days. Mordyn wasn’t glad for the distraction. He wanted to wallow. Painful as the memories were, it was a comfortable, familiar sort of pain. Almost like an old friend, at this point. He could lose himself in it and not think about all the fresh, sharper pain that was yet to come if he didn’t take the right actions. 

For a moment he considered ignoring his phone, but then he pulled it out of his pocket anyway. 

Naturally, the message was from Keegan. 

A groan slipped from Mordyn’s lips as he read the message. 

“You will get your opportunity to approach him soon. Don’t waste it.”


New Chapter 

Apollo tried to ignore the media attention as well as Ceska’s fretting. So he’d been attacked by a vampire. Big deal. He’d killed the creature, so why was everyone acting like he’d been seriously hurt?

“Are you sure you should be working yet?” Ceska asked when he came into the office. 

“I’ve got a cut on my cheek,” Apollo pointed out. “Not traumatic brain injury. I’ll be fine. Besides, I need to look at the report Frances sent in.” 

“It’s on your desk,” Ceska said. “Along with uh…” Her lips twitched. “You’ve received a lot of flowers and get-well cards.”

“Great.”

She chuckled at the sarcasm in his voice. “I’ll get you coffee?”

“Coffee sounds great. Thanks.” He walked into his office and sank down into his office chair, grimacing at the sight of the pile of gifts waiting for him. Most of these were probably from reporters who expected something in return. 

Apollo sighed in resignation, knowing that he should welcome the attention. The more the general public cared about mortal rights issues, the more headway they would make.

Still, this was… excessive. 

He’d been sent enough get-well cards to paper his office walls, and there was no space on his desk for all the bouquets, candy and chocolate he’d received. 

How was he supposed to work like this?

With a sigh, he picked up the folder containing Frances’s report from the corner of his desk and opened it up.

Frances and the others had done a thorough job investigating one of the vampire covens a few miles out of town. They’d been tipped off that mortals had been seen at the location, but there was no conclusive evidence and a search warrant turned up nothing. Of course not. All the smart covens had moved their mortals out of the area by now. 

Apollo rubbed his face.

He was *sure* something shady was going on at this coven. The problem was that he couldn’t prove it, and he didn’t know where to look for more proof. He read through the details once more. The coven’s name was Nightfall, as if it had been named by edgy teenagers, and they ran a couple of gas stations along the road leading toward the nearest volcano, which was a popular spot for dragon weddings.

There was nothing outwardly suspicious about that, and yet… 

Frances had uncovered that a couple of vampires had defected from the coven after the raids started. A red flag if there ever was one. 

Apollo leaned back in his chair, thinking.

If he could just talk to these vampires…

But why would they talk to him? 

And even if a meeting could be arranged, why would they say anything to incriminate their old covens? Vampires might be monsters, but they were loyal to their own kind. Even vampires who left their covens could rarely be persuaded to act against them. 

The sound of knocking interrupted his thought train before it got any further. “Come in,” Apollo said.

Ceska opened the door. “Your coffee, boss.” She moved some of the candy from his desk to make space for the mug. “Mind if I eat that?” 

“Go ahead.” Apollo raised the cup to his lips and took a long gulp, savoring the hot liquid.

“Thanks.” As she popped some candy into her mouth, she regarded the report Apollo had put down. “Anything useful?”

“I’m not sure,” Apollo admitted. “This coven might be involved in the trades. All that property along the road would certainly help, but there’s no concrete evidence. I was just thinking how nice it would be if we could interrogate one of the defectors.”

Ceska considered this, touching her chin with her index finger thoughtfully. “Didn’t some of them join the Rubyville coven?”

“Yes, they did.” Apollo took another gulp of his coffee. He was conflicted in his thoughts about that particular coven. It was true that they’d helped him nail down the Black Spades and the Smoky Ridge coven, kickstarting the raids, but Apollo knew they hadn’t done that out of altruism. They’d only done it to get rid of a powerful rival.

The fact that they were now harboring vampires from criminal covens only proved that fact.

And besides that, Apollo had a bad feeling every time he thought about the Rubyville coven. Something that tugged at his guts and wouldn’t let go. “I’m not sure we should continue our partnership with that coven,” Apollo said to Ceska. “I can’t think why they would be interested in cooperating with us now that the Black Spades have been locked up.”

“We could offer them other benefits.” Ceska shrugged. “They’re a small coven, and they’re on everyone’s radar now. If we put in a good word for them with the king, they may receive better funding for their territory. Maybe a few more city guards could be stationed in the area.” 

“You think Altair would be interested in that?” Apollo asked skeptically. “He’s got an influx of new vampires to bolster his defenses. You think he’ll want to test their loyalty by asking them to speak against their origin covens so soon?” 

“One of them might see it as a chance to advance in rank quickly.”

“Can we trust a vampire like that?” Apollo suppressed a sigh, knowing that, in truth, you couldn’t trust any vampire at all. 

Ceska touched her finger to her chin again. “I think it’s worth a shot to see what they might have to say. You might hate all vampires, but not all of them are criminal.” 

“Sure,” Apollo said, though he wasn’t convinced. 

Maybe Ceska was right, though, and there was no harm in giving it a try. 

“I’ll write to the king’s office and to the Rubyville coven,” Ceska decided. “If you don’t object, boss.”

Apollo finished the last of his coffee and put the empty cup down. “Sounds like a plan.” 

Not a great plan, but for now, it was the best they had. 


New Chapter 

When there were no more news about potential attacks targeting Apollo for a week, Mordyn felt like he could breathe again. He still had half a mind to swing by the mortal’s office and tell him to stop putting himself in danger, but logically he knew that such a visit would not be well-received. Judging by everything he’d heard about Apollo, he’d probably have a knife against his throat before he’d finished saying hello. 

He’d recognized Apollo, but Apollo wasn’t likely to recognize him–which honestly might work in Mordyn’s favor. If the mortal remembered his past life, he’d never even let Mordyn cross his office’s parking lot.

“What are you thinking about?” Tarek asked. They were supposed to be planning their auction, but Mordyn wasn’t interested in any of that tonight.

They were sitting in the lounge, with the TV off–thank fuck–and a laptop in front of them. Tarek had tried his hand at creating a flyer. It was pretty awful, with a bunch of hearts and arrows and the words ‘Date with a vampire’ written in Comic Sans. The worst of it was that he was serious.

“I’m thinking,” Mordyn drawled. “That if you use that design, no one will show up.”

Tarek scowled. “What’s the problem with it?”

“What isn’t?” Mordyn got up from the couch. “You know what? Just change the font.” 

“You don’t like Comic Sans?” 

“Comic Sans is fine for a teenage sleepover, not for bloodthirsty creatures of the night. We need more grunge.”

“So like Papyrus?” Tarek suggested, though he clearly wasn’t serious about *that* suggestion. He was just trying to mess with Mordyn. Over the past couple of days, Mordyn had become better at reading the other vampire. Either he wasn’t as closed off as Mordyn had originally thought, or he was becoming more comfortable. Settling in. 

All in all, he really wasn’t a bad vampire. He could be a little shit, but Mordyn appreciated that quality in his friends. Kept life interesting when everything else got boring after a couple of decades. 

That was probably why he was still friends with Keegan too, even though that particular redhead had been nothing but a pain in his ass recently. 

And speaking of the devil, Keegan walked into the room just then, greeting the two of them with a smile. “Party preparations going all right?” He peered at the draft of the flyer on the laptop’s screen. “Well, that looks… creative.”

Tarek frowned. “Last time I used a computer was before I was turned. Give me a break.”

Keegan laughed. “When was that?” 

Tarek shrugged. “Let’s just say technology has changed.”

“Yeah,” Mordyn agreed. “It sure has.”

“Anyway, I’m not here to criticize your artistic skills.” Keegan waved his hand at the laptop dismissively before turning to Mordyn. “Boss wants you upstairs.” 

“What did I do now?” 

Keegan huffed in amusement. “What do you think you did?”

Mordyn thought about it for a moment. He hadn’t started any fights recently, he’d let go of the blood popsicle idea for now, and he hadn’t hired anyone without checking in with Altair first. Nor had he been rude to vampires that belonged to other covens. He hadn’t even tried to drink from their customers lately. “I’ve been a well-behaved vampire this week.”

“I’ll vouch for that,” Tarek chimed in with a slight roll of his eyes. “He’s barely had time to misbehave when he was busy complaining about my ideas all week.”

Keegan grinned. “Well, then I suppose we just have to go and find out what Alt wants.”

Mordyn rolled his shoulders. “Fine. I was getting bored, anyway.”

On the way upstairs, he thought a little more about where he might have gone wrong, but he couldn’t come up with anything. “You think he’s got a job for me?” he asked Keegan.

Keegan patted his shoulder. “He just wants to have a drink with us. Iskander came in.”

“Really?” Mordyn side-eyed his friend. “You couldn’t have just said that?”

“Where would be the fun in that?”

Mordyn shook his head and pushed open the door to the club. Altair was sitting at their usual table with his mate, Sven, by his side. 

The man had been smart, turning his mate and making him less vulnerable to vampire attacks. Mordyn only wished *his* mate had been open to that idea. Mordyn would have given him the gift of eternal life in a heartbeat, even if it meant drinking from other people afterward. 

Mortal lives were too short. 

Mordyn tore his eyes away from Altair’s mate to glance at Iskander, who was also sitting at Altair’s table. Iskander had recently moved out of his room at the coven to live with *his* mortal mate. 

It seemed everyone was coupling up, recently. 

Mordyn didn’t begrudge his friends their happiness, but it was difficult not to think of Jory in the midst of all that. He’d been happy once too, before everything went to hell.

Altair motioned at two empty seats across from him. When Mordyn and Keegan had settled, he smiled and poured them glasses full of warm blood. All of them except for Iskander, who could not drink blood that wasn’t his mate’s. 

Mordyn remembered what that was like, even as he lifted his glass to his lips and took a slow sip.

“It’s good to be together again like this.” Altair looked around the table at them, a genuine smile on his lips. “Things have been too hectic lately.”

“That’s true.” Mordyn leaned back in his seat, looking at Iskander. “How’s life treating you? Everything good with Rhyme and the babies?”

“Things are going as well as they could be,” Iskander said. He never spoke much, but he’d softened a little since meeting Rhyme. There was a lot of joy in his heart now, shining through every other emotion that shrouded his presence. Mordyn enjoyed seeing it there, a warm light bright enough to lift his own mood. “He’s getting a lot better at his reading.”

“That’s good.” Keegan raised his glass. “I’m glad everything worked out for you.”

Iskander gave Keegan a long look, then nodded. “We’re making it work.”

“Wonderful,” Alt said, but his attention was on Sven, who was frowning at the glass of blood in his hand. “Is there a problem, love?”

“It’s not very… good,” Sven said, wrinkling his nose. “Sorry, I just… what kind of blood is this?”

Altair’s forehead wrinkled. “It’s fae blood. You’ve like it fine before.”

Sven set his glass down on the table. “No, this is different. It’s terrible.”

“I like it.” Keegan picked up Sven’s glass and sniffed at the contents. “It smells fine.”

“Really?” Sven shook his head. “It’s like I’m drinking sewer water.” 

Mordyn tilted his head to the side. “Is it really that bad?” He disliked most blood that passed his lips these days, but he had no idea why Sven would develop such a strong aversion to regular fae blood.

“I’ll get you something else.” Altair rose from his seat and strode off to the bar to fetch his mate a new drink.

Sven looked down at the table, clearly uncomfortable at having caused a fuss.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mordyn said. “You’re still getting used to being a vampire. Not all of us love every type of blood.”

“I’ve never had food aversion before. Like, I’ve never been a picky eater, but that…” He trailed off with a shudder. “That was awful.”

Keegan cocked his head, and a faint smile flitted across his features.

Mordyn caught him looking, but he couldn’t tell what his friend was thinking. There was something going on behind those blue eyes, and Mordyn couldn’t tell whether that something was good or bad.

Keegan didn’t offer any information, even as Mordyn narrowed his eyes at him questioningly. “Iskander,” he said instead. “How is Rhyme adjusting to the new neighborhood?” 

The conversation flowed naturally into small talk after that, even as Altair returned to the table with less offensive mage blood for Sven, which Sven seemed to be able to drink without issue. They discussed the new additions to their coven, Iskander’s recent move, and then the upcoming auction.

Mordyn laughed and talked and by the time Altair mentioned the mortal rights task force, he felt so comfortable in his skin and among his friends that the shock of hearing Apollo’s name came like a punch in the gut. Wholly unforeseen and entirely unexpected.

He almost choked on the mouthful of blood he’d just ingested.

Iskander looked at him. “You okay there?”

“Yes,” Mordyn croaked. “Went down the wrong pipe.” He swallowed, clearing his throat, and prayed that nobody had noticed the look of alarm that must have flashed over his features just then.

Altair went on talking as if Mordyn’s world wasn’t tipping on its axis. “They’ve requested a meeting with me,” he said. “I assume they want to request our help with some ongoing investigation.” His face didn’t betray how he felt about this, but Mordyn could read him. 

It felt a little rude, to be digging into his friend’s feelings for hints of things he didn’t want known, but it wasn’t like Mordyn could shut his talents off. He didn’t even have to look at Altair to know that the other vampire was conflicted about the prospect of working with the mortal rights activists. 

“We should help them,” Sven said, though he couldn’t be oblivious to his mate’s thoughts on the matter. “If there are still vampires keeping mortals like cattle, we need to help Apollo uncover them so they can be dealt with.”

Altair quickly hid a grimace. “It’s not as easy as that.” He turned to Sven. “I understand that you feel strongly about this, but we have to put the interests of our coven first, before we try to help the mortals. Yes,” he continued, raising his voice when Sven wanted to speak, “even if those mortals are being badly mistreated.”

Sven exhaled audibly, arms crossed in front of his chest. He didn’t argue, though. Mordyn imagined he would, later, when they were alone. 

Iskander spoke up, though. “I agree with Sven on this matter. If there is something we can reasonably do to help, we should.” 

Altair considered Iskander. “Is that your unbiased opinion?” 

“I can’t be unbiased when it comes to this,” Iskander admitted. 

Altair nodded, acknowledging Iskander’s trademark honesty. “I’m not opposed to helping,” he said. “But I also do not wish to place an even bigger target on all our heads.” 

Mordyn swallowed. When Altair talked like that, he couldn’t help but think about the target on *Apollo’s* head. His gaze flicked to Keegan. Was this the ‘opportunity’ that Keegan had mentioned in his text message? 

Keegan seemed very interested in this conversation, at the very least. He hadn’t said anything so far, but anticipation rolled off him in a way that made Mordyn take notice. This discussion was part of Keegan’s plans. Mordyn couldn’t say which plan exactly, but he knew his friend well enough to know that Keegan had banked something on the outcome of this conversation. 

Which made it all the more curious that he didn’t speak, and when Mordyn looked at him, he only raised an eyebrow as if to challenge him.

“Our coven’s safety is important,” Altair said, not noticing the exchange between Mordyn and Keegan. “We can’t risk being seen as traitors to our own kind.” 

“Shouldn’t we at least listen to what they might have to say?” Sven asked. “You could meet them, see what they want and what’s in it for us.” 

“Now you’re starting to think like a vampire,” Altair praised his mate.

Sven shook his head. “Just thinking like someone who knows how to manipulate you.”

“Oh?” Altair raised one eyebrow. “You think you’re skilled at manipulating me?”

Sven’s lips quirked. “I know I am.”

“We all know he is,” Mordyn chimed in, laughing at the glare Altair sent his way.

“You sound like you want extra tasks to keep you busy,” Altair remarked, voice cool. “Because I’m sure I can find some for you. In fact, you should visit our dealers in Opal County, make sure they’re still loyal to us.”[ 

Mordyn wrinkled his nose. “I spoke with them last week. We’re good.” He tried to keep his visits to Opal County to a minimum. The place smelled. 

“I think you should take him to your meeting with the mortal rights task force,” Keegan said, dropping the words so casually as if he wasn’t suggesting Mordyn meet the reincarnation of his former lover.

Sadly, Altair had no idea what Keegan was suggesting, and no reason to disagree. “That might not be the worst idea,” he said. “I can read thoughts, he can read emotions, they won’t be able to hide anything from the two of us.” He paused, thinking. “We might even get a more favorable deal if you use your talents.” He turned to Mordyn.

Fuck. 

Was he implying that Mordyn mess with Apollo’s emotions? 

He was *never* going to do that. 

“We’ll see,” Mordyn said, trying not to let his true feelings show. Not the easiest task when they were clawing at him from the inside, threatening to leave bruises. 

This was definitely the opportunity Keegan had mentioned.

But what the fuck was he supposed to do with it? 


New Chapter

Apollo sat down across from the vampires. 

They’d agreed to meet him in the office building across from his since taking down all the newly placed anti-vampire wards in his own office would have been too much of a hassle. Easier just to rent another room for a few hours.

Besides, Apollo didn’t like the idea of inviting vampires into his space. He knew there was nothing to the old myth that vampires had to be invited before they could enter a building, but it still felt like bad luck to extend such an offer. 

Ceska had come with him, along with a few of his stronger teammates who waited just outside the door, ready to come in should anything happen. 

Apollo didn’t *think* anything would happen, but it paid to be cautious, always. 

In any case, Altair had brought only one other vampire with him. Apollo recognized the man. His hair was a different color now, deep purple instead of the toxic green it had been the first time Apollo had run into him, but this was definitely the vampire he’d met at Rhyme’s safe house a couple of months ago. 

There was something about him that drew Apollo’s gaze. He was handsome, but many vampires were. That didn’t change the fact that they were all ruthless monsters, as Apollo was well aware. He didn’t usually care how beautiful a monster was. 

But something about this one was different. 

Apollo couldn’t put his finger on it. It wasn’t his striking green eyes or his perfectly shaped lips, pulled into a faint scowl now. No, something else about him attracted Apollo’s attention. 

He’d felt it back at the safe house too. 

An uncomfortable tugging when his gaze strayed in the man’s direction. 

Apollo felt as if he should *know* him. 

But no matter how hard he racked his brain, the information couldn’t be found. Apollo was fairly sure he’d never seen this man in the Fringes, or at any point in his life at all before their brief meeting at the safe house. 

So why did he feel like he should recognize him?

His stomach churned.

His eyes lingered on those perfect lips. 

A moment too long. 

The vampire caught him looking, and his scowl turned into something that could almost be called a smile.

Apollo forced himself to stare down at the notepad in his hands.

Ceska was saying something.

Apollo made himself focus. “Could you repeat that?” he asked.

She glanced at him. “I asked if you wanted to start the meeting.”

Right. The meeting.

He put the notepad down on the table and focused on the two vampires. “Thank you both for coming to meet with us,” he said. “As you probably recall, my name is Apollo. I head the Mortal Rights Task Force. This is Ceska, one of my assistants, and my team is right outside, if you need anything.”

He mentioned his team only so the vampires would know not to try anything.

“Thank you for having us.” The vampire lord offered him a smile that seemed only slightly fake. “I’m sure you already know my name, but allow me to introduce myself formally. I’m Altair, head of the Rubyville Coven.”

Apollo nodded at him, and then glanced at the other vampire.

Altair introduced him as Mordyn. “One of my enforcers and most skilled business negotiators.”

Apollo’s thoughts stuck on the word ‘enforcer.’ In a coven, the enforcers were usually the ones who made sure that their lord’s orders were carried out. They were efficient killers who didn’t shy away from violence to accomplish their goals.

Apollo forced himself to keep looking at Altair instead of Mordyn. “You brought an enforcer to this meeting?” 

Altair’s calm demeanor didn’t change. “I’m sure you have guards of your own stationed outside the door. Why are you surprised I brought one of mine?”

Apollo frowned, unwilling to concede the point, but knowing he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

But at least now he had a logical reason to feel unsettled by Mordyn’s presence. 

He must have sensed that this particular vampire had more blood on his hands than most. 

“Your concern is understandable,” Altair added, not unkindly. “But it’s also unwarranted. Neither of us means to harm you. We are here at your request.”

Apollo took a deep breath and tried to release the tension from his muscles. Altair was right. He’d called the vampires here, and he should get down to business. 

“The purpose of this meeting,” he began, “is to request your assistance in an ongoing investigation. A number of covens have come under suspicion, and one in particular has caught my attention. A few vampires from this coven have left and joined yours.”

Altair’s expression was unreadable. “Switching covens is not a crime under royal law.”

“Of course not,” Apollo agreed. “But you have to admit that it’s unusual for vampires to change covens without a good reason.”

“They had their reasons, of course,” Altair said, “But I don’t see why I should share those reasons with you. I’ve cooperated with you in the past because we had a common goal, but that doesn’t mean that I will freely grant you insight into the lives of my coven members.”

“I understand that,” Apollo said. “I’m not asking you to divulge any sensitive information. I simply wanted to ask them, as coven defectors, if they know anything that might shed some light on this coven’s possible illegal activities.” Apollo straightened in his seat. He hadn’t expected Altair to give him anything for free. Fortunately, he’d come prepared. 

Except that it was difficult to focus on the discussion and the vampire in front of him when his attention kept slipping back to the other one. Mordyn didn’t seem particularly engaged in the conversation either. Every time Apollo glanced his way, the vampire stared right back at him. 

As if Mordyn knew what kind of effect he had on Apollo.

Could it be some sort of magic? 

A special vampire talent that he was using to distract Apollo from the conversation at hand? 

That had to be it. 

Apollo cleared his throat, looking at Altair again. He half wanted to ask for Mordyn to be sent out of the room, but the vampire lord wouldn’t agree, and Apollo didn’t want to admit defeat. “We’ve talked to the king’s office,” he said, making himself focus on the negotiation. “They’re willing to grant you certain favors if you’re willing to cooperate with us again.”

Altair’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Favors? Such as?”

“Such as granting you funds to bolster your security.” Apollo was careful not to imply that Altair’s coven needed said funds. “Or you could use the money to build an extension onto your club. You have more members now, don’t you? You could probably use the extra space.”

“Interesting,” Altair said.  “I’ve requested permission to expand before, but there always seemed to be one reason or another for my requests to be denied.”

“I’m sure the king could take care of your problem,” Apollo assured him. “If you’re willing to help us take care of *our* problem.”

“Of course.” Altair gave Apollo another smile, though this one didn’t seem any more real than the last. “Which coven is it that you’re investigating now?” 

“The Nightfall coven.” Apollo studied Altair’s face as he spoke the name. There wasn’t much to see there. If Altair had any particular opinion about that coven, he didn’t let it show on his features. “Are you familiar with them?”

“Only vaguely,” Altair said. “We did take in a few of their members. You suspect them of engaging in illegal trades?”

“Yes. And maybe worse.” Apollo’s expression turned grim. “The reports I’ve received from my team indicate that they may have helped all the other criminal covens smuggle their mortals out of the country after the raids started. If we can get them to talk, we may be able to blow this whole thing wide open and rescue dozens of enslaved mortals.” That was what Apollo needed to focus on. Not the strange sensation that washed over him when he looked at Mordyn.

He clenched his fist, fingers digging into his palm, and kept his gaze trained on Altair, who, for the first time, showed some honest interest.

“You truly believe the humans that have been smuggled out of the country could still be found?” he asked.

Apollo nodded. “Absolutely. I’m not going to stop until they’re freed.”

“How are you going to do that?” Mordyn spoke up. 

The sound of his voice momentarily startled Apollo. For some reason, he hadn’t expected Mordyn to join the conversation. He’d been content to be quiet so far. “What do you mean?” he asked, looking at Mordyn again. Sadly, he had no excuse not to, now.

Mordyn met his gaze and held it. “If the mortals have been taken out of the country, how are you going to follow them? You have the king’s aid here, but he won’t be able to support you if your charges are somewhere underwater or deep within the fae forests.”

Apollo tried to ignore how oddly familiar Mordyn’s voice sounded. He’d heard it before, frequently, but the feeling was so vague that it might as well have belonged to a dream. “If the mortals have been taken underwater, I’ll just have to get my feet wet,” he said stubbornly. “I’m not going to give up just because things get a little uncomfortable.” 

Mordyn huffed a sound that was caught halfway between a laugh and disbelief. “Uncomfortable? That’s an interesting way to say pretty fucking dangerous. How do you expect to fight a bunch of vampires without the king’s forces?” 

Apollo’s eyes narrowed at the vampire. “I don’t see how that’s any of your concern.”

Who was this man to be questioning his abilities?

“It’s my concern because you’re asking for our help,” Mordyn countered. “Why should we help you if you’re only going to get yourself killed with the information we give you?” 

“Mordyn,” Altair cut in, a warning in his tone. “We should let the task force handle their own affairs.” 

“Thank you,” Apollo said to the vampire lord, though he couldn’t quite tear his gaze away from Mordyn yet. Who did this vampire think he was to be butting into Apollo’s business like that?

***

Apollo didn’t owe him an explanation, but damn if Mordyn didn’t want to hear one anyway.

He had questions, and he couldn’t keep them contained.

How did Apollo expect to fight vampires on his own?

What could he possibly want to do that for?

Sure, he’d killed *one* vampire, but he couldn’t survive against a group.

Apollo’s face had darkened, his cheeks flushed with indignation, the color standing out on his pale complexion, almost like a vampire’s but not quite. He stared at Mordyn as if Mordyn had done something to personally offend him.

The intensity of his gaze made Mordyn’s chest tighten. He inhaled sharply, trying to ignore the scent of Apollo’s blood in the air. The whole room was filled with it. 

“Apollo wouldn’t be by himself,” Ceska said as if she felt the need to dispel the tension in the room. “He would have the rest of the taskforce behind him. We’re all adamant to get those mortals to safety.” 

That was some comfort, but not enough for Mordyn’s heart rate to slow back down. “You shouldn’t put yourself in danger.”

Apollo scoffed. “I’m in danger just *existing* in this world. All for the crime of being mortal. This task force has been established to change that, but change won’t happen by itself. We’ll have to fight for it.” 

The man had fire inside of him.

Something that burned in the depths of his soul, a flame that kept him going in spite of all obstacles.

Mordyn remembered that fire well. Jory had had it in him too, even if the *cause* Jory had been fighting for was much different from Apollo’s.

Their spirit was the same.

And just as he had a hundred years ago, Mordyn felt himself drawn to it, even as it vexed him. “If you put yourself in unnecessary danger,” Mordyn pointed out, “you won’t be helping anyone. You’ll just get yourself killed.”

“I don’t need your concern.” Apollo’s green eyes sparked with defiance, and his chin jutted in protest.

God help him, Mordyn wanted to kiss him.

He wanted to touch that soft skin, to press Apollo against his body and claim is mouth. He wanted to brush his thumb over the almond-shaped birthmark on Apollo’s temple.

He wanted to drag him out of this room and lock him up somewhere he could not hurt himself.

If Apollo so badly wanted to fight a vampire, let him fight Mordyn. Let him punch and kick and break Mordyn’s heart, just as long as he wasn’t getting hurt in the process. He could stab at Mordyn all day long if that kept him safe.

Mordyn clenched his fist, forcing his thoughts to a halt. “Maybe it’s the success of the mission I’m concerned for,” he lied.

Apollo tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes at Mordyn, as if trying to see through him. “You’re that worried about the mortals I’m trying to safe? Or do you just want to see more vampires locked up so they can’t stand in the way of your coven?”

Altair spoke before Mordyn could. “The outcome of this mission will have an effect on all of us, naturally.” He shot a sidelong glance at Mordyn as if telling him to shut up for once. “Let us discuss exactly what kind of help we might provide you,” he said, focusing on Apollo. 

Apollo turned to Altair as well, but Mordyn could tell that his emotions were still all over the place, no matter how calm a mask he tried to pull over his features. He was worried about the mortals slaves who might be experiencing horrible things right now, but that wasn’t all. He was also struggling to contain his annoyance with Mordyn. 

Mordyn’s lips twitched at all that hot passion directed at him, even if it was negative in nature.

He’d always loved that fiery side of his mate.

Even when it meant trouble for him.

*Especially* when it meant trouble for him.

Mordyn made himself look down at the table. It had been a stupid idea for him to come here with Altair. Keegan had called this an opportunity, but Mordyn couldn’t see it as such. How was he supposed to make an intelligent decision when his mate’s proximity made him want to act purely on instinct? 

All he’d done so far was to piss Apollo off, and as much as he enjoyed that, it wasn’t productive. 

For the rest of the meeting, he left the talking to Altair.

He found it difficult to follow what was being said while his thoughts kept going back to his mate, past and present, but he got the gist of the discussion. Altair agreed to help Apollo, with some reservations. For one, Apollo would not be allowed to talk to any of his vampires by himself. For another, their involvement was going to be kept from the ears and eyes of the public. In return, Altair tried to negotiate for a considerable sum to be paid upfront. 

Apollo didn’t seem amenable to the idea, though. 

After a little back and forth, Altair asked for a short break to discuss with Mordyn. 

Mordyn’s stomach churned as he rose from the table and followed Altair into one of the adjacent rooms. He could guess what his boss was going to ask. 

“You know why I brought you along,” Altair said. 

Mordyn licked his lips. “I don’t think my skills would help us here.” 

“Oh?” Altair raised a curious eyebrow at him. “He’s close to giving us what we want. All he needs is a little nudge.” 

Mordyn grimaced. No doubt, Altair had read Apollo’s thoughts, and Mordyn wondered what else he’d found there. Surely the mortal wasn’t thinking solely about the ongoing negotiations. “I’m not going to nudge him,” Mordyn said flatly. 

Altair seemed less surprised about that than Mordyn had expected, considering he’d never refused an order like that before. His boss only rubbed his chin and looked thoughtful. “He’s preoccupied with you.” 

Mordyn looked away. Altair would need eye contact to read his thoughts, and Mordyn didn’t want his thoughts read just then. “How do you mean?”

Apollo couldn’t remember him. Mortals never remembered their past incarnations, did they?

But he might feel the tug of their bond all the same. 

Mordyn hadn’t been sure he would. 

“You’re preoccupied with him too,” Altair said. “I don’t need to read your mind to know that. You’re hiding something from me. Who is Apollo to you? I’ve searched his mind, but he doesn’t know.”

Mordyn exhaled. “He’s someone I used to know.” Still, he didn’t meet Altair’s gaze. Once Altair stumbled on Jory’s name in Mordyn’s mind, Altair would know everything, and Mordyn wasn’t ready for his friend to know. 

“He doesn’t remember you,” Altair said. 

“He’s not supposed to,” Mordyn replied, unable to hide the bitter note that crept into his voice. His mate would have been better off never meeting Mordyn again. 

It seemed he’d said too much, though, because when he looked up, understanding flicked across Altair’s features. “You knew him before he was Apollo,” he said. 

Mordyn didn’t say anything. What was there to say? He could hardly deny it. 

“That’s why you won’t nudge him.” Altair rubbed his chin again. “I suppose I can’t force you. Or rather, I won’t.”

Mordyn nodded silently. 

“I meant it when I said that we’re friends first,” Altair said, glancing back at the closed door that separated them from the mortals on the other side. “If he’s your mate, I won’t stand in the way of whatever you plan to do with him.” He turned his gaze back on Mordyn. “He’s changed, though, hasn’t he?”

“A little.” Mordyn’s eyes strayed toward the door as well, picturing Apollo on the other side. Altair had never known Jory very well, so he probably missed all the subtle similarities between the two. 

“Fate’s a funny thing, isn’t it?” Altair shook his head. “To think that Jory would be reborn as someone who fights vampires after he spent his whole life championing them.”

“Not all of them,” Mordyn said. “Only the good ones.”

“This version of him doesn’t acknowledge that there are any good vampires.”

“Yeah.” Mordyn closed his eyes briefly. “That’s probably for the best.” 

Back in the day, before mortals had become so few as to be considered ‘extinct,’ when everything was still in flux, Jory had tried his hardest to convince his fellow mortals that they could live in harmony with vampires, that they didn’t have to fight each other. He’d been convinced that if mortals just donated a little blood, there’d be no motive for vampires to attack random mortals in the streets. He’d been convinced that vampires were still people who could be reasoned with.

People who only wanted to live in peace, the same as everyone else. 

With a little help from Mordyn, he’d gained support rapidly.

In the end, though, his dreams had only made him a target for the kind of vampires who had no interest in being ruled by a mortal government, who had no interest in a world in which they could not enslave mortals. 

Jory had always had too much faith in vampires. 

Until it got him killed. 

Mordyn’s jaw clenched. 

It was better that Apollo believed all vampires were monsters. 

Far better.

***

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ceska asked while they waited for the vampires to return. “You don’t seem like yourself. Is your head bothering you?”

Apollo didn’t know how to answer her question. He could, for the millionth time, explain to her that his cheek had been hurt, but not his head. Doing so *was* likely to give him a headache, though. “I’m fine,” he said, eventually, though that wasn’t exactly true. His skin prickled in odd places and he wanted to leave this room in the worst way. 

*Before* the vampires came back. 

“I just want to get this over with,” he said. And then, preferably, he never wanted to see Mordyn again. Whatever that vampire was doing to him, it was unpleasant. He looked to Ceska. “We’ve warded this office against the use of magic, have we not?” 

“Yes,” Ceska assured him. “But some vampires have innate talents that can’t be controlled like that.” 

Apollo sighed. He knew that. 

“Do you think they’re up to something?” Ceska asked.

“I have no doubt.” Apollo glanced at the door the vampires had left through. “I just can’t put my finger on it.” 

Usually when he saw a vampire, his first reaction was disgust. He wasn’t disgusted by Mordyn, though. He was definitely wary of the man, but not in the normal way. His feelings toward Mordyn had a different kind of intensitiy behind them. He wanted to get away from the vampire, and at the same time, he couldn’t stop staring at him.

It was irritating beyond belief. 

Apollo wasn’t a hormonal teenager. He’d never *been* a hormonal teenager.

So why couldn’t he stop thinking about the shape of Mordyn’s lips?

He caught himself wondering what it would be like to have those lips against his skin, trailing down his neck.

The image his mind painted for him was so vivid it almost seemed real. As if he was drawing from memory rather than imagination, he felt the ghost of Mordyn’s hands on his skin, fingertips tracing lines from his jaw down to his collarbone, leaving goosebumps behind as firm lips brushed his.

Fuck.

Apollo breathed out and closed his eyes, trying to chase away the vision.

Where the hell had that come from?

As if on cue, the door opened again and the two vampires entered the room.

Apollo tore his eyes away from them immediately and fixed them on the notepad in his hands, fully aware that some vampires possesed the ability to read minds. He didn’t think Mordyn was among them, but he wasn’t about to take chances.

He swallowed as the two vampires settled into their seats across the table from him.

“I’ve thought about your offer,” Altair said. “I’d be willing to make some concessions if you’re willing to conduct your interviews on my coven’s premises.”

Apollo frowned. “Why?”

“I like to be in control of what’s happening.” Altair smiled, showing off sharp fangs. “If you want to question my vampires, you’ll do so at my home.”

“People will see me there,” Apollo pointed out. “You wanted to keep this private, remember?”

“You won’t be entering through the club, naturally.” Altair shrugged. “There are other entrances that are less conspicuous.”

Apollo tapped his pen on the notepad with a little too much pressure, trying to puzzle out what exactly Altair thought he would gain from this. 

“It’s too dangerous,” Ceska spoke up. “You can’t expect Apollo to walk into a vampire’s den when you’re all lusting for mortal blood.” She glared at Altair as if daring him to disagree. “You won’t be able to guarantee his safety.”

Altair’s cool gaze shifted from Apollo to Ceska. “I think we’ve already proven that we’re capable of hosting mortals without killing them.”

Ceska scoffed, but Apollo shook his head at her, signaling that he wanted to handle this himself. “Ceska’s right,” he said. “Your request seems unreasonable.”

“Fine.” Altair leaned back in his chair. “If you’re not willing to cooperate with me on that front, allow me to make a different request.”

“What request is that?” Against his better judgement, Apollo raised his gaze to meet Altair’s. The vampire had an almost smug expression on his face as he spoke, ringing all the alarm bells in Apollo’s head.

“You won’t talk to any of my vampires without Mordyn.” Altair motioned at the man beside him. “He will act as my representative at all times, and his approval will be required whenever you want to meet with any of my vampires.”

Apollo blinked in surprise. 

Of all the things Altair could possibly have requested…

Did it have to be Mordyn?

Apollo swallowed back the impulse to decline. He’d already declined Altair’s first request, and he didn’t have a good reason to decline this one. At least, no good reason that he could put into words the vampire would understand. 

His gaze flicked to the vampire by Altair’s side. Mordyn stared at his boss with eyes slightly narrowed.

*He* wasn’t happy with this turn of events either.

But Apollo didn’t think Altair’s choice was arbitrary.

The vampire must have noticed that his enforcer was distracting Apollo.

What kind of game was he playing?

Apollo couldn’t begin to guess the answer, but there was one thing he could say for sure. He didn’t want Mordyn involved in this investigation at all, much less involved to this extent.

“What seems to be the problem?” Altair asked as if he’d made a completely reasonable request.

“I don’t need someone to watch me conduct my interviews,” Apollo said, keeping his voice as even-tempered as he could. 

“I see.” Altair rose from his chair. “Well, it’s certainly regrettable that we couldn’t come to an agreement, but I’m sure you’ll find the information you seek elsewhere.”

Apollo suppressed a deep sigh. This vampire was definitely playing him, but what could he do? “Wait,” he said. “I’m sure we can get you more money if that would help.”

Altair shook his head. “This is not about money. It would simply not be productive for you to talk to my vampires by yourself. Even if they told you about their previous covens, how would you know they’re not lying? Mordyn here is a living lie detector.” He nodded at his enforcer. 

Apollo clenched his hands until his nails dug into his palms. He didn’t like this, not one bit. He didn’t trust Mordyn, and he didn’t want to be watched by him while doing his job. 

How could he focus on his mission when he had this vampire in the room with him, playing tricks on his mind?

It would be impossible.

But he also knew that if he didn’t agree to Altair’s terms, he’d lose access to the Rubyville coven and all the vampires it harbored. 

He glanced at Ceska, who looked just as unhappy about this turn of events as he was.

Ceska licked her lips, then addressed Altair. “How do we know he won’t be lying?” she asked, gesturing at Mordyn. 

“You can place the same trust in him that you would place in me,” Altair said easily. “You might not trust me either, of course, but if you don’t, there’s no really no sense in cooperating at all, is there?”

Apollo took a deep breath and released it. “Fine,” he said, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “I’ll agree to your terms.”

Altair smiled, satisfied. “Good.” He sat back down and gestured for Apollo to do the same. “Now, we can discuss the details.”

They spent the next half hour hashing out the details of their agreement. Apollo would be allowed to interview members of the Rubyville coven, but only in the presence of Mordyn. Altair would provide Apollo with a list of all the vampires who had joined their coven since the raids had started, and Apollo could choose who he wanted to talk to. 

Once the details had been finalized, Altair stood up and offered Apollo his hand. “I look forward to working with you, Apollo.”

Apollo hesitated for a moment before taking Altair’s hand. “Likewise,” he said, trying to sound cordial.

As soon as Altair released his hand, Apollo turned and walked out of the office, Ceska following close behind.

He didn’t look back at Mordyn, but he could feel the vampire’s gaze on his back.

Apollo hid a grimace. The next time they met, he would have to put an end to whatever magic Mordyn was using on him.


New Chapter

Sleep didn’t come easy to Apollo that night, and when it did, he fell into the strangest kind of dream. He found himself in a bar, the kind of place where flashing lights flickered above the dance floor and the music pulsed through the air like a living thing. 

As he stood, stupified, a server brushed past him, carrying a tray with shots that shimmered like liquid gold. 

When he moved to get out of the way, his body didn’t move like his own. It was as if someone else had taken the wheel, making him sway his hips just so, his feet moving him closer to the center of the club, where a crowd of people writhed and danced and laughed.

His gaze swept the room, but he knew what he was looking for, and the moment he found it, a shiver ran down his spine, making his heart beat faster.

A man stood on the dancefloor. A vampire. 

He’d noticed him here before, but he’d never quite worked up the nerve to talk to him. Tonight, though, was the night he’d promised himself he’d take action. He’d aced his political science exam today and he’d earned himself some fun, right?

He’d come here to let loose, not to worry about possibly getting rejected. He wasn’t going to waste his chance.

He pushed himself off the wall and sauntered toward the man he wanted to talk to.

He had the perfect pick up line prepared. He’d practiced saying it a thousand times.

He just had to get within range to deliver it. He had to be close enough that the vampire would hear his voice even through the thumping music. Close enough to touch.

The vampire’s attention turned toward him.

He was smiling, and Apollo felt a smile spread over his face, too, even as he felt like someone had poured ice water over him. He shivered, goosebumps erupting all over his skin as all his carefully prepared words died in his mouth. His heart raced as he came to stand in front of the tall vampire, whose hair shone in electric blue hues under the flickering lights. 

It was Mordyn. 

He didn’t look the way he did in real life, though. He seemed younger, somehow, more relaxed. Mischief danced in his eyes when he leaned in and whispered something against Apollo’s ear.

Apollo couldn’t make sense of the words. The only thing he registered was the warmth of Mordyn’s breath against his skin, making him shudder. He closed his eyes, breathing in the vampire’s scent as it mingled with the sweat of the dancing bodies around them. He smelled like leather and something darker, musky, and it went straight to Apollo’s brain, setting his neurons alight. 

Fuck. What was this dream? 

Why was he at a bar, lusting after a vampire and thinking about exams when he’d never attended college in his life?

These questions troubled him, but they got swept away when Mordyn’s hands came to rest on his hips and this body that was not his reacted without any permission from him. He laughed at something the vampire said, and then they were dancing, moving in rhythm with the beat that vibrated through them like a shared heartbeat.

Apollo never danced, but his dream body seemed to know what it was doing. He pressed closer to Mordyn, letting their bodies grind against each other. The solid feel of Mordyn against him made Apollo’s head swim, and he wanted nothing more than to kiss the man, to pull him close and taste him.

He tilted his head back instead, and Mordyn’s lips brushed against his exposed throat.

Apollo gasped.

His cock stirred, pressing painfully against his jeans.

He was hard and aching.

At the promise of a vampire’s bite. 

In the dream, though, this seemed natural.

Like he’d wanted it for weeks.

“Tell me if I you need me to back off.” Mordyn’s voice sounded in Apollo’s ears, clear even through the loud music. “I’ve had my eyes on you for a while.”

Heat rushed through Apollo’s veins. “Really?”

A chuckle escaped Mordyn’s throat. “Yeah, really.” His lips trailed kisses along Apollo’s jawline. “I’m Mordyn,” he introduced himself.

“I’m–“

Apollo woke up before he could get his name out. He sat up abruptly in his bed, gasping for breath, heart racing in his chest. What the hell?

That dream had seemed so real. 

He *never* had dreams like that.

Especially not about vampires.

His cock was still half-hard. He could almost still *feel* Mordyn against him, his lips burning a path across Apollo’s skin.

He shook his head.

No, he couldn’t.

He wouldn’t.

His body might be reacting to the vampire’s proximity–some kind of weird magical trick that he had no control over–but his mind still knew right from wrong.

He wasn’t going to jack off to thoughts of Mordyn, no matter how much his cock throbbed in his underwear.

Apollo groaned.

He threw the covers off and stumbled toward the bathroom, cursing his traitorous dick for getting excited about such nonsense.

Mordyn was a fucking vampire. An asshole. A monster. Apollo didn’t want him.

He turned on the faucet in the shower and stepped underneath it, cold water washing over him, chasing away the last remnants of sleep and all the heat of his unwanted desire. 

It had been a stupid dream. 

Nothing more. 

***

“You look tired,” Ceska remarked as she entered the office the next day. Apollo had gotten there early, hoping to catch up on some of the paperwork that had been piling up. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to get much accomplished today either.

“Didn’t sleep well,” he replied, rubbing his forehead. “Nightmares.”

“Oh yeah? What about?” She put a cup of tea in front of Apollo before sitting down at her desk across from him. 

Apollo grimaced. He didn’t really want to think about the dream again. Much less talk about it. “Stuff,” he mumbled.

Ceska raised an eyebrow at him, waiting. When he didn’t offer any further information, she prompted, “What kind of stuff?”

“Vampires.” Apollo sighed. He might as well tell her. She’d keep asking until he did, anyway.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Ceska rested a hand on his shoulder like a concerned older sister. “Did you dream of the attack?”

Apollo considered saying yes so they could drop the matter, but he didn’t want Ceska to think that the attack had traumatized him either. She’d already taken to treating him like something fragile. “It wasn’t that.” He rubbed his face. “It was a different vampire.” 

“Well,” Ceska pursed her lips. “they all suck.”

“They do indeed.”

Ceska glanced at the framed picture that stood on Apollo’s desk: Apollo and his sister as children. 

Apollo followed her gaze. Did she think Apollo had dreamed about the vampires who’d killed his sister? It wasn’t like that, but he might as well let her believe it. God knew he’d had enough nightmares around his sister’s death to turn the lie into a truth. Almost, anyway. 

“What was she like?” Ceska asked. “Your sister.”

“A pain in my ass, but I loved her.” Apollo picked up the frame and looked at their dirty, smiling faces. His sister was barely ten in the picture; he must have been around twelve.

“How old was she when…” Ceska trailed off. “I’m asking to many questions, aren’t I? This must be difficult for you to talk about. I’m sorry.”

Apollo shook his head. It was true that he didn’t like to talk about this topic at length, but just then, he welcomed the distraction. At least thoughts of his sister reminded him what he was doing all of this for; and why it was ridiculous for him to fantasize about vampires. “It’s all right. She was sixteen when they took her.” Apollo put down the frame on his desk and looked back at Ceska. “She was a smartass, but she was resourceful, too. Younger than me, but always acting like she was the older sibling, reminding me to brush my teeth and all that. She got good at finding plants and flowers and creating her own scent mixes, swearing they’d help us hide from vampires and dangerous shifters.”

“You lived in the Fringes, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” Apollo smiled faintly. “It was a different kind of live than people lead here.”

“Do you miss it?” Ceska leaned her elbow onto the table, chin resting in her palm.

Apollo shrugged. “It’s not really the kind of place you miss for any reason other than a sense of nostalgia.” 

“Nostalgia can be pretty powerful.”

Apollo inclined his head in agreement. Someday, he’d like to go back and see if he could help improve things there, but right now, the sun kingdom was where he could be of most use to his fellow mortals. “I’ve got other things to focus on now.”

“True.” Ceska licked her lips in the way she did when she had something unpleasant to say.

“What is it?” 

“We got some messages from the Rubyville coven overnight. We got that list of names we were promised, and they’re saying they’ll make arrangements for you to meet these vampires as soon as you’re ready.”

“That’s a good thing,” Apollo said, but he understood why Ceska was frowning. His own stomach churned as well. Neither of them really wanted to be working with these vampires.

But they didn’t have a choice.

Not if they wanted to save lives.

“I don’t like the way that vampire looked at you yesterday.” Ceska’s features drew into grim lines.

“What do you mean?”

“He kept looking at you. The enforcer. Like he couldn’t take his eyes off you. It made my skin crawl.” She shook herself. “He was probably picturing you as his next meal, and now you’re supposed to work with the guy.”

Apollo swallowed, because that wasn’t how *he’d* interpreted those looks. “I don’t think he’ll make a meal of me.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“I’ll be fine,” Apollo insisted, trying not to let his mind wander back to last night’s dream. “I can handle myself, and I can certainly handle him.” His hand slid to the knife he kept on him at all times.

If the vampire made one wrong move, it would be *his* blood staining the carpet. Not Apollo’s.


New Chapter

Mordyn stood on the rooftop of the club, the cool night air brushing against his skin. He gazed down at the streets below without seeing them. There wasn’t much to see, anyway, at this time of night. The sun would rise in just a few hours, and then he’d have to go to sleep.

Hah.

As if he could sleep with all these thoughts buzzing in his head like a swarm of angry bees. 

Why had Altair thrown him under the bus like that? After more than a decade of loyalty from Mordyn! Mordyn could have left this coven when Altair killed their sire. Many others had. But no, Mordyn had stayed. Because they were friends. Family. 

At least he’d thought so.

“Stupid,” Mordyn muttered to himself. 

He hadn’t sworn his loyalty to Alt just for the other vampire to treat him like this. 

A crow took flight on one of the neighboring rooftops at the sharp noise of Mordyn’s fist slamming against the railing of the roof. It cawed once at him, scolding him for the interruption, before taking off into the night.

He watched its dark shape disappear among the buildings, wondering if it was one of Altair’s birds. 

Probably, because the Caller of Crows joined him on the roof not long after Mordyn had startled the animal. “I take it you’re pissed.”

“Of course I’m fucking pissed.” Mordyn whirled around. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“You should thank me,” Altair said without flinching. “You get to spend quality time with your mate. You’ll be able to get to know him as the person he’s become.”

“I don’t *want* to spend time with him.” Mordyn glared at the other vampire. “You claimed to be my friend. Was that a load of bullshit?”

“Of course not.” Altair shook his head. “Remember how much you interfered in my plans when Sven first showed up here? Were you not my friend then?” 

“That was different!” Mordyn huffed. He’d only meddled with Altair’s plans then because Altair had been too blockheaded to do the right thing. “You were clearly in love with Sven, and you would have ruined it.” 

Altair looked unimpressed. “And you think you won’t ruin things between you and your mate?”

Mordyn scoffed. “Everything between me and him is *already* ruined. If you’re pushing me at him, all you’re doing is pushing me into the shards of all our broken dreams.”

Altair considered him quietly for a moment, then his lips twitched. “I see love is turning you into a poet. Forgive me, but I can’t take you seriously when you talk like that.”

The bastard had the gall to fucking laugh at him.  “Do you think this is funny?” Mordyn snarled.

“A little,” Altair admitted, then his expression sobered. “I understand that this is difficult for you, but you’ll gain nothing by avoiding Apollo.” 

“You understand nothing.” A spark of indignation lit up inside Mordyn and caught fire. How could Altair stand there and pretend he understood when all Mordyn could think of was the moment he’d felt the connection between him and Jory break? When he’d known that, in spite of all his efforts, his mate was dead. 

He’d never felt anything like the pain he’d felt then. 

And it had never truly left him. 

Altair, though, held his gaze. “You think I don’t know the pain of losing a lover? Of blaming yourself for their death?” 

Mordyn swallowed hard. There was nothing he could say in response to that that wouldn’t insult his friend, and though Mordyn was mad at him, he wasn’t mad enough to spit on the memory of Altair’s dead partner. 

“She might not have been chosen for me by destiny,” Altair said quietly, “but I loved her all the same. And I ended her life.” 

Mordyn averted his eyes and stared down at the street again.

Altair never usually talked about Isabella. They all knew what had happened, and they all knew not to mention it, as if their silence could drown the story and make it less real. 

Altair had changed after Isabella’s death, and Mordyn hadn’t been surprised by that. *He’d* changed too, after Jory, but they’d never compared their scars before. 

What was the point, after all?

Crying together would not undo the past, nor would it bring their loved ones back. 

Except that Jory *had* come back, as a different person, and Mordyn was determined not to make the same mistakes again. 

“I’ll take back what I said about you, but I still don’t agree with your actions, or your take on my situation.” Mordyn turned to look at Altair once more. “You got a fresh start with Sven, and I rooted for you. Me and Apollo, though? That’s different.”

Altair raised one eyebrow at him. “Is it really?”

“There’s history between us, even if he doesn’t remember.”

“Maybe,” Altair conceded, “but are you going to let your history keep you from forging a new future?”

“That depends, does that future include him ending up hurt or dead?” Mordyn crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Because I don’t need a future like that.”

“Sounds like you’re scared.”

Mordyn gritted his teeth, trying not to let Altair get under his skin, even though he was right. He *was* scared. Scared shitless, even. He couldn’t lose Jory–lose Apollo–again. 

“I was scared too.” Altair’s voice softened, and he stepped up to the edge of the building next to Mordyn. “I still am, sometimes. When I look at Sven, and I imagine losing him the way I lost Isabella.” He exhaled slowly. “It’s terrifying.”

Mordyn licked his lips, unsure how to respond. He and Altair had been friends and coven mates for longer than some humans lived, and yet, they’d never spoken about their feelings like this. They had each other’s backs in combat, and they shared drinks when they needed to unwind, but this was different.

This was raw emotion spilling into the open.

It was new territory, and Mordyn found himself at a loss.

“How do you handle it?” he finally let himself voice the question that was bubbling up in him. 

“Badly, sometimes.” Altair chuckled, but there was no humor in it. “Sometimes I get irritable and I snap at him like it’s his fault that I love him so much I can’t stand the thought of losing him. He’s learned to roll with my bullshit.” Altair paused. “The other day, he actually whacked me over the head with a rolled-up newspaper as if I was a misbehaving dog, can you believe it?”

Mordyn snorted. He could picture Sven doing it, and he enjoyed the image his mind painted for him. 

“He told me that he wasn’t going to tolerate me being a dick to him. And he’s right.” Altair sighed. “I don’t ever want him to regret choosing me.” He glanced at Mordyn. “Do you want to know how I handle it when I’m *not* being an ass?”

Mordyn nodded. He wanted to know that very much indeed.

“I hold Sven tight and tell him I love him. I remind myself that if he dies tomorrow, I’d rather have spent every second of our time together loving him as best as I can. It’s better than wasting my time with him being scared of things I can’t control.”

Mordyn closed his eyes for a moment. Then he shook his head. “What if he’s better off without me?”

Altair studied him from the side. “The man’s dead-set on fighting vampires. Do you really believe he’s better off without you by his side?” 

Mordyn bit back a groan of frustration. God, he hated the fact that Apollo was so eager to put himself in danger. “I’d rather stop him than help him on this crusade. He’s turning half the vampires in this kingdom into his enemies.” He didn’t need Keegan’s abilities to see how that would end. Not when he’d already seen it once. 

“I doubt he can be stopped.” 

Mordyn grimaced. If Apollo was half as stubborn in this life as he had been in his past life… 

“You know what you need to do,” Altair said. 

Fuck him, but he was right. Mordyn *did* know what he needed to do. He needed to find a way to stick close to Apollo so he could shield him from the attacks that were sure to come. 

Seen from that perspective, Altair had done him a favor in forcing Apollo to work with him. 

Mordyn wasn’t going to thank him for it, though. 

Not yet. 


New Chapter 

Apollo had rented the office across the street again for their first interview. It was miles better than venturing into the coven’s headquarters to conduct his investigation, but that didn’t mean he felt completely at ease as he waited for the two vampires to show up. His security team had pushed a panic button on him which he kept in the pocket of his jeans, and he felt for it now, just to make sure that it was there and ready to be used. Just in case he needed it. 

He didn’t think he would, but you could never be too cautious around vampires. 

Today he’d requested to talk to Balea, a vampire lady who used to belong to the Nightfall coven. According to his intelligence, she hadn’t held any high rank within the coven, but maybe that would make her more likely to share what she knew. 

She arrived five minutes after the agreed upon time, accompanied by Mordyn. The two of them stepped into the office together. 

Apollo tried to keep his gaze on the lady. He really did. He studied her appearance, taking note of the fact that she wore a long skirt in a shade of blue that matched her eyes, as well as a white, loose-fitting shirt. Her black hair cascaded over her shoulders like a curtain, reaching down to her waist.

If she hadn’t been a vampire, she might have looked appealing–to someone else. 

Ten seconds into their meeting, five seconds after he’d refused a handshake, Apollo’s attention slid over to Mordyn instead. 

The vampire looked no different today than he had last time, with one exception: the way he held himself. He was *all* tension.

He’d seemed on edge during their previous meeting too, but nothing like this. 

Apollo’s gaze lingered for a moment, noting the rigid lines of the vampire’s body, the way he moved as he sat down across from Apollo. Everything about him spoke of discomfort. 

He looked so very different from the vampire Apollo had seen in his dream.

Apollo tore his gaze away and looked back at his notes. He really shouldn’t be thinking about that dream, or where it had come from. His mind wasn’t so easily distracted, though. Even as he pretended to be busy with the papers on the desk,  his thoughts kept wandering to the memory of Mordyn’s lips on his skin, the feel of his hands on Apollo’s hips as they danced together.

*Not* a memory, he corrected himself.

He’d never danced with Mordyn. 

He’d only dreamed of it, and a dream was nothing more than whatever random bullshit his mind threw up while he was sleeping. Dreams didn’t mean anything. When he was a kid he’d often dreamed about being chased through the streets of his hometown. Those dreams didn’t make him think he had any particular desire to be chased. They were just dreams, and he’d never paid them any mind.

Same went for Mordyn.

He wasn’t attracted to the guy. Not really.

Just because he’d had one fucked up dream about him didn’t mean a damn thing.

“Sorry, are you listening?” The vampire lady got his attention. 

Apollo looked up, realizing that he had, in fact, not been listening. “My apologies,” he said. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” Or the night before that. He pinched the bridge of his nose, unable to remember when he’d last felt well-rested. 

He could rest after all this was done. 

“That’s all right,” Balea said. “I’d just like to get this over while the night’s still young.”

“Yes, of course.” Apollo did his best to shake himself out of his thoughts. He glanced at his notepad again and picked up a pen. “How long were you with the Nightfall coven?” 

“Uh, ever since I was turned, I guess.” She shrugged. “That’s how it usually goes, isn’t it? We don’t really get to pick our covens, most of the time, so I got stuck with that sorry bunch.”

Apollo raised an eyebrow at her. You didn’t usually hear vampires talk badly about their covens, but then, this one had defected, so maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. 

Next to Balea, though, Mordyn seemed a little surprised too. The way he looked at her, he probably wondered if she thought of *his* coven as a sorry bunch as well.

Apollo cleared his throat, trying to get back on track. “How long ago was that?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s gotta be… I don’t know. Ten decades, maybe more?” She frowned. “I lose track of time. I’ve got better shit to do than count years.”

‘Better shit.’ 

Right.

Apollo tried not to think about what kind of activities this vampire might have occupied her time with. Probably nothing as innocent as TV shows and magazines. 

Before he could stop himself, his attention slid to Mordyn again, wondering what *he* spent his time doing. The Rubyville coven ran a nightclub, didn’t they? Did Mordyn spend his nights dancing? 

Apollo imagined him on the dancefloor, grinding against the bodies of countless strangers, and a shiver of displeasure ran down his spine.

Fuck, what was this?

Unexpectedly, Mordyn met his gaze, an unspoken question on his face, almost as if he could read Apollo’s thoughts.

Could he?

Apollo’s eyes narrowed. 

Altair had said something about Mordyn being a living lie detector, but Apollo had neglected to think about exactly what that might mean. How did Mordyn know if someone was lying to him? Was he a mindreader?

Or someone who could manipulate thoughts? Could he plant his own ideas into someone else’s head? 

Was that why Apollo couldn’t stop thinking about him?

“Something wrong?” Mordyn asked. 

“Yes,” Apollo said without hesitation. Something was definitely wrong. With him, with Mordyn, with this whole situation. He didn’t know what it was, but none of this was right. 

Mordyn was a vampire. A monster. 

Apollo *killed* vampires. 

He didn’t fantasize about fucking them. 

“Care to elaborate?” Mordyn asked. 

Oh, Apollo would elaborate, but not in front of an audience. “You and I need to talk,” he said. “Alone.” He motioned at the door leading to the adjacent office which was also empty, and, unlike this one, not monitored by anyone on his team.

Mordyn hesitated briefly, then rose from his chair and strode across the room. He opened the door for Apollo, letting him pass through first. 

Once the door had fallen shut behind him, Apollo whirled toward Mordyn. “I know you’re doing something to screw with my mind, and I need you to stop.”

***

Mordyn raised one eyebrow at the mortal, who looked like he’d barely slept for a week or longer. The dark shadows under Apollo’s eyes contrasted sharply with his pale skin, making Mordyn wish he could take care of him the way he’d used to when Jory had been tired or stressed.

He’d make his favorite tea, with some honey in it, and pop in his favorite movie, and then they’d sit on the couch together and watch it until Jory drifted off on Mordyn’s shoulder.

Those days were gone, though. 

And by the way Apollo glared at him, Mordyn was sure he was one of the reasons the mortal couldn’t find sleep.

“I’m not doing anything to your mind,” he said evenly. 

Apollo scoffed. “You expect me to believe that?”

“It’s the truth.” Mordyn shrugged, wondering what was going on with Apollo to be ordering him out of the room and accusing him like this. He hadn’t manipulated Apollo’s emotions. Hell, the entire meeting so far, he’d done his best to try to block them out. There was anger in the mortal, and lots of it. He was angry at vampires in general, but also at Mordyn specfically. Mordyn didn’t know *why* Apollo was mad at him, but he knew better than to examine the emotion too closely. 

If he did, he’d just get swept up in it. 

There was always a danger of other people’s emotions affecting his. He’d gotten better at controlling his response to his talents over the decades, but with Apollo, he couldn’t close himself off so easily. 

Jory had died, and their bond had been severed. Mordyn knew because he’d felt the pain of it. 

But standing here with Apollo, he also felt that it wasn’t lost entirely. There was a pathway between them, narow and frayed, but it was there, and it made him more vulnerable to Apollo’s mood than Mordyn would have liked when he was trying to keep a calm head.

“You’ve got to be doing *something,*” Apollo insisted. His forehead wrinkled, and his fists clenched at his sides.

“What makes you think that?” Mordyn was dying to know. 

Why was Apollo so agitated?

Was he affected by their past connection?

He watched Apollo lick his lips, and his gaze followed the movement, lingering on the mortal’s mouth.

God, he wished he could kiss those lips. If he did, would they taste like Jory used to, or would they taste different? Sharper? Everything about Apollo seemed sharper. 

But Mordyn didn’t hate that. 

*He’d* gained a few sharp edges himself, since Jory.

Apollo’s frown deepened and he blew out a breath. His frustration was rising, but so was another, different emotion. *Desire*. The mortal tried so hard to suppress it, Mordyn almost felt bad for picking up on it. He couldn’t ignore it, though. For all that Apollo wanted to will it away, it was a bright spark burning inside of him, lighting up Mordyn’s senses like whispers of the sunlight he’d so long gone without.

Jory had been sunshine, always. 

Apollo was sunfire. Eyes blazing as he regarded Mordyn. “Tell me what’s going on.”

Mordyn shook his head, fighting to keep himself from being overwhelmed by Apollo’s heat. Fighting to stay in place when all he wanted to do was to grab Apollo, to claim what his soul knew belonged to him, what his body needed. 

What they both needed. 

His touch wouldn’t be welcome, though. 

“Look,” he made himself say. “I know you’re struggling with your feelings, but I’m not messing with your mind.”

Apollo stared at him for a long moment, eyes searching Mordyn’s face. “What do you know about my feelings? How do you detect lies?”

“I just do,” Mordyn said, because he had no intention to tell Apollo about his talents. If he did, the man was likely to misunderstand. He might get it into his head that Mordyn was toying with his emotions, but Mordyn wasn’t. He never had and never would. 

Apollo narrowed his eyes at Mordyn. “That’s not an answer.” 

“It’s the only one you’ll get.”

Apollo took one step closer to Mordyn, bringing him into dangerous proximity. Mordyn’s heart sped up in anticipation as he breathed in the scent of the other man. He didn’t smell anything like Jory had. His natural scent was more earthy, and there was an undertone of steel to him that was new. 

But Mordyn didn’t just smell his skin or his hair or his clothes. 

He could smell Apollo’s blood too, and *that* was a scent he remembered. 

He knew exactly what it would taste like on his lips.

Fuck, he had to get a hold of himself.

But it was impossible, with Apollo staring at him like he was. “Why can’t I stop thinking about you?” The question escaped Apollo’s mouth in a frustrated whisper that made Mordyn’s heart clench. God, this was killing him.

To have his mate so close, and still so far from him.

To feel his his desire and confusion, his anger and frustration, all going to war with one another, tearing him apart.

Mordyn swallowed hard, trying to find words that would defuse the situation, but he’d never been able to walk past a powder keg without blowing it up, and on the inside, he was *begging* for an explosion.

Before another thought could cross his mind, he acted.

***

Apollo’s breath left him in a rush of air as Mordyn grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling him close, then pushing him up against the wall of the empty office. The impact rattled his bones, but not nearly so much as the feeling of the vampire’s lips on him.

Mordyn claimed his mouth in a bruising kiss that tasted like fire and fed the flames burning inside his own body.

A moan rose from the bottom of Apollo’s throat, and before he realized what he was doing, his fingers dug themselves into Mordyn’s shoulders. He pulled the vampire closer instead of pushing him off.

He should be punching him.

Or reaching for his knife.

Instead his lips parted for Mordyn, welcoming him in. The vampire growled as his tongue slipped into Apollo’s mouth, exploring him as if he was claiming ownership of him.

Apollo shuddered. This wasn’t right. This was so far from right he didn’t think they’d find their way back there with a map and compass. 

His body, though, didn’t seem to care about any of that. It responded eagerly as the vampire pushed against him, pinning his hips against the wall with his own, his arousal obvious even through his pants. He pressed into Apollo, making him groan. Heat rushed through him at the contact, and his cock strained painfully against his underwear, begging to be touched.

He didn’t want this.

He couldn’t want this.

And yet he did. He wanted it so fucking much that his knees felt weak when Mordyn broke the kissed and looked at him with dark eyes full of hunger.

Apollo’s lips tingled as if burned by the intensity of the kiss, and he licked them, unable to tear his gaze from Mordyn’s.

Fuck.

What was this man doing to him, that he couldn’t think straight? That his body responded to him as if he were a werewolf in heat?

“What are you doing to me?” Apollo demanded again, this time without venom. His voice sounded breathless to his own ears, and it was hard to focus when his body screamed for him to pull Mordyn close and kiss him again.

Mordyn looked at him, and for a moment, he almost smiled, but then the corners of his mouth drooped. He released the front of Apollo’s shirt and stepped back, creating space between them that was both wanted and not wanted. 

Space for cold hard reality to creep back in.

“Get out.” Apollo straightened his clothes, ignoring the way his hands shook. His heart beat so hard he knew the vampire could hear it, and he hated it. He didn’t know what Mordyn wanted from him, but he must be loving this state he’d put Apollo in. 

He swallowed the curse that wanted to escape his lips as he glared at Mordyn, who had still not moved. 

“Are you deaf?” Apollo snapped. “I told you to get out!”

He couldn’t think while Mordyn was still in the room, could hardly even breathe without feeling like he was going to lose his mind. And still the vampire was not moving.

“Apollo–“

“Get out!” Apollo drew his knife. He was *not* going to let this vampire mess with him any more than he already had.

Mordyn got the message, at least. He turned without another word. Apollo heard the door fall shut behind him and only then did he sink into the nearby office chair and exhaled slowly. Fuck, what was wrong with him? Why did his lips still tingle? And why, oh why, did he miss the weight of Mordyn’s body pressing him against the wall?


New Chapter

Ceska, as well as several other members of his team, looked at Apollo with raised eyebrows when he walked back into the office. He ignored them all and went straight for his desk, closing the door to the room behind him.

They could wonder what had happened all they wanted, but he didn’t have any intention of sharing.

Ever.

No one could know that he’d been kissed by a vampire. That he’d *let* himself be kissed by a vampire. 

Looking back, he couldn’t even say how it had happened. One second he’d been accusing Mordyn of using magic on him, and the next the vampire had grabbed him and kissed him.

Without thought, he touched his lips. He could still feel Mordyn there, could still taste him on his tongue.

Fuck.

This had gotten entirely out of control.

He stopped touching his mouth and rubbed his hand across his face instead. That same moment, a knock sounded at his door. He sighed. 

Could he not get five minutes to himself? 

“Come in,” he said, quickly bottling up everything he was feeling and hiding it away in the deepest, darkest corner of his mind. 

Ceska entered the room. She closed the door behind herself and looked at Apollo uncertainly.

Apollo raised an eyebrow back at her, unwilling to break the silence between them first. She probably wanted to know why he was back so soon and if he’d gotten any useful information from Balea. 

And he’d have to tell her that he’d forgotten about Balea entirely until this moment. She must have left along with Mordyn. 

Apollo suppressed another sigh. 

He’d fucked this up even worse than he’d first realized. 

Ceska walked closer until she stood in front of his desk. “How did it go?” 

“Not well,” Apollo admitted. “I don’t think I can work with the Rubyville enforcer going forward.”

“Why not?” Ceska’s expression grew fierce. “Did he try something? If he did, I swear…” She trailed off, leaving Apollo’s imagination to paint a picture. He had no doubt that his friend could be very creative when it came to revenge, but he shook his head.]

He appreciated her support, but this wasn’t a problem she could fight with her magic. “It’s not like that,” he explained, hoping he could leave it at that.

She didn’t take the hint, though. “Did he threaten you? What did he do? I’ll–“

“Nothing!” Apollo interrupted, holding up a hand. “He didn’t attack me, or threaten me.” 

“Then what happened?” Ceska looked at him, eyes full of questions, and Apollo knew that she wasn’t going to let the matter go. 

Apollo also wasn’t going to tell her, though. At least, he wasn’t going to tell her what had happened before he’d told Mordyn to get out. “I had the feeling that he was messing with my mind, and he didn’t disperse those suspicions,” he said instead.

“What did he do?”

Apollo grimaced. “I don’t know. But I couldn’t think straight. I had the strangest thoughts. Thoughts that I would never normally have.” 

“Oh.” Ceska tilted her head in thought. “I guess I wouldn’t put it past the vampires to try to manipulate us, but to what end? Did he try to make you act a certain way? Spill your secrets to him or share private information about our investigations?” 

If only it had been as simple as that.

Apollo chewed the inside of his lip and wondered, for the first time, *why* Mordyn hadn’t manipulated him in the ways Ceska had suggested. If he could mess with Apollo’s mind, which he obviously could… why had he put sexual fantasies there? 

What did he hope to gain from that? 

Did he think Apollo would be easier to work with if he was horny for Mordyn?

Did he want to get into Apollo’s pants so badly? 

If so, he’d chosen the worst time and place for those suggestions. 

“I don’t get it,” Apollo said out loud. Unless the vampire was really, really stupid, there was no good reason for him to manipulate Apollo the way he had. 

Unless his ability was one he didn’t have complete control over. 

“What’s confusing you?” Ceska asked. 

“He didn’t try to get information out of me. Nothing like that.” 

There was always the possibility that Mordyn was trying to make Apollo fall for him so that he would share his secrets *willingly*, but if that was Mordyn’s goal, he was going about it in a very clumsy way. 

He hadn’t even tried to be charming. Or even nice. 

“If he didn’t want information, what did he want?” 

Apollo shrugged, frustrated. He’d give a lot to know that too. “Maybe the vampires just want me to be so distracted I can’t do my job.” That would at least explain why the image of Mordyn haunted him even in his dreams, making it impossible for him to get any real rest. 

“I guess,” Ceska said, thought she sounded doubtful. “You’d think they’d want us to succeed, though, given the amount of money we promised them if their cooperation proves to be helpful.”

That was a fair point.

“Guess I’m back to square one.” Apollo frowned. “If only I knew what exactly he was doing…” Deep in thought, he looked at the papers on his desk without seeing them. Mordyn had refused to tell him what his talents were, but there had to be another way to find out.  Someone else who could tell him. 

He licked his lips, and remembered the case that had first put him in contact with the Rubyville coven. 

There was someone who owed him a favor. 

***

When Apollo rang the doorbell to Rhyme’s apartment the next day, he was genuinely glad to find the other mortal happy and healthy. 

It had never sat well with him, that Rhyme insisted on staying with a vampire, but the choice hadn’t been Apollo’s. Rhyme was in love with his vampire mate, Iskander, as difficult as Apollo found it to accept that. 

Rhyme had been born and raised in vampire captivity. He should have been itching to get away from them, yet here he was, happily mated to one of them. 

“Come in,” he said, stepping aside to let Apollo enter. “It’s still a little chaotic, sorry. We haven’t finished decorating yet.”

‘Chaotic’ was an understatement, but Apollo didn’t mind as Rhyme led him through the living room, dodging boxes and bags with clothes and other belongings that were stacked up around the room. 

“I never knew you could own so much stuff,” Rhyme said. “And every day there’s another delivery, it feels like. Today we got a dish set and some kitchen tools. I don’t even know how how to use those, but I’ve been recording some cooking shows on TV so maybe I’ll learn.” He sat on the couch. “Sorry if I’m rambling. I was surprised you wanted to come visit.” 

Apollo sat down opposite him on an armchair. “I wanted to see how you’re getting on.” Only half a lie, he *had* worried about Rhyme, in the back of his mind, wondering how he was settling into his new life. Most mortals Apollo helped chose to move to the gated community near the castle where they werer surrounded by other mortals–and by guards. 

But Rhyme had wanted to be with his mate. 

“I’m getting on all right.” Rhyme gave a small shrug. “Isk still helps me with a lot of things, but I’m learning.” 

“Is he sleeping?” It was three in the afternoon. Apollo had chosen the time deliberately.

“He is,” Rhyme confirmed. “But I can wake him if it’s important.”

Apollo shook his head. “I was hoping to talk to you alone.” 

“Yeah, I guessed. You don’t like vampires.”

“The surprising thing here is that you do,” Apollo reminded him.

“They’re not all the same,” Rhyme said. “It took me a while to learn that, but I think it’s true. I don’t ‘like vampires.’ I like Iskander, and some of his friends are all right.” 

‘Some of his friends.’ Apollo wondered if that included the vampire he wanted to talk about. Considering that he’d first met Mordyn in Iskander’s presence, it probably did. 

“How well do you know his friends?”

Rhyme considered the question. “Well enough, I guess. Why are you asking?”

“I need information about one vampire in specific,” Apollo said. “One who goes by the name of Mordyn.” 

Rhyme’s forehead creased. “Why do you need to know about Mord? Did he do something wrong?”

So he was familiar enough with the vampire to use a nick name. That was promising. “I’m not sure if he did something wrong,” Apollo said. “I’m trying to find out.” 

“What does that mean?” 

“I’m supposed to work together with him,” Apollo admitted. “So I’m hoping to learn more about who he is as a person so I can judge wheher or not I can trust him.”

Rhyme thought about that. “I didn’t like Mordyn at first,” he admitted. “He made a stupid joke at my expense, but then he made up for it by getting a TV I could use in the infirmary.” Rhyme paused for a moment. “I guess that was his way of apologizing. He’s been nice to me since. Isk says I shouldn’t take him seriously when he’s joking around. He mentioned once that Mord carries a lot of baggage around, but I feel like we all do.” He looked at Apollo. “How come you’re working with him?” 

“I’m hoping to talk to some vampires to find out more about where a few missing mortals might have ended up.” 

“You think Mordyn’s involved with that?” Rhyme shook his head. “No way.” 

The vehemence of his response caught Apollo by surprise, but before he could ask, Rhyme continued. “Iskander would never be friends with him if he was doing that kind of thing.”

“I see.” Apollo held up a hand. “I don’t think Mordyn’s involved in any case. Altair just wants him to be there while I talk to his vampires. He says Mordyn could act as a lie detector. Do you know what that’s about?” 

Unfortunately, Rhyme seemed puzzled by that. “Maybe it’s his special talent?” 

“I’d hoped you could tell me.”

“I don’t know.” Rhyme shot him a look that seemed almost apologetic. “Have you tried asking him to explain?”

“He doesn’t want to say,” Apollo admitted. 

“He might have a reason for that.” 

Yes, Apollo thought, that is why I want to know. “Is there any way you could find out for me?” he asked Rhyme. 

Rhyme hesitated. “Why do you need to know so badly?” 

Apollo knew if he said the wrong thing now, Rhyme would refuse to investigate for him, siding with his mate’s friend instead. Apollo could tell him everything that had happened, and then Rhyme would probably agree to find out what Mordyn could do… but Apollo would never get the words past his lips. 

Rhyme would wind up thinking that Apollo was like him. A mortal obsessed with a vampire. 

Apollo shuddered. 

That was never going to be him, no matter how many tricks Mordyn played on his mind. 

He met Rhyme’s gaze, and pulled out a card he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to play. “Remember that night you called me and asked me to drive you downtown so you could go after Iskander, jeopardizing my investigations?”

Rhyme blinked. “I remember.”

“I didn’t understand why you wanted to save Iskander, but I helped you.”

Rhyme glanced aside, but he got what Apollo was implying without him having to spell it out. “I could ask Iskander. I’m sure he knows.” 

“Can you do it without telling him you’re doing it for me?”

Rhyme grimaced. “I don’t lie to Iskander.”

Of course not. Iskander would hear about this conversation, and then Mordyn would probably hear about it too. 

Apollo could deal with that, though. Just so long as he learned what exactly Mordyn had done to put all these strange thoughts in his head. The sooner he knew, the sooner he could figure out how to get rid of them. 

“Just tell your mate that I’m concerned about my safety. Which is not a lie.”

Rhyme nodded slowly. “All right. I’ll send you a message tonight.”

Apollo thanked him and got up to leave.

By tonight, hopefully, he’d know the truth. 

***

Mordyn was pissed, and the only person he could blame for it was himself. He’d gone and kissed Apollo, even after he’d sworn to himself to keep his distance this time. He hadn’t been able to resist temptation. Plain and simple. 

He sipped at his glass of blood, which tasted like shit, and tried to ignore the fact that his coven mates were eyeing him from the other tables, probably talking about him. Balea hadn’t been able to keep her mouth shut after the incident. Apollo might have closed the door to the room, but with her super hearing, Balea had still picked up enough to puzzle out what had happened.

And she’d spread the news, like any good gossipmonger would. The others had all known about it before sunset the next day. 

‘Mordyn tried to make out with that human who’s all up in our business and then we got kicked out.’

He would have liked to shut them up, but how could he, when it was the truth? 

Swallowing another mouthful of blood, he considered switching to something stronger. Drunk man’s blood, maybe. 

Except he knew that getting drunk would not make him feel better. He’d just end up picking a fight with someone for no reason. 

“Mordyn.” 

He looked up when someone sat at his table. Tarek. Mordyn groaned. So far he’d successfully ignored the fact that he was still responsible for planning that damn auction with the other vampire.

“Really not in the mood for this,” Mordyn said, hoping Tarek would get the hint.

Tarek raised an eyebrow, but remained seated.

“What?” Mordyn growled.

“Oh, it’s just that I thought Bale was full of bullshit, but looking at you, maybe she’s not.”

‘Bale.’ 

Right. He and Balea were originally from the same coven. 

“You really tried to go for that mortal rights activist?” Tarek asked, proving that he did not know not to poke a bear with a stick when its teeth were bared at him.

Mordyn gritted said teeth, and glared at him.

Tarek laughed. “I get it,” he claimed. “He’s hot, if you’re into redheads. He’s got that whole ‘I hate you’ look that makes you want to fuck him until he can’t stand.”

Mordyn was going to murder this vampire.

“I’m kidding!” Tarek held up his hands. “Kinda fun to see you so out of sorts. You must have it bad.”

“Shut up.”

Tarek grinned, but he did, thankfully, stop teasing Mordyn. He leaned back in his chair and took a swig from the bottle he’d brought. “Seriously, though. Why were you there anyway? Is it true what Bale’s saying about the taskforce investigating our old coven?”

Mordyn allowed a smile to form on his lips. “Yeah, looks like your old coven’s up next on the chopping block. They’re just forming their case.” 

Tarek nodded, face expressionless. Mordyn tried to get a read on what the vampire was *really* thinking, but he seemed calm. No loyalty left for his old coven, it seemed. 

“You don’t care?” Mordyn asked. 

Tarek shrugged and set the bottle to his lip once more. “If they get taken down, they probably deserve it,” was all he said. 

“Do they deserve it?” Mordyn couldn’t help but wonder. How deeply involved was the Nightfall coven with the trade of mortals? 

Tarek smiled at him. “Why don’t you let the taskforce ask me? Maybe you’ll get another chance with your mortal then.”

Tarek smiled at him. “Why don’t you let the taskforce ask me? Maybe you’ll get another chance with your mortal then.”

“You want to talk to Apollo about your old coven?” Mordyn eyed Tarek with some skepticism. It was one thing to flee a sinking ship. Not the honorable thing to do for a vampire, but Mordyn got it. 

It was another thing to flee a sinking ship and then aim a canon at it.

Tarek only shrugged, though, as if this was no big deal. “If you’d known my old coven, you wouldn’t be surprised.” 

Considering that Balea was part of his old coven… maybe he had a point there. Mordyn give Tarek a long look. “You’re being serious?”

Tarek nodded. “Call your mortal and we can arrange an interview.”

“Just like that?” 

Tarek smiled. “I do want something in return of course. I’m a vampire, not a good samaritan.” 

Ironically, Mordyn was relieved to hear that. If Tarek had offered to sell out his old coven without any advantage to himself, Mordyn could never have trusted that offer. But if Tarek sought to improve his own conditions, well… that made his willingness to cooperate a lot more understandable. “What do you want?”

“A better rank,” Tarek said. “They got me waiting tables here some night. I can do more than that.”

Mordyn considered Tarek for a moment. “What role do you want? Security? Accountant?”

Tarek seemed to think about it for a moment, then shrugged. “Anything that means I don’t have to serve drunk people.”

“What talents do you have?” Mordyn tried to remember if he’d heard anything about what Tarek could do, but he drew a blank. Truth be told, he hadn’t paid too much attention to the new vampires.

“Honestly nothing impressive,” Tarek said, chargrined. “But I’m smart, and I learn fast. You tell me what role you need filled and I’ll figure out how to fill it. Promise.”

Mordyn considered the other vampire for a moment longer. “I’ll talk to Altair,” he said, eventually. “See what he says.”

He could not promise anything without consulting Altair first, but Tarek knew how things worked in a coven. He hadn’t thought that Mordyn could promote him. He’d approached Mordyn knowing that Mordyn could talk to the boss for him–and that Mordyn would actually be listened to.

Mordyn rose from the table and left his half-full glass behind as he walked downstairs to the floor where the offices were located. 

He dreaded talking to Altair, having avoided his friend since he’d failed his assignment last night. Before his conversation with Tarek just now, he’d considered asking Altair to pull him off the job. No doubt Apollo had already called to make the same demand after the way their meeting had ended. 

Curiously, Altair hadn’t yet called Mordyn to his office to scold him, but Mordyn had been half-waiting for it all evening. 

His boss must be occupied with some other task. 

When Mordyn reached the door to Altair’s office, he knocked and waited for his boss to call him inside, but no voice sounded from within.

Mordyn frowned. Was Altair not in his office? He usually was, around this time.

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he dialed Altair’s number. After a few rings, someone picked up, but it wasn’t Altair. Instead, Keegan’s voice greeted him on the other end of the line. “What’s up?” he asked. 

“Why are you answering Alt’s phone?” Mordyn asked back. 

“‘Cause he’s busy,” Keegan said. “We’re in his room if you want to swing by. Actually, grab a few bottles of blood before you come. Doesn’t matter which kind, but make sure there’s some variety.”

Mordyn had so many questions, but Keegan hung up before he could ask a single one. 

Typical.

Mordyn stared at his phone for a moment, then got moving. He went by the lounge and picked out the requested bottles of blood–some mage blood, some dragon blood, some synth. He had no idea what Altair and Keegan wanted with it, but he figured he’d find out soon enough. 

Whatever experiments they were running… They were probably the reason Mordyn hadn’t been called into the office yet.

He went down another set of stairs, then stopped in front of the door that led to Altair’s bedroom. 

Keegan opened the door for him before he could knock. “Get in.” He motioned for Mordyn to enter the room while grabbing the bottles of blood from him.

Mordyn raised an eyebrow but obliged. 

And then he realized what kept Altair too busy to lecture him on a job poorly done; he sat on his bed with Sven, who looked pale enough as if he hadn’t had a drop of blood in weeks, cradled against his side, his head resting on Altair’s shoulder. Altair murmured words into his hair and gently rubbed his arm and side as if trying to warm him up.

“What’s wrong with him?” Mordyn asked Keegan in a hushed tone of voice, so as not to upset their boss.

“We’re not sure.” Keegan busied himself with opening all the different bottles of blood and lining them up on a tray. “Remember when he said he didn’t like the fae blood recently? It’s like that, but worse.”[

Mordyn did remember that, and how he’d found it odd, but he hadn’t thought too much of it at the time. Some blood batches were just lower quality than others. 

“The wrong blood seems to make him sick now, but we’re struggling to figure out what constitutes ‘wrong’ blood.” 

“Shouldn’t Sterling be here for this?” Mordyn asked, figuring their doctor would probably be of more help than Mordyn was. 

“Yes, but he went out shopping for supplies earlier and hasn’t returned yet. We’ve called, of course, so he shouldn’t be too much longer getting back.” 

“I see. And you really don’t know what’s causing this?” Mordyn eyed his friend closely.

“I don’t know everything.” Keegan sounded vaguely insulted. “If I knew what’s wrong with Sven, I’d tell you.” He huffed a breath, then carried the tray with the bottles over to the bed. 

Mordyn watched him offer one of the bottles to Sven. The young vampire made a face, but Altair spoke softly to him. 

“At least smell the bottles and see if any of them are more appealing than the rest. We need to find something you can drink, love.”  Altair didn’t let his worry show when he spoke to his mate, but Mordyn sensed it thick in the air, reminding him of the conversation they’d had only a few days ago. Altair was terrified that something might happen to Sven, and now something was, and he didn’t know what, or how to help.

Mordyn didn’t envy him. 

His own spat with Apollo seemed to fade in comparison with having to care for a vampire who got sick from blood.

“How about this one?” Keegan asked, offering him a bottle of dragon blood. 

Sven sniffed at it and recoiled. “That’s awful,” he mumbled, cuddling closer to Altair.

Altair took the bottle from Keegan and poured a little of the liquid into his mouth. Then he looked at both Keegan and Mordyn and shrugged a little helplessly. “It’s perfectly fine.”

“It’s not,” Sven insisted. “How can you not smell that?”

“Smell what, love?” 

“It smells like…” Sven frowned, as if he wasn’t sure how to describe it. “Like rotting plants.”

Keegan raised both eyebrows. “Oh?” He took the bottle back from Altair and sniffed it. “I don’t smell anything.”

Sven’s expression grew frustrated. “It’s only the synth that doesn’t smell, but all synth tastes off.”

Mordyn watched the scene unfold with increasing confusion. He’d never heard of a vampire getting this picky over blood. They’d never have survived as a species if they didn’t eat whatever they could get. 

Although… 

The vampires of old didn’t drink from bottles. 

“Have you tried live feeding?” Mordyn asked.

Altair looked at him, and then he looked at Keegan and ordered him to use his phone to hire a blood donor. “Tell them we’ll pay more if they can be here within the hour.”

Keegan nodded, stepping aside to make the call. 

Sven seemed unsure, though. “You want me to bite someone?” His nose wrinkled. 

Mordyn wondered at that reaction. Sven had been a vampire for months now. Surely he’d bitten someone before. 

“Only Alt,” Sven said, when Mordyn voiced his question. 

Well, that wasn’t natural, but Mordyn chose not to say so. “You’ll like it,” he said instead. “Blood is always best warm from the source.” 

Less convenient than bottled blood, though, which was why that had become their main source of nutrition.

“You’ll recover faster if you get some quality blood into you.” Altair pressed a kiss to the top of Sven’s head.

“How long will it take them to get here?” Mordyn asked when he saw Keegan approach them again. 

“Twenty minutes.” Keegan put his phone back in his pocket. “They promised to hurry. I told them we’re willing to double the standard rate if they get here fast.”

“Good.” Altair relaxed, but only slightly.

Mordyn understood. Live blood was different from conserved blood, but there was no guarantee that it would solve their issue. There was a chance, but nothing was promised, and Mordyn knew Altair would not fully relax before he knew what was causing Sven’s issues. 

Almost, Mordyn was tempted to push some of his power at Altair to try to calm him, but he knew the gesture wouldn’t be welcome and so they waited until the phone in Keegan’s pocket rang again, signaling the arrival of the blood donor. Keegan gave the vampires up at the club level instructions to guide the donor downstairs to Altair’s room. 

The knock came about two minutes later.

“Come in,” Altair called, and the door was opened.

A pretty girl stepped into the room. Her blood smelled like a shifter’s, though Mordyn couldn’t pinpoint what kind. She looked like she was in her early twenties, with brown hair that fell to her shoulders, framing her heart shaped face. “Hi,” she said, somewhat tentatively. “You requested a live feeding?” 

“Yes.” Altair eyed the girl critically. “You haven’t taken any drugs in the past three days?”

“No. I don’t use drugs. I never have.” 

“Alcohol?”

She shook her head. “Not since the weekend.”

“Any medication? Pain killers, sleep aids, herbal potions?”

Again, she shook her head. “I know what’s expected of me in this job. Before you ask, I haven’t eaten cilantro either.”

Altair gave a satisfied nod. Cilantro wasn’t poisonous to vampires, but it did make someone’s blood taste like soapy water. Probably not what Altair wanted for Sven’s first real bite.  

He motioned for the donor to come closer. “It’s Sven who’ll be drinking from you today.”

The girl smiled reassuringly at Sven. If she was put off by his sickly condition, she didn’t let it show. Instead, she sat down on Sven’s other side and held her wrist out to him. “Go ahead.”

Sven licked his lips and stared at her wrist, fangs descending. 

Evidently, he didn’t hate the smell of *her* blood.

Still, he hesitated.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I do this all the time. I recover fast.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Sven said softly.

“That’s sweet of you,” the girl replied. “But really, I’m a professional. Go for it.”

And so Sven did, biting into the tender flesh of her wrist, and when the first drops of blood wet his lips, he closed his eyes in pleasure and began to drink in earnest, all hesitation forgotten. 

Seemed there was nothing foul-tasting about *this* blood.

Mordyn let out a breath as he watched Sven’s skin regain a little color. Maybe he’d been right about Sven needing something other than bottled blood. It was unusual for sure–and inconvenient–but as long as there was a way for him to feed, he’d be all right. 

Some of the tension drained from the air as Altair relaxed as well. “That’s enough,” he said, gently coaxing Sven away from the blood donor’s wrist after Sven had swallowed a decent amount of her blood.

The girl sat back, looking a little pale, but otherwise fine. The wounds on her wrist had already closed. 

“I’ll wire you the credits we promised.” Altair motioned for Keegan to return his phone.

“Thanks.” The girl rose to leave, but swayed a little when she stood, as if she were dizzy.

“Do you need to stay and rest?” Altair asked, and Mordyn could tell, this moment, he would have fulfilled any of her wishes. All because his mate was well again. 

The girl shook her head, though. “No, I’m fine.” But even as she spoke, she sat back down on the bed. “That’s… what? What are you doing?” Her voice took on a high pitch as she glared at Sven. 

“I’m not doing anything!” Sven held up his hands as all eyes turned to him. 

The girl got up abruptly, ran toward the door, then stopped two steps away from it, rooted in place. “Let me go!” she demanded.

Sven stared at her as if he was just as panicked by whatever was going on as she was. “I don’t… I’m sorry!” And then, as if there was a lot of noise in the room, he clutched his ears and closed his eyes, curling up into a ball on the bed.

The girl glared at him. “You can drink from me,  but you cannot use your weird powers on me!” 

“What exactly did he do to you?” Keegan asked her while Sven looked like he was about to cry and Altair tried to get him to uncurl and talk to him.

After a moment, Altair turned to the blood donor. “Leave,” he said in a sharp tone of voice. 

“My payment–“

“I’ll pay you extra. Go.” Altair’s command carried enough authority that the girl did not argue anymore. She went back the way she’d come, and Altair focused on Sven again. “Look at me,” he said, “leave her head.”

Mordyn raised an eyebrow.

Sven was in the girl’s head? Had he controlled her movements too? Involuntarily, of course, but still… that was huge. 

Mordyn exchanged a glance with Keegan.

He’d never seen another vampire who could slip into someone else’s mind and take control, and Sven was only just beginning to develop his powers.

On the bed, Sven slowly unfurled and took a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to,” he said. “I heard her thoughts after drinking and then… I thought that she should stay and rest because she was tired, but I didn’t mean to force her to sit down, and I wanted her to stop running but I didn’t want to *make* her and then everything got so loud in my head.” He shuddered and took another breath.

“You’ll learn to control this,” Altair assured him, stroking his hair. 

Sven still looked distraught, however, and Mordyn understood why. He never peeked into other people’s minds. All he could do was read their emotions, and even that could get overwhelming at times. “I guess you connect to whoever you’re drinking from,” Mordyn mused. “If the blood isn’t from a living source… your body rejects it.” He suppressed a shudder of his own at the thought of being connected to a corpse. 

“You said the bad blood smelled like rotting plants.” Keegan pursed his lips, deep in thought. “Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it smelled of death.”

“I guess.” Sven rubbed his neck. “The synth doesn’t smell like that, but it tastes… weird.”

“We call it synthetic,” Altair said, “but it does contain real blood, else it wouldn’t sustain us. It’s a mix of different types of blood and some artificial ingredients created to resemble the taste of mortal blood, though we all know it doesn’t. For now, you should stay off it until we know more about your condition.”   

Sven glanced at the tray of bottles. “Is so much of our blood from dead sources?” 

“No.” Altair looked at the bottles as well. “But when you’re drinking from a bottle, you’re not drinking from one single person. A lot of different people’s blood gets mixed in the filling process. I imagine that one ‘bad’ drop spoils the bottle for you. Blood isn’t immediately discarded only because the donor died after their donation.”

Sven looked uncomfortable with the idea. “But then what am I going to drink?”

“We’ll go through the blood we have here and find a few untainted bottles for you,” Altair said. “You’ll be able to tell if they’re not good for you, and if we run into an issue there, we can hire another blood donor.”

“Won’t that be expensive?” Sven sounded hesitant. “I drink more than you guys do.”

“That’s because you’re still young.” Altair stroked his cheek. “I’m your sire, your lord, and your mate. I’ll be the one to worry about providing for you.”

For a heartbeat, Sven looked as if he wanted to argue, but he didn’t protest further. 

Maybe he was just too tired for it. 

Mordyn glanced at Keegan, who was looking his way as well. “We should probably excuse ourselves,” Keegan murmured. “Give them some space.” 

Mordyn agreed with that. He still had things he needed to discuss with Altair, but they could probably wait. 

He and Keegan walked out of the room together.

“Interesting night,” Mordyn commented once the door was safely shut behind them.

“Sure was. Sven is developing new powers at a pace I didn’t expect. Makes me wonder what else he might be able to do once he’s older.” Keegan pushed a hand through his hair. “If he was really in that girl’s head, I suppose his power is similar to Altair’s. Think it’s because they’re mates?”

Mordyn shrugged. 

“Everyone knows mated vampires are stronger.” Keegan shot Mordyn an odd look as they walked down the hallway together. 

“What?” Mordyn asked, wishing his friend would just come out with it. 

“I heard about what happened with Apollo.” 

Of course he had. “Did you see it too? In one of your visions? If you have, you really should have told me before I made a fool of myself.”

Keegan shook his head. “I see a lot of things and most of them never happen. Plus, I try not to look too closely at any scenes that show my friends in intimate moments. Privacy, you know?”

“I’m *so* glad my privacy is being respected,” Mordyn said in his most sarcastic tone of voice.

Keegan laughed. “I’m doing the best I can with my powers being what they are. You should know. You dig around in everyone’s feelings all the time.” 

“I do not ‘dig around’ in people’s feelings.”

“Really? You couldn’t tell me what I’m feeling right now?” 

“You’re feeling like an insufferable bastard.”

“Hmm.” Keegan paused for a moment as if thinking about what Mordyn had just said. “All right, yeah, you’re right.” He grinned at Mordyn, but after another moment, he grew serious. “I didn’t know you would make a mess of things with Apollo. I was rooting for you.”

Mordyn didn’t know what to say in response to that. Keegan was rooting for him, and Altair had basically said the same thing himself. Everyone wanted him to ‘find happiness with his mate,’ or some such shit. As if that was possible for everyone. Mordyn was starting to think it just wasn’t in the cards for him and Apollo. They’d had their chance, they’d fucked it up, and Mordyn would do better to treasure the memory than to rebuild a connection that would only blow up in his face. 

He knew all that. 

And yet…

He couldn’t get the image of Apollo out of his mind. His shocked face when Mordyn had pressed him against the wall, his all-too-easy surrender when Mordyn claimed his mouth, Apollo’s fingers digging into his shoulders as the scent of his blood clouded Mordyn’s thoughts and sparked his desire to feed just as much as his lust for other things. 

He’d wanted to see Apollo flushed and panting and desperate. He’d wanted to touch him everywhere, to reduce him to a squirming, writhing mess beneath him.

He’d wanted to bury his fangs in the soft flesh of Apollo’s neck.

He’d wanted to hold him and never let go again.

Mordyn closed his eyes and forced those thoughts away. 

“Hey.” Keegan punched him in the shoulder. “It’s not all over yet, you know. You’re still fated.”

Mordyn scoffed. “Feels more like a curse than a blessing. Why do I have to let fate boss me around?”

“Don’t look at it as fate bossing you around.” Keegan stopped walking as they reached the door that led to his own room. 

“Oh?” Mordyn arched an eyebrow at his friend. “How do you suggest I look at it then?” 

“A second chance.” Keegan smiled. “A way to do things right this time.”

“I tried to do things right,” Mordyn reminded him. “But you all pushed me on him.” 

Keegan looked at him as if he was beginnig to think Mordyn was just a little dense. “You can’t make things right by avoiding him. Oh, by the way, you should head on to your room. Iskander’s about to call you, I think, and you might want to sit down for the news he has for you.”

“What–” Mordyn was interrupted by the ringing of his phone in his pocket.

“You wanna get that.” Keegan flashed him another grin, and then he entered his own room and left Mordyn standing in the hallway.

“Remind me why I’m friends with you,” Mordyn called after him, but Keegan didn’t reply. “Asshole,” Mordyn muttered to himself before he picked up his phone and accepted Iskander’s call. “Give me a second.” He headed toward his own room as he spoke. “Keegan says you have bad news for me.”

Iskander sounded vaguely puzzled by that. “I didn’t think it was bad news.”

“Just let me know whatever you wanted to tell me.” Mordyn unlocked his room and went inside, stepping over a pile of boxes he’d meant to take up to the trash containers. He really needed to get this place sorted out. He’d just been so distracted lately.

“Apollo visited Rhyme while I was sleeping,” Iskander said.

Mordyn sat down on the edge of his bed. 

What did Apollo want with Rhyme? And why was this supposed to be bad news for Mordyn?

“What did he visit Rhyme for?” he asked. 

“Allegedly to check up on him, but he also wanted to talk about you, wondered if you could be trusted, wanted to know what your powers are.” 

Mordyn rubbed his hand over his face. He should have expected Apollo to go and investigate when Mordyn refused to tell him. Investigating was what the man *did,* aside from that whole helping mortals in need thing. 

When Mordyn said nothing, Iskander continued. “Rhyme tells me you didn’t want Apollo to know about your powers. Why’s that?” 

Mordyn hesitated for only a moment before he told Iskander who Apollo was to him. Now that Keegan and Altair knew, there was little point in keeping the last of his close friends in the dark. 

Iskander listened silently until Mordyn was done talking. 

“I see,” he said eventually. “You’re afraid he’ll misunderstand your powers.” 

“He’ll think I used them on him and that’s why he’s attracted to me.” Mordyn grimaced. He could already imagine the angry accusations Apollo would fling at him, the sparks of rage in him catching fire. He wouldn’t listen to a word Mordyn had to say, demanding instead that Mordyn stop manipulating him. 

And Mordyn would stand there and look at him and try not to kiss him again because, damn it, he *liked* the heat that shone in Apollo’s gaze, liked his fiery temper, *wanted* to rile him up just to see how far he could push him.

Except that Apollo would only push him *away* again.

Mordyn exhaled harshly and reminded himself to focus. “Did Rhyme tell him what I can do?” he asked Iskander.

“He owes Apollo a favor,” Iskander said. “A pretty significant one too, but he knows this is for you to tell Apollo, not him, so he’d like to give you the chance to talk to him yourself.”

Mordyn considered that. 

It wasn’t what he wanted to do, but maybe it was better this way. Apollo would find out one way or another. He’d already proven his determination by going to Rhyme for the information. He’d find someone else to ask if Rhyme didn’t talk. 

Hell, all Apollo *really* had to do was to look for Mordyn’s name in some old newspaper records. 

But Mordyn was glad Apollo hadn’t thought of those yet, because they would reveal more to him than just Mordyn’s talents. No, Mordyn had to talk to Apollo and stop his research before he unearthed knowledge that couldn’t be buried again. “I’ll talk to him,” he said, “if he’ll meet me.”

Maybe if he led with the fact that he had a vampire interested in selling out his old coven, Apollo would agree to see him again. 

Mordyn hoped so, anyway.


New Chapter

The dreams wouldn’t leave Apollo alone.

Every time he fell asleep, Mordyn was there. Kissing him. Touching him. Whispering in his ear, hot breath washing over Apollo’s skin.

And Apollo never told him to fuck off. 

Never even wanted to do so. 

His dream self loved Mordyn. Not just in the carnal way, either. Some dreams were all about sex, about Mordyn’s hands, tongue and fangs on him, in him, driving him wild in ways that left him panting and aching when he woke up. 

But those weren’t the dreams that haunted him. 

He could pretend that they meant nothing. Just his body fantasizing about the body of another man who happened to be handsome. He could make himself that it was all hormones and the fact that he had no time to take care of his baser urges. 

He woke up after those dreams and took a cold shower because he still refused to jerk off with the image of a vampire lingering on his mind. 

But last night he’d had another kind of dream that was harder to deal with.

In it, he’d been lying on a blanket that lay spread out on lush grass under a sky full of stars. Mordyn lay next to him, one arm propped behind his head, the other wrapped around Apollo, who had his head resting on Mordyn’s chest. They were waiting for a meteor shower.

“Don’t fall asleep before it starts.” Mordyn’s chest rumbled against the side of Apollo’s face when he spoke. “You’re the one who wanted to come out here.”

“I won’t fall asleep.” Apollo breathed in the crisp air that smelled faintly of pine trees. “I’m just comfortable.” And he was, too. Warm, comfortable, safe, even, under Mordyn’s arm. The vampire’s fingers drew absent patterns on his skin, and Apollo had a fleeting thought that he could stay like this always, lazy and happy, stargazing with his vampire.

“What are you thinking about?” Mordyn asked, his lips brushing Apollo’s temple in a light kiss.

“Wondering if the shooting stars are going to show up any time soon so I can make my wish.”

“Oh? And what will you wish for?” 

“I can’t tell you or it won’t come true.” 

Mordyn shifted so he could reach Apollo’s side to tickle him. “Tell me,” he insisted. “I promise to make your wish come true.”

Apollo laughed, twisting away from Mordyn’s playful assault. “No. Stop!” He batted at Mordyn’s hand.

Mordyn obeyed, but he rolled them over so he hovered above Apollo, trapping him with his weight. “Wanna know what I wish for?”

Apollo gazed up at him, suddenly breathless. Mordyn was beautiful like this, the moonlight turning his hair silver and his eyes glowing the warmest shade of red. “Tell me.”

Mordyn dipped his head to kiss him softly on the lips. “I wish…” he whispered against Apollo’s lips, “for you to become my mate.”

Apollo, unable to speak, only nodded.

They kissed again, deeper now, more intimately, Mordyn’s cool lips taking Apollo’s breath away as his hands found their way underneath his clothes, exploring his skin.

When the first shooting star streaked the night sky, Apollo made his own wish inside his heart, keeping it tucked away like a precious secret, his most fervent hope. 

And then Apollo woke up in his bed, disoriented and cold with the deep and terrible certainty that it had never come true. 

Apollo groaned and buried his face in his pillow, trying to will away the lingering feelings of the dream. 

None of it was real, so why wouldn’t his heart stop hammering in his chest? His throat was tight and something pounded in the back of his skull as he climbed out of bed and reached for his phone. It was early to be getting up, but Apollo knew he wasn’t going back to sleep now.

He looked at his notifications, but there was nothing interesting. 

The last message he’d received was Rhyme’s. *He’ll tell you himself,* was all it said. 

Apollo refused the urge to grind his teeth as he recalled the disappointing message. Why did Rhyme have to side with the vampire who was tormenting Apollo? 

If he at least knew what kind of mind fuckery Mordyn was using on him, he could work on finding an antidote. Something he could to dispel the dreams and the weird thoughts and this goddamn obsession that had taken root in his head. 

How was he supposed to work like this?

He was being sabotaged, plain and simple. 

Putting his phone away, he stalked out of his room in the direction of the kitchen, intent on getting his hands on a large cup of coffee. Once his brain was firing on all cylinders again, he could figure out the next step he’d have to take.

With the bitter taste of caffeine on his tongue, he’d be able to think. 

He’d be able to shake the after images of the dream. 

Why would he ever want to become a vampire’s mate? He wasn’t Rhyme or Sven. He’d never be that naive outside of his dreams. 

He turned on the coffee machine and tried not to let his thoughts wander as it did its work.

Then, as he waited for the pot to fill up, his phone rang. It was Ceska.

He picked up. “Good morning.”

“Hi.” She sounded unusually tense. “We have a situation.”

“What’s wrong?”

“We got a request for assistance from a mortal family. Their children went missing.” 

“What?” Apollo set down the coffee mug he’d just picked up, alarm spiking in his system without any additional help needed. “How long have they been gone?”

“Since last evening.” 

“Why am I only hearing about this now?” 

“You’d already gone home and I figured you could use some sleep,” Ceska said almost apologetically. “At first we assumed the kids had simply wandered off so we put together a search party for them, but…” She hesitated, as if reluctant to go on.

“What? Spit it out!”

“We could only find one of them, the boy. He says he lost his sister in a crowd and spent all night looking for her.” Ceska paused. “He’s adamant that vampires took her.” 

Apollo’s hands clenched into fists. “Where did she go missing?” 

“Around Diamond Square,” Ceska said. “But when we finally got a warrant to seach the Diamond Square coven’s buildings she wasn’t there, naturally.” Ceska sounded as if she’d have liked to wipe out every single vampire living at that coven if she had the chance. “They must have sent her on already. To wherever it is these covens are sending their mortal slaves these days.” 

Apollo grit his teeth. “I’m coming into the office.” 

They *had* to figure out how the vampires got the mortals out of the city so quickly, and where they were taking them. 

He just knew the Nightfall coven had to be involved. 

If only he hadn’t botched that interview with Balea…

Apollo heaved a sigh, but he had no time to chastise himself now. He had to get dressed and then he had to get a move on. Every hour was precious.

***

When Apollo got to the office, a few other people were already there. Including the mortal boy Ceska had mentioned on the telephone. He was fifteen or sixteen at best, wearing baggy clothes and sitting slumped in the chair, staring blankly at his shoes. He looked scared, exhausted, and, for reasons unknown, a little bit guilty.

He sat up straighter when he noticed Apollo’s approach.

“You’re the guy investigating the blood farms?” He met Apollo’s gaze head-on.

That wasn’t what Apollo would call it, but he nodded anyway. 

“You need to save my sister.”

“That’s the plan.” Apollo took a seat next to the boy and pulled out his notebook to write down whatever seemed relevant. “Tell me what happened.”

The kid made a face–he’d probably had to do this multiple times already–but he didn’t argue. “We were heading for Diamond Square to buy some things. We weren’t supposed to go there by ourselves, but I figured, we’re old enough, you know? And like, we wouldn’t even be gone for long.” He scuffed his foot across the floor. “That was stupid, I know. I just didn’t think…” He swallowed hard, and Apollo didn’t press him. 

He knew what it was like to be in this kid’s shoes. 

He’d let *his* sister get taken too. 

The boy blinked rapidly, but then he took a deep breath and went on. “We were only at the market for a few minutes. I wanted to buy something for her birthday so I told her to wait outside the store for a second. And then when I came back out… she wasn’t there anymore. I looked around and I saw this guy walking away with her. I called her name but she didn’t even react, and I ran after them, but they turned around a corner and then they were just… gone.” The boy ran a shaking hand through his hair. “I looked for her the entire night, but I couldn’t find any trace. I didn’t know what to do.” He stared at the table, not looking at anyone. 

Apollo wondered if anyone had told the boy that he was lucky he hadn’t been taken himself. He probably didn’t feel lucky. Apollo certainly hadn’t, when he’d been the remaining sibling. 

He would have given anything to trade places with his sister. 

“Why didn’t you go to the guards?” Apollo asked. 

The kid shot him a startled look, then lowered his eyes again. “My parents told me never to trust any of the paranormals,” he mumbled.

Apollo suppressed a sigh. The deep distrust that many mortals felt toward the paranormal population was an issue to tackle another day, especially as much of it was sadly justified. 

“What’s your name?” Apollo asked instead.

“Nate.”

“Okay, Nate.” Apollo placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, and Nate looked up at him again, misery and shame clear in his eyes. “I promise you I will find your sister.”

The boy nodded, but didn’t look much happier.

Apollo didn’t blame him. So far all the kid had heard were empty promises. Apollo needed to let some action follow. 

Leaving Nate behind, he went into his office with grim determination. A case file lay on his desk, and the first page had a picture of the girl they were looking for. Ella Falkner. Twelve years old. Strawberry blonde hair, hazel eyes. Last seen on Diamond Square.

Apollo studied the picture for a moment longer, his stomach a tight knot as he tried not to think of another girl. 

He closed the file and picked up a different one. The one where he kept all his notes regarding his cooperation with the Rubyville coven. If there was any connection between the Nightfall coven and the vanishing mortals… the Rubyville vampires were his best bet for finding it.

As much as he didn’t want to see certain members of that coven ever again. 

If they had any information that could help…

He looked up Altair’s number and dialed it, but even after several rings, no one picked up.

He tried a second time with the same result. 

The universe just loved to throw roadblocks his way, didn’t it?

Scowling at his phone, Apollo punched in Mordyn’s number instead. 

To hell with it. 

Unlike his boss, Mordyn didn’t let his phone ring for long.

“S’up?” he answered his phone in a short tone of voice that let Apollo know he had no idea who he was talking to.

“This is Apollo. Harlow,” he added his last name just in case it wasn’t clear. “I was hoping to talk to your lord, but he’s not answering his phone.” 

A long pause on the other end of the line, then, “Guess that means you’re stuck with me.”

He should hang up. He really should. 

Mordyn sounded different on the phone, but that was still the voice he’d heard way too much of in his dreams, except that this vampire did not at all act like the vampire in his dreams, and he didn’t know why that bothered him, but it did, and that made it difficult to focus on the things he needed to be focusing on. “A girl went missing,” he said to inform Mordyn and to remind himself.

“Oh?” 

“I think the Nightfall vampires are involved.” 

“So you want to set up another interview.” 

“Yes,” Apollo said. “But not with you there.”

Mordyn went silent for another few seconds, and then he surprised Apollo by saying, “I have a vampire who wants to talk, but he’s not going to say anything without me.”

Fuck that. That was the response Apollo wanted to give, the memory of his last meeting with Mordyn too sharp in his mind. He could not interview anyone while Mordyn sat across from him, toying with his mind, making him feel things that couldn’t be real. 

But he wasn’t in a position to make demands. Except, maybe, for one thing. “Rhyme said you would tell me what your powers are. I refuse to be in a room with you before you do.” 

Mordyn considered this request for a moment. “I’ll tell you,” he said eventually. “But only in person.”

Apollo frowned. “Why?”

“Because you’re going to be yelling at me, and that’s only half as much fun if I can’t watch your face turn red.”

Apollo didn’t know what to say to that. 

Was this vampire being serious?

“I’ll come to your office as soon as the sun goes down,” Mordyn said, and then a soft click signaled that he’d ended the call.

Apollo stared at the receiver, not knowing whether to be furious or confused. He settled on a mixture of both as he put the phone aside and returned his attention to the files he’d been going through.

Fucking vampires. 

No doubt Mordyn was going to *try* something again. 

This time, though, Apollo would be better prepared.

He’d have his knife ready from the start. 


The day passed in a blur. Apollo focused on his work, and he didn’t allow himself to waste his thoughts on things that were irrelevant, like what Mordyn might tell him when he showed up, or why the vampire wanted to have that conversation in person. 

He drank way too much coffee, and when night came, he was hunched over his desk, his eyes burning and his shoulders stiff although he hadn’t done anything productive for the past ten minutes, choosing to watch the sunset instead. 

How soon after sunset would the vampire show up?

He glanced at the clock, then looked away, annoyed at himself. 

Mordyn would show up when he showed up, and Apollo had things to do other than worry about the moment when he would be in the vampire’s presence again.

And what that might do to him–and to his composure. 

He pushed away from his desk and rose from his chair. He walked a few steps, intending to stretch his legs.

His steps faltered halfway across the room, however, when the door opened and Ceska stepped through.

A tiny part of him had expected her to be Mordyn, and an even tinier part of him was disappoined that she wasn’t. He chose not to examine that feeling. “Do we have a new lead?” he asked instead.

“No, but there’s a visitor for you downstairs. Meg didn’t want to let him up because he’s a vampire, and you know, the wards. Besides, she says he looks shady. But he says you’re expecting him.” Ceska arched an eyebrow at Apollo. 

He hadn’t told her about his conversation with Mordyn. 

To be honest, he wasn’t sure why. 

He just hadn’t felt like this was something he could share with people. Not when he understood so little about what was going on with him. Never mind that when he talked about it, he was forced to think about it. He prefered not to think about his dreams while he was awake. “I’ll go down to meet him.”

Ceska shot him a skeptical look. “Is that wise?”

“Probably not.” He shrugged and reached for his coat. “It’s Mordyn. You remember the guy.”

“You said he was screwing with your head.” Ceska frowned at him. “And you want to meet him by yourself?”

“I can handle him.” Apollo’s fingers closed around the handle of the knife he’d strapped to his belt. It wouldn’t kill Mordyn, but it would hurt enough to make Apollo’s boundaries clear if they needed to be reinforced.

“Are you sure?”

Apollo looked at Ceska. “I’ve got my phone on me. Call me if I’m not back in fifteen minutes, and if I don’t respond, feel free to come rescue me.”

Ceska crossed her arms over her chest and didn’t look convinced, but she allowed Apollo to pass her on his way out of his office. He knew she worried, and he was touched by that. Still, this was something he had to do. For the missing girl and for himself.

He took the elevator down to the lobby, telling himself he wouldn’t let Mordyn get to him. Not this time.

The door opened, and the vampire was there, leaning against a wall, looking at something on his phone. When Apollo stepped out, Mordyn put it away.

Their eyes met.

For an instant, nothing happened.

And then, Mordyn’s lips formed the smallest of smiles.

If Apollo hadn’t been looking at him so intently, he would have missed it, but he didn’t, and it made his pulse race in a way it shouldn’t.

So much for not letting the vampire get to him. 

They’d only just met and Apollo was already on edge.

“Thanks for meeting me,” Mordyn said.

“Like I had a choice.” Apollo tried to keep his voice level, unaffected. “I’d prefer this be quick. I have work to do.”

Mordyn nodded. “You want to talk right here?” He glanced around the lobby. They were the only people here, but still, it felt rather… public.

Apollo shook his head and led the vampire outside. There was a park nearby that didn’t see a lot of traffic at night. Not normally the kind of place Apollo would seek out, but for this occasion, it seemed perfect. “Follow me,” he said to the vampire.

Mordyn did not protest or make any sarcastic comments. Instead, he fell into step next to Apollo and walked with him to the park, where Apollo led him to a bench situated a little out of the way of the streetlights. He didn’t sit, though. He was too tense to sit.

“Okay,” he said as soon as he’d determined that no one else was within earshot. “Let’s hear it. What can you do?”

Mordyn studied him for a second, and the intensity of his gaze made Apollo uncomfortable, reminding him that the low light did not hinder the vampire’s sight at all. 

Apollo wondered what Mordyn saw when he looked at him. Could he tell how unsettled he was? Apollo tried to keep his emotions from showing on his face, but the vampire could probably pick up on his elevated heart rate.

Apollo’s skin prickled at the thought and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

Did it make Mordyn happy to know he was making Apollo nervous?

“You said you’d tell me,” Apollo reminded him when Mordyn remained quiet for too long.

Mordyn tilted his head slightly, as if he was weighing his words. “I will. I was only wondering why you’re not sleeping.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The dark circles under your eyes.”

Apollo scoffed. Like that was any of the vampire’s business. Like it wasn’t any of the vampire’s *fault.* “You tell me.” He glared at Mordyn.

Infuriatingly, Mordyn acted as if he didn’t understand what Apollo was getting at. “You blame me for your lack of sleep?”

Apollo gritted his teeth. “Don’t play dumb.” How could Mordyn pretend not to know when he haunted Apollo’s dreams every night? Because that had to be something the vampire was doing intentionally, not something Apollo’s brain just came up with on its own. Those dreams… 

For the briefest of moments, Apollo looked at Mordyn and saw the vampire he’d kissed under a starry sky, waiting for shooting stars. The vampire whose mate he’d longed to be.

Something fluttered in his stomach and he cursed himself. 

Those dreams had nothing to do with reality.

He forced himself to focus on his anger again, and it was easy to find, bubbling just below the surface. He grabbed onto it. He *hated* this vampire before him. He hated all vampires, but this one in particular. “Stop pretending like you don’t know what’s happening. You’ve been giving me these fucked up dreams!”

Mordyn held his gaze without flinching. In the darkness, his eyes flashed red. “You’re dreaming about me?”

Apollo flushed. Was Mordyn really going to act like that wasn’t his doing? Like he wasn’t the one who was manipulating Apollo’s thoughts and dreams? “You know I am,” he snapped.

“What kind of dreams?”

Apollo’s stomach did another flip at the question and the look Mordyn gave him.

It summoned memories to the forefront of his mind, of the way they’d danced in the club. The way Mordyn’s body felt pressed close to his, moving against his. The way Mordyn had smelled and tasted, how his lips had brushed against the skin of Apollo’s neck…

“Oh,” Mordyn said, as if he understood.

Because he was in Apollo’s mind again, wasn’t he?

Red hot rage flashed in Apollo’s gut.

Fuck him.

“Tell me,” Apollo demanded, “what you can do.”

Mordyn stepped closer to him, as if he didn’t care how angry Apollo was. “I’ll tell you,” he said, “just as soon as you tell me what you think it is I’m doing to you.”

Apollo froze. Mordyn was too close, and Apollo wanted to step back, but doing so felt like admitting defeat. Like admitting that the vampire made him nervous. Apollo was never going to give him that kind of satisfaction. 

“You liked it when I kissed you,” Mordyn said, a statement, not a question. “You want more than that, don’t you? But you hate that about yourself because vampires are your enemy and so you’ve convinced yourself that I’m the one putting those desires in your head, that they’re not your own at all.” He crowded Apollo’s space with his body, but didn’t touch him. “You don’t want to take responsibilty for your own feelings so you find it easier to blame me.”

Apollo’s heart beat a rapid tempo, his entire body screaming at him to do something. 

He could stab Mordyn to make him stop talking. He could turn away and put some distance between them, but instead he was rooted in place by Mordyn’s gaze, unable to tear himself away, his hands curled into fists at his sides, his blood roaring in his ears.

“The truth is,” Mordyn said, “I’m not doing anything. It’s all you.”

Apollo ground his teeth so hard it hurt. That couldn’t be true. Why would he dream about Mordyn? Why would he have the desire to kiss a vampire? 

Why did he want to kiss a vampire even now?

He wanted to shove Mordyn away, punch him in the face, push him against a tree and crush their lips together again. He wanted to taste the vampire’s tongue. He wanted to dig his fingernails into Mordyn’s skin and leave marks.

He stared into Mordyn’s red eyes and hated him.

Mordyn lifted a hand and cupped Apollo’s cheek in a cool touch that was a thousand times more intimate than it should be. Apollo shuddered despite himself, and Mordyn’s lips quirked in a small, smug smile.

It was as if he *wanted* Apollo to slap him.

And yet, all Apollo could do was stare back as Mordyn leaned in and brushed the barest of kisses over his lips. Apollo’s hand went to his belt, but even while his fingers settled on the handle of his knife, his lips parted for Mordyn, letting the vampire steal his breath and feed the fire that burned beneath his skin.

Apollo groaned, his thoughts a jumbled mess of outrage, desire and a terrible, desperate longing caused by the touch of Mordyn’s lips. His fingers twitched around the hilt of his blade as if to draw it, but before he could, Mordyn broke their kiss and pulled away.

He smirked as if he knew exactly what effect he had on Apollo.

Apollo fought to regain his bearings, trying to gather his thoughts as Mordyn studied him with an expression that made Apollo want to lash out.

“Now that we’ve cleared that up,” Mordyn said. “I’ll let you in on my secret. I’m an empath.”

***

Mordyn watched Apollo with baited breath as the mortal processed the words Mordyn had just spoken. 

He yearned to kiss Apollo again, but being an empath, he’d felt how close Apollo had come to stabbing him just now. There was so much confused rage in him it made Mordyn feel wired himself, like the urge to fight or fuck was being broadcast directly into his brain.

Not that his brain needed any additional help to jump on that train. 

He didn’t want to fight Apollo, not necessarily, but he wouldn’t mind rolling on the floor with Apollo, bodies entangled, hands gripping hard enough to bruise, teeth scraping skin and fingers tearing away clothing as they struggled to see which of them would come out on top.

Mordyn wasn’t afraid of getting cut, if it came to that. 

But he knew there was a limit to how far he could push Apollo before Apollo would storm off. The man was wound so tight he was all hard edges and rigid lines, and as much as Mordyn wanted to wrap himself around those lines, he had a pretty good idea that trying to right now would have the opposite effect of what he was hoping to achieve.

“An empath,” Apollo repeated, his eyes narrowing. “What exactly does that mean?”

“I can sense other people’s emotions,” Mordyn said. “That’s how I detect lies.” 

“You sense them?” Apollo’s doubt was written so plainly on his face, Mordyn didn’t need to be an empath to see it. “Is that all you can do?”

“It’s no small thing,” Mordyn dodged the question. “I can tell exactly what’s going on with you. I know when you’re wanting to stab me. I know when you’re wanting to kiss me too,” he added, unable to stop himself from teasing.

Apollo’s lips pressed into a thin line. “I don’t want to kiss you. If you really knew what I’m feeling, you’d know that I hate you.”

“The tricky thing about emotions is that you can have more than one at a time,” Mordyn said, trying not to let Apollo’s words hurt him. Apollo could say that he hated Mordyn all day long, and Mordyn would never blame him for that. He had every right to hate Mordyn after all the pain Mordyn had caused him in his previous life, even if Apollo didn’t remember. 

Mordyn would lay his life down for this mortal without a second’s hesitation and never look back, no matter how Apollo felt about him in return.

He understood Apollo’s hate.

But that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt when he sensed it in the air between them, lending truth to Apollo’s words. There was a lot of hate in Apollo, fueling his anger. “You hate all vampires,” Mordyn said, remembering the interview he’d watched over and over. Apollo’s mission statement to rid the kingdom of all criminal vampires had always sounded like he meant to get rid of all vampires, period. “Don’t you?”

“I do.” Apollo’s gaze darkened. “But there’s something about you in particular.”

Mordyn forced himself to laugh at that. “I’m special?” 

“Because you can’t leave my thoughts alone.” 

Mordyn’s attention strayed to Apollos’ hand, which tightened around the hilt of his knife as if he thought he might need it at any moment. “I’m not responsible for your thoughts,” he said. “And I know you feel more than hate for me. It’s like a rush of heat that comes over me when you look at me for too long. You want things you’re afraid to want.” He met Apollo’s gaze. “I’ll be honest with you. I *could* manipulate your emotions, if I wanted to, but I never have.” 

Apollo scoffed at that. “Why the fuck should I believe you?”

Mordyn shrugged. “You’re free not to. For all you know, I’m manipulating you right now, but if it’s all my fault, there’s one thing you’ve got to explain to me.”

“What’s that?” 

“Your dreams.” Mordyn allowed a small smile to play on his lips as a wave of embarrassment and indignation washed over him from Apollo’s direction. “My powers are limited. I can’t influence anyone who isn’t in line of sight, so how would I be directing your dreams? Unless you somehow think I’m sneaking into your room in the middle of the night.”

Apollo glared at him, but an intelligent retort failed to come.

“Maybe,” Mordyn said, “I star in your dreams because I’m the hottest vampire you’ve ever seen. Don’t take it too badly if you want to fuck me. Tons of people are similarly affected, trust me.”

Apollo’s mouth fell open at that in a toneless scoff, and then he spluttered. “I don’t–” He fell silent, probably because Mordyn was smirking at him.

Or maybe because his anger spiked so high Mordyn *almost* stopped teasing him. Almost. “I wonder what scenarios you dream up at night in the comfort of your bed.” He inched closer to Apollo, knownig that he should stop, but unable to make himself. There was something unnaturally addictive about about that mix of cold rage and hot desire that curled itself like a web around Apollo. Mordyn felt as if he was caught in it too, drawn irresistably toward the source. “Tell me,” he said, dropping his voice, “do I end up on top? Or do you?”

And in a flash, there it was. Apollo’s knife at Mordyn’s throat.

Mordyn didn’t move.

Let Apollo believe he was in control of this situation if that was what he needed. Mordyn wasn’t scared. Hell, if anyone had the right to end Mordyn’s life, it was this redheaded mortal, glaring at him so furiously it almost seemed as if he wanted to burn Mordyn to ashes with his gaze alone.

“Stay the fuck out of my head,” Apollo hissed.

“Did I hit a nerve?”

“This is your last warning.”

“Is it?”

“One more word,” Apollo said, his hand so steady where it held the knife against Mordyn’s throat. “And I’ll cut you.”

Mordyn lifted his chin. “Do your worst, sunshine.”

Apollo took a step back as if burned. “What did you call me?”

Mordyn couldn’t place Apollo’s reaction to the simple term of endearment. It had slipped from his lips naturally. Something he had often called Jory, back in the day. Apollo wasn’t Jory, of course, and he eyed Mordyn as if he took personal offense. Mordyn sensed surprise too, though. An unusual amount.

“You said you weren’t in my dreams, but that proves you are.” Apollo’s gaze burned almost as much as his cheeks as he said. “That’s what you call me in my dreams.” 

Mordyn took a few seconds to process that. 

So far he’d figured Apollo’s dreams were figments of his imagination. 

But what if…?

What if they were memories?

The thought broke Mordyn. If there was a part of Apollo that remembered Jory, a part of him that still *was* Jory…

He stared at Apollo, momentarily lost for words. He suddenly understood what it was like for Apollo, feeling so many emotions at once he couldn’t make sense of them. All this time he’d tried to make himself understand that this was an entirely different person from Jory, reincarnation or not, but now that he knew Apollo shared some of Jory’s memories, his focus zeroed in on the similarities between them again and his heart screamed MATE even louder than before.

“Admit it,” Apollo said. “You planted those dreams in my head.” He scoffed. “I would never dream of dancing in a club or going stargazing with a vampire.” 

Going stargazing…

Mordyn remembered that night so well it hurt. How nervous he’d been when he’d asked Jory to become his mate. The joy that had lit him up from the inside when Jory agreed. The way the meteor shower had painted the sky above only moments later, breathtakingly beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as Jory’s smiling face.

It was the happiest night of his life.

The only reason Apollo dreamed of it was because he was Mordyn’s still. A whole lifetime later, and in another man’s body, but still Mordyn’s.

And Mordyn could not stop himself from grabbing Apollo, ignoring the surprised yelp and the way the man’s knife dug into his side as he pulled the mortal close. The blade was sharp but wouldn’t cause any lasting damage, so Mordyn paid it no mind. His lips crashed down on Apollo’s and he claimed a hard, hungry kiss that was filled with nothing but the force of his want.

Apollo protested for only a split second, but then he made a half angry, half frustrated sound and returned the kiss as if he needed Mordyn as much as Mordyn needed him. As if he’d *wanted* Mordyn to push past his defenses.

The taste of his lips was everything.

Mordyn groaned as Apollo’s tongue swiped at his in a heated exchange that sent sparks of fire throughout his body. His fingers clutched Apollo’s shirt, twisting it as he drew Apollo flush against him, their bodies crashing together as Apollo let his knife slip from his grip to dig his fingers into Mordyn’s hips.

“Fuck,” Apollo rasped against his lips, sounding like he hated himself for needing this. “What are you doing to me?”

“Kissing you,” Mordyn murmured, his fangs itching in his gums, wanting to sink themselves into Apollo. He sucked on the mortal’s lower lip, tugging lightly and earning a groan.

“That’s not…” Apollo took a deep breath and pulled back as far as Mordyn would let him. His lip were swollen from kissing, his heartbeat pounding in his chest and a swirl of emotions played across his features and thickening the air between them. Irritation, confusion, and the kind of bone-deep yearning that could drive a man mad. 

Mordyn knew he had to say something. To explain. But where would he even start? He rested a hand on Apollo’s shoulder. “Do you believe in fate?”


Fate?

Apollo stared back at Mordyn. Surely this vampire could not be serious, but he didn’t look like he was kidding either. He held his gaze steady on Apollo, eyes glowing ever so faintly red with heightened emotion.

The vampire was toying with him, but also not.

“Explain,” Apollo said in spite of himself.

He did not believe in fate himself, but he knew that most paranormals did. Sadly, many even used it to justify their crimes. They could do nothing wrong when they were only doing what their ‘destiny’ called for. As such, the mention of fate or gods often left a bad taste in Apollo’s mouth, but he was willing to hear Mordyn out. 

If only because he needed *some* sort of explanation for what was happening, even if he was likely to discard that explanation as soon as he heard it.

Mordyn’s hand on his shoulder weighed heavily on him, but he didn’t try to pull away. He only wished he hadn’t let his knife drop. Without it, he felt strangely naked, and he really didn’t need any more reason to feel that way around Mordyn, when the vampire’s eyes were already stripping him so efficiently.

‘Sensing his emotions,’ Apollo now knew.

He was still torn on whether or not Mordyn was also manipulating his emotions or not, but he’d brought up a good point with the dreams. Mordyn wasn’t likely to be powerful enough to be able to control Apollo’s thoughts at all hours of the day over long distances. 

Was he?

“Fate is a bitch,” Mordyn said with a sudden humorless laugh. “It can force people together even when they might not be good for each other.” He trailed his fingers up the side of Apollo’s neck almost absentmindedly, as if his thoughts were somewhere else entirely. In a different place, maybe even in an entirely different time.

The gesture was oddly familiar.

Had Mordyn touched him like this in a dream once?

Shoving the thought aside, Apollo forced himself back to the present. “What are you talking about?”

Mordyn’s smile was paper thin. “Of you and me, of course. We would not make any sense as a couple. You hate vampires, as you should, and I’m as bad as the come. When I was freshly turned, I feasted on a whole family, and I enjoyed it.” 

Apollo’s eyes narrowed at Mordyn. “Are you trying to make me stab you again?” His gaze flicked to his knife again, lying uselessly in the grass between them. “Why are you telling me this?”

“To illustrate that fate doesn’t give a shit about how bad I was… or am. It still keeps putting you in my path.”

Apollo didn’t like the way Mordyn was looking at him. “What are you saying? That you believe it’s your fate to be with me?” That couldn’t be right.

“I don’t believe it. I know it.” Mordyn didn’t seem at all *happy* about this observation, though. 

At least that made two of them. 

Not that Apollo thought there was anything to this whole fate business. 

Even if he’d put any stock in the notion of fate, it wasn’t his fate to be with a vampire. That was ridiculous. 

Mordyn sensed his doubt. “Why else do you think you’re dreaming of me? How do you explain this?” He leaned in. Apollo was half convinced Mordyn wanted to kiss him again, and he stiffened, torn between anticipation and trepidation. But Mordyn only ran his nose along Apollo’s neck, inhaling deeply. “Your blood calls to me.”

Apollo shuddered, but he couldn’t decide if it was because of revulsion or arousal. Maybe it was both. Yes, both sounded about right. “Keep your fangs away from my neck.”

“Scared?” Mordyn placed a soft, open-mouthed kiss on the side of Apollo’s neck.

Apollo’s pulse thrummed like a drum in response even as he tried to suppress the reaction. “You know I’m not.”

“I also know that you like my lips on you.” Mordyn placed another kiss on his neck, making Apollo want to push him away before his own treacherous body could prove the vampire right. “You may not believe in fate, and your weak mortal senses may not pick up on our bond the way mine do, but deep down, you want this more than any rational part of you can explain or argue away.” Mordyn pressed another kiss against his skin, this time just below Apollo’s ear. “That’s why you can’t stop thinking about me. That’s why I appear in your dreams.”

“Bullshit,” Apollo said. At least, it was what he wanted to say. Instead, the sound he made was more of a groan as Mordyn’s hands slid down his sides to grip his ass, pulling their bodies closer together, bringing to attention just how hard Mordyn was as the bulge in his pants met the matching erection straining against Apollo’s own jeans.

Apollo bit the inside of his cheek, resisting the urge to grind against the vampire. Just so. 

“I can feel some hard evidence there.” The smugness in Mordyn’s tone set Apollo’s teeth on edge.

More so because he couldn’t deny Mordyn’s claim. “I’m going to kill you.”

“Go right ahead.” Mordyn’s lips found his mouth again for a searing kiss that was as possessive as it was intoxicating and all Apollo’s thoughts dissolved into ash, like a vampire exposed to the sun. 

He turned into a mindless creature, driven by nothing but instinct and want as Mordyn’s hips moved and rubbed their erections together. Apollo gasped, his own fingers digging into Mordyn’s back, holding on as if he could somehow hold on to his sanity if he could only dig his nails deep enough into Mordyn’s skin as the vampire walked them backwards until Apollo was pinned up against a tree, leaves rustling overhead and the rough bark scraping his back.

This was madness. 

Utter and complete madness.

Apollo couldn’t possibly want this. 

But he did. So badly his entire body burned and his cock throbbed with the need to be touched, to be fucked. His heart hammered in his chest and blew out a shuddery breath. “I’m really going to kill you.”

But even if he had his knife in his hand now, he didn’t think he would use it.

Mordyn knew it too, or if he didn’t, he didn’t seem to care about any death threats Apollo leveled his way. He only smirked and reached for the button on Apollo’s jeans, popping it open with practiced ease. His hand closed around the bulge in Apollo’s underwear, and Apollo groaned, unable to keep his hips from bucking as Mordyn squeezed and rubbed through the fabric. “Tell me to stop any time,” he murmured against the shell of his ear, “if you can’t handle me.”

Apollo gritted his teeth against the moan that stuck in his throat as Mordyn’s hand massaged him through his underwear. “I can handle anything a vampire can dish out.” His voice sounded too breathless for his words to carry any real weight, but he didn’t care, as long as Mordyn would just *touch him properly.*

“This is nothing,” he hissed. “If you’re going to touch me, do it right.”

A low chuckle, and Mordyn obliged, his hand slipping past the waistband of Apollo’s boxers and closing firmly around his bare shaft. “Like this?” Mordyn purred into his ear, his thumb rubbing a slow circle around the tip of Apollo’s cock, smearing the precum that had gathered there.

Apollo cursed under his breath, and Mordyn chuckled again, a deep, rich sound that seemed to vibrate in his chest. He pressed a kiss to Apollo’s neck as he worked his hand in a steady motion up and down Apollo’s length, making it almost impossible for Apollo not to squirm.

He was not going to squirm, damn it. He was not–fuck–

Mordyn twisted his wrist in a way that made Apollo arch off the tree behind him and gasp. Not that he got very far, with Mordyn still pressed so close to him. He leaned against the vampire, almost involuntarily, but Mordyn never said a word about it, only stroked him harder, faster, making him feel as if all of his nerves were on edge and ready to short-circuit.

From a fucking hand job.

As if he was a teenager. 

He would have been embarassed by that, if he wasn’t even more embarassed by how bereft he felt when Mordyn pulled his hand away. “I didn’t tell you to stop,” he snapped, his voice rough and foreign to his ears.

Mordyn smiled and traced a finger along Apollo’s jaw. “No,” he said as he leaned in, “but I’ll only go on if you ask me for it. I want to be sure it’s what you want.”

Apollo swallowed hard. He couldn’t ask for this. “How do I know you’re not manipulating me right now?” 

It would explain so much. 

“You really think I’m doing that?”

Apollo leaned back as far as he could and glared at the vampire who was tormenting him in so many ways. 

“I am not using any paranormal powers on you.” Mordyn brought his hand back to Apollo’s cock, but only squeezed him lightly. Enough to cast Apollo’s need into sharp focus, too little to relief him of it. “I don’t need my powers for this.”

Apollo believe him. He didn’t want to, but he did. All the messed up feelings Mordyn’s touch evoked in him, those were all his. 

“Just ask me for it.” Mordyn’s hand moved again, stroking him with tortuous slowness. “I’ll let you finish in my mouth.”

Apollo huffed. They were in a public space! Even if they were alone. And besides… “You think I want your freakish vampire teeth near my dick?”

Mordyn grinned, showing off the barest hint of fangs in the dark. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.” He kissed the side of Apollo’s neck again, sucking at the spot as if to demonstrate what he meant to do to Apollo’s aching cock. 

It should not have turned Apollo’s knees weak.

He would hate himself for this… later. 

“Do it,” Apollo growled. “Finish what you started.”

Mordyn sank to his knees in front of him, his eyes flashing bright red for a split second as his hands tugged down Apollo’s jeans and underwear just far enough. His mouth was on Apollo before Apollo even knew how to prepare for the feeling of the vampire’s cool lips wrapped around the tip of his cock, sucking him in with a single fluid motion.

Apollo groaned and buried a hand in Mordyn’s hair, holding him in place as he thrust deep into his mouth. Mordyn hummed around him, encouraging him to fuck his throat.

Mordyn’s mouth was not warm. Nothing about the vampire was, but the way his tongue pressed to the underside of Apollo’s shaft sent sparks of heat through him nonetheless and made his toes curl. Apollo tightened his grip in Mordyn’s hair, pulling hard enough to make it hurt, but Mordyn only looked up at him and moaned as if he liked it, as if he wanted Apollo to fuck his mouth as hard as Apollo needed to.

Apollo did. 

His phone rang in his pocket, but he ignored the sound.

He couldn’t stop.

Mordyn’s throat was a tight channel, clenching around him as he drove deeper into it. Vampires didn’t need air. They only breathed out of habit. Apollo took ruthless advantage of that fact, fucking Mordyn’s throat without restraint, without apology and with increasing urgency.

It felt too good for him to be able to last.

He groaned as his balls drew tight and his orgasm hit him hard enough to leave him dizzy, hard enough to make his vision blur and his knees threaten to buckle under him. He held onto Mordyn’s shoulders, panting, trying to catch his breath while his cock was softening in the vampire’s throat.

Mordyn licked his lips and smirked when he pulled back, and Apollo waited for the shame and self-disgust to hit him now that he was spent, but all he felt was a bone-deep satisfaction. And exhaustion. It was as if all the nights of too little sleep had decided to catch up with him this very moment. 

Even when Mordyn rose to help him straighten his clothes, he didn’t have the energy to fight the vampire, nor the brain capacity to make any sense of what had just happened or what he should be feeling.

Mordyn brushed a stray strand of hair from Apollo’s face, then kissed him lightly on the forehead as if they were lovers rather than…rather than… 

What was it they were supposed to be?

Enemies?

That term didn’t seem quite right either.

“Believe me now?” Mordyn asked. 

Apollo only looked at him. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe.” His gaze found his knife, discarded on the ground. He picked it up and studied it. The blade was stained with Mordyn’s blood.

“Maybe next time we meet you won’t cut me,” Mordyn suggested. 

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

“I’m not sure about anything,” Mordyn said. “Except that it would make working together easier if you didn’t try to stab me.”

Working together. Right. Something rattled in Apollo’s brain. He turned to Mordyn, sheathing his weapon. “You said you had a vampire willing to talk.” If Apollo could focus on *that* matter, he didn’t have to think about all the things that didn’t make sense. 

“I do. I’ll bring him by if you want me to.”

“As soon as you can,” Apollo said as the urgency of the situation came back to him. 

“Not tonight,” Mordyn said, “because you need to get a few hours of sleep.” 

“Fuck sleep.” Irritation rose in Apollo again, both at the thought of wasting his time while a little girl was in danger, and at the presumptuousness of Mordyn’s tone. Who was this vampire to tell him what to do?

The anger felt good, though, justified and familiar, and Apollo hung on to it. 

By the shift in Mordyn’s features, the vampire noticed. 

Fucking empath.

Fortunately, Mordyn was wise enough not to comment on Apollo’s emotional state. “If you want to get this done quick,” he said, “you can meet us at the club in the morning. I’ll unlock the door when you ring.”

Apollo didn’t relish the thought of wandering into a vampire’s den, but he knew he couldn’t ask Mordyn to meet him anywhere else once the sun was up either.  “Fine,” he said. “I’ll be there at six. Make sure you’re ready.”

“Of course.” Mordyn gave him a small smile. “I’ll be expecting you, sunshine.”

Apollo bristled at the nickname–but that was probably why Mordyn used it in the first place. “Sunshine kills vampires.” 

Mordyn’s smile remained. “That’s why the name suits you so well.” With that, and a wave of his hand, he turned and left, vanishing into the darkness of the park. 

Apollo walked back toward the park’s entrance, deep in thought, until a couple of familiar faces came rushing toward him. Ceska and a few other members of his task force. 

“Thank God you’re safe!” Ceska called. “Where’s the vampire? Why didn’t you answer your phone?” She sounded as if she’d been genuinely worried, and when Apollo said that he’d been distracted, he was very, very glad for the darkness hiding the crimson flush that spread over his skin.


New Chapter

The club was packed when Mordyn got back there. 

One of the succubi sitting at the table near the door shot him a look, but Mordyn ignored her. He was pretty sure he’d promised her a dance a week ago, but he wasn’t going to keep that promise. Least of all tonight.

All he wanted was to find some quiet corner to himself and be alone with his thoughts. Or rather, alone without any thoughts at all. Vitra was at the bar, and maybe he could talk her into giving him some of the extra strong spiked blood they reserved for special occasions. 

Could sucking your reincarnated mate off be counted as a special occasion? 

Mordyn didn’t have time to think about it before Altair tapped him on the shoulder. “Where have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“I’ll tell you,” Mordyn said, glancing around. “Not here, though.”

Altair nodded and motioned for Mordyn to follow him out of the club and to his office downstairs. 

“How’s Sven doing?” Mordyn asked by way of making conversation. “Have you found any good blood for him?” 

“We found a few bottles that seem unspoiled,” Altair said, opening the door to his office and letting Mordyn enter first. “They should tide him over until we can figure out if his talents can be turned off when not needed.”

“It’s a curious talent for sure.” Mordyn sat on the chair opposite to the desk and waited for Altair to take a seat as well. “He seems to take after you, with the mind reading.”

“He can do more than me,” Altair reminded him. “He could manipulate that girl’s movements without any practice, and he tells me he could track where she was for hours later.”

Mordyn’s brows lifted. “Really?” That was interesting. Mordyn had never heard of a fledgling that was so strong. “Do you think it’s because he was raised on his mate’s blood?” 

“I’ve considered the possibility.” Altair rubbed his chin in thought. “But a lot of vampires used to turn their mates and I haven’t come across any intel describing those vampires as stronger than others.”

“Well, being with your mate makes you stronger in general, no?” Mordyn knew it had certainly been so for him when Jory had been alive and Mordyn got to drink from him regularly. Normally he could only manipulate one person’s emotions, and only to a small degree. With Jory’s blood flowing through his veins, he’d been able to influence anyone in the room, multiple people at the same time, with ease. He could make anyone do almost anything he wanted. It had been a heady power, and they’d taken full advantage of it to further their political goals of improving the relationship between mortals and vampires. 

Altair leaned back in his chair. “The extra power comes from drinking your mate’s blood, but we give that up when we turn them. It was a small sacrifice for me to make. I’m powerful enough as it is, and I’d rather have Sven live an eternal life.” He caught himself on the last word, expression shifting to a look of sympathy as he evidently remembered Mordyn’s mate dying. “It’s a choice we all have to make for ourselves.”

Mordyn licked his lips and suppressed the bitter memory of losing his mate. Jory hadn’t wanted to be turned. ‘Not yet,’ he used to say. ‘Later.’ 

Mordyn hadn’t known there wouldn’t be a ‘later’ for them. 

He shook off the thought to focus on the conversation. “You derive no extra strength from Sven now that he’s a vampire?” 

“I wouldn’t say that.” Altair looked at a framed picture of his mate that sat on his desk. Obviously, it had been taken for before Sven had become a vampire. “I do feel stronger,” Altair said, “but it’s nothing as profound as it was when his blood was still mortal.”

Mordyn nodded. “I see.” 

“Anyway.” Altair turned his attention to Mordyn, studying him for a beat before continuing: “I heard your last meeting with Apollo didn’t go so well.” 

Oh. 

As soon as Altair mentioned Mordyn’s ‘last meeting with Apollo’, the taste of Apollo’s dick rose in Mordyn’s memory and made him swallow. But that wasn’t even the meeting Altair was talking about, was it? He probably meant the one everyone else was gossiping about. The one when he’d kissed Apollo and been rejected. 

Well.

He’d kissed Apollo tonight as well… and more than that. 

Funny enough, he didn’t think he’d improved their relationship by blowing Apolol. 

He wondered what Apollo was doing right now. Was he thinking about Mordyn? Cursing himself for letting Mordyn touch him like that?

Likely.

“Mord?” Altair called him back to earth. 

“Sorry.” Mordyn straightened in his chair. “I’ll admit, our first interview meeting didn’t go great, but that’s why I went out tonight. I met Apollo again to… talk things through.”

“Did you?” One of Altair’s eyebrows inched upward. “And how did that go?” 

How to respond to that? 

“Well… He only stabbed me once, and not with great passion.” 

Altair looked at him as if he didn’t know how to take that. Clearly, he didn’t see what an improvement it was that Apollo hadn’t put any *serious* effort into hurting Mordyn. 

“Things are fine, I promise,” Mordyn said. “Tarek claims he has useful information for Apollo, so Apollo’s gonna come over in the morning and we’ll have another little interview.” 

Altair considered this for a moment. “He’s coming here?” 

“Past sunrise,” Mordyn said. “It’s an urgent matter, and the club will be mostly empty by that time. I’ll tell any stragglers to take a hike and clear the space.” 

“You might want to get an early start on that,” Altair advised. “You know the place always needs a little cleaning after a busy night, and a club with a sticky floor and the smell of vomit hanging around doesn’t make for the best location to impress your crush.”

Mordyn snorted. “I could invite him to the king’s castle and he wouldn’t be impressed as long as I’m there.” Aside from that, though, Altair had a point. “Who’s on clean-up duty tonight?”

“Your fledgling, as it happens, along with Cyril and Darya.”

“All right.” Mordyn rose from his chair. “Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?”

“Nothing,” Altair said, but he paused in a way that made Mordyn wait for him to say something more. At last, Altair did. “I hope you find a way to be with your mate without getting stabbed.”

***

Miraculously, Apollo did get a few hours of sleep that night. Mostly because the dream he had wasn’t as disturbing as most of the others had been. Or, at the very least, it wasn’t disturbing in the same way. 

It was more confusing than anything.

He wasn’t with Mordyn that time, at least. 

Instead, he was shaking hands with important-looking people in a big ballroom filled with men wearing fancy suits and ladies wearing dresses. It was a charity ball, he gathered, held to raise money to build blood banks for vampires so they wouldn’t be forced to prey on others anymore.

There was even an area set up in the back where willing donors could go and give their blood voluntarily, to be distributed at those same blood banks. Apollo didn’t know if that idea would work out, but he was happy with how many people were showing up, and the amount of money they’d collected so far. It was a promising start.

His mom stood beside him, but when Apollo’s gaze focused on her, she didn’t look like the mother he remembered. She was shorter, and her face was all wrong. Soft brown eyes stared back at him instead of light green ones. 

But to the person he was in his dreams, this made sense in the way dreams always did.

“Your father and I are very proud of you,” she said. 

“Dad didn’t even come,” he heard himself reply. 

She rested a hand on his arm. “You know it takes some people time to come around to your idea of a future in which we will live peacefully side by side with vampires.”

Apollo almost laughed at that. His dad didn’t care about vampires and mortals living in peace, but he cared that one of those vampires was fucking his son. That was all there was to it. “Mord makes me happy,” he said stubbornly, not wanting to be placated.

“I know, honey.” His mother squeezed his arm. “Your vampire has been nothing but a perfect gentleman to us, and I’m sure your father will come around when he sees how much this means to you.” She gestured around the room, and Apollo followed her gaze, taking in all the smiling, chatting people. A banner hung over the stage where a band was playing: A banner hung over the stage where a band was playing: ‘For a United Future,’ it said in large letters, and ‘humane rights for everyone,’ in smaller print beneath it. 

It was the slogan they used for their campaign.

Apollo’s chest swelled with pride. This did mean a lot to him. He was going to build the kind of world where everyone could live together, free from fear and hatred. 

What better goal was there to strife for?

Gradually, the dream faded and Apollo woke up in his bedroom, staring at the darkness of his ceiling. He reached for his phone, squinting against the brightness of its screen as he checked the time.

5AM.

Might as well get up then.

Except that his brain wasn’t fully awake yet, part of it still grappling with the dream he’d had and how stupid it had been. A publically funded blook bank for vampires?

Really?

Who would ever come up with something so stupid. 

He rubbed his eyes, trying to wake himself up faster. At least Mordyn hadn’t been with him in this dream. He didn’t know if he could have taken it, after everything that had happened between them only a couple of hours ago. He’d had his cock buried deep in the vampire’s throat. Not in a dream, but in real life–and he’d loved it. 

Even just thinking about it made his dick twitch with interest inside his boxer shorts. 

Apollo kept himself from reaching down and jerking off to the memory. 

If he did that he’d only encourage this… obsession he had with the vampire to grow. 

He groaned. If only only he knew what had sparked these desires. 

Mordyn talked about fate as if that was a real thing, as if it had anything to do with the two of them. Apollo wasn’t quite ready to believe that, though. How cruel would fate have to be to tie him to a vampire? 

And why would it give him these strange dreams?

Apollo sat up and looked at his phone again. That slogan he’d read in the dream… He had the oddest feeling that he’d heard it somewhere before. Maybe a real event that his brain had mixed into the fantasy? 

He typed the whole thing into a search engine and waited for the results to load.

The first few links didn’t look promising, but farther down the page, a link to a historical society’s website caught his eye.

*Humane rights movement for a united future. 1997 – 2004*

Apollo clicked the link and skimmed over the text.

The article was short, and didn’t say much, just explained that this was an early human rights group that advocated for equality among paranormals and mortals alike, with a focus on vampires. “The group likely championed vampire rights because the campaign leader, Jory Vanderbrook, was in a romantic relationship with a vampire. Unfortunately, Jory was killed in a vampire attack only seven years after the movement was founded, and the group fell apart soon after. It is unclear if the organization was shut down, or if it simply lost momentum.”

Underneath the article, Apollo found a picture of Jory. He sported the same eyes as the woman who’d been his mother in his dreams, and the same hair color as well. There was something eerily familiar about him… something that tugged at the corners of Apollo’s memories.

There was no way he’d ever seen Jory before. The man had died a hundred years ago, after all, in the most ironic way. Apollo might have called it moronic, even, if there was any point in being mean to a dead person.

He’d played with vampires and been killed by them, an entirely predictable outcome, really. 

And Apollo didn’t see why he should spend any more time thinking about the idiot, except that he couldn’t shake the feeling that something about him was important.

He went back to the search engine and typed Jory’s name into it. He got a few more articles about the humane rights movement Jory started, and even a video clip of him giving a talk on why he wanted to create the group in the first place.

Jory was young in the recording, but he seemed mature for his age, and spoke confidently, as if he truly believed in what he preached. “Vampires don’t have to be our enemies,” he said. “I know it’s scary, but I’ve met plenty of kind, decent vampires who don’t deserve the hate they get.”

His voice sounded familiar too.

In the video, someone asked Jory about his vampire lover, and Jory blushed a little. “He’s great,” he said. “And I love him more than anything, but Mord’s not the only reason I’m doing this.”

Apollo’s breath caught.

Mord?

He replayed the video clip again, and yes, Jory definitely said ‘Mord’.

Apollo downloaded the clip to his phone, his heart beating out of rhythm. This mortal who’d been dead a hundred years had been Mordyn’s lover, and now Apollo was dreaming about his stupid charity event. Dreaming about it as if he *was* Jory. That was the role he’d occupied in that dream, wasn’t it? It had been his event. 

Apollo’s jaw clenched.

All the dreams he’d been having… 

He’d been someone else in all of them, thinking thoughts that could not possibly be his own, doing things he’d never do. 

He stared at the image of Jory on his phone’s screen. 

He’d thought he was dreaming of Mordyn, but that wasn’t it. All this time, he’d been dreaming of this person’s life. *His* dreams, ambitions and desires. 

He didn’t know why, but Mordyn would know. Apollo was convinced of that. Mordyn knew, and Apollo was going to get an answer from him one way or another. 


New Chapter 

Apollo stepped into the Rubyville nightclub with a sense of foreboding. There was no loud music now, in the morning hours, only an eerie silence broken by him and the two task force members Ceska had told him to take along. Ianair and Jarron were both capable young dragon shifters, sure to stop any vampire shennanigans in their tracks. They looked around the club with wary expressions. The air was thick with the cloying scent of alcohol and something metallic that made Apollo’s stomach churn. Neon lights flickered overhead, casting an otherworldly glow on the empty tables and chairs.

“This place is creepy as fuck,” Ianair muttered.

“It’s just a club after a night of partying,” Apollo brushed him off. He spotted Mordyn sitting at a table with another vampire, glasses filled with blood in front of both of them. 

Apollo didn’t know what it was, but something about the image set his stomach off. He tried hard to ignore it as he approached, unwilling to show any kind of weakness before his team or the vampires.

“Hey.” Mordyn’s lips quirked upward into a small grin as he took in Apollo. “Did you get some sleep?”

Ianair and Jarron shot Apollo quizzical gazes, but Apollo paid them no attention. He was too busy fighting the nausea that climbed up his throat and threatened to spill over the second he got close to the table with the glasses.

Was it the smell of the blood? 

Apollo wasn’t sure, but whatever it was, it was quickly growing impossible to deal with. He raised a hand to his lips. “Where’s your bathroom?” he asked.

“Over there.” Mordyn jerked his chin toward the back wall. “Are you all right?”

“I’m–” Apollo cut himself off before he could say ‘fine’. It was clear that he wasn’t fine. And anyway, he needed to be anywhere else but next to this table. He stumbled toward the bathroom, ignoring the worried questions Ianair and Jarron called after him.

The moment the door closed behind him and the smell of the blood was blocked out, relief rushed through Apollo. His knees felt weak and he leaned against a sink to catch his breath, waiting for his stomach to settle.

What the hell *was* this?

A few seconds later, the door opened again and Mordyn came in. “Are you okay?”

Apollo glared at him. A perfect target for his frustration. Whirling around, he stabbed Mordyn’s chest with his finger. “You!” he said with emphasis. 

“Me?” Mordyn looked nonplussed, making no move to get away from Apollo’s anger. “What did I do?” 

“Are you kidding me? You’re the reason behind everything weird that’s happening in my life. This included. I don’t know how yet, but I’m sure it’s true. Starting with those damn dreams!” Apollo paused to take a breath and to gather his thoughts so he could voice them in a more sensical fashion. “Does the name Jory mean anything to you?” 

Mordyn looked at Apollo as if struck. His expression darkened, and his eyes flashed red for a split second before returning to normal. He swallowed hard, but didn’t say anything.

“He was your mate, wasn’t he?” Apollo pulled out his phone and tapped on it to start the video clip he’d saved earlier. “He’s talking about you.” He shoved the phone under Mordyn’s nose.

Mordyn stared down at the screen, at the recording of Jory. His long long made. His features drew tight, and for the briefest moment, he looked utterly miserable. Then his eyes flashed again and he slapped the phone out of Apollo’s hand. “Get that away from me.”

Apollo blinked at him, stunned. “What the fuck?”

He’d expected a strong reaction, but not that. 

He bent to pick up his phone. “You cracked it,” he observed.

Now he’d have to get it fixed. Great. Just what he needed on top of everything else.

“Sorry.” Mordyn ran a hand through his hair, visibly trying to put himself together again. “That was uncalled for. But what did you think would happen when you rub a vampire’s nose in a video of their dead mate?”

“So you admit that he was your mate.” Apollo pocketed his phone, deciding to ignore the broken screen for now.

“Why are you asking?” Mordyn crossed his arms in front of his chest and raised one eyebrow at Apollo. “Jealous?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Apollo snapped back automatically. “I only want to know why I’m dreaming of your dead mate.” The words caused his stomach to rumble uncomfortably again.

Mordyn studied him for a long moment, as if he wasn’t sure what to respond, or rather, how to word that response. It was clear that he knew something. Something he was keeping from Apollo.

“Out with it,” Apollo demanded. “You said you weren’t manipulating me, so explain this. And don’t feed me any bullshit about fate again. I’m not going to buy that.” He glared at the vampire. Fate was not a good enough explanation for everything that was going on with him. There had to be a rational reason for his behavior.

For his dreams. 

For all the things that he was feeling when he looked at Mordyn.

“You wouldn’t believe me,” Mordyn said at last. “But take a close look at Jory.” 

Take a close look? And then what? Apollo pulled his phone out of his pocket again. A long crack ran down the screen, but it still lit up under his touch. The video had stopped running, but Apollo held the screen close to his face, studying the image of Jory, frozen mid-speech. 

Then he noticed it. 

“We’ve got the same birthmark.” He glanced at Mordyn. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

Mordyn gave him a long look. “Why do you *think* you dream of Jory?” His tone carried an odd weight as if the answer should be self-explanatory.

“Because…” Apollo’s brow furrowed as he considered the question. “I don’t know. Some sort of weird spell? Some odd magic leaking into my dreams?” 

Apollo was well aware that his explanations didn’t make much sense. Who would have placed such a spell on him, and why? But what else could it be?

Mordyn shook his head. “No one’s manipulating you or using magic on you, Apollo.” He sounded weary, and also a bit resigned. He reached out and gently pushed a strand of Apollo’s ginger hair away from Apollo’s forehead. It was a strangely gentle gesture, and Apollo wasn’t sure why he was letting it happen, except that it felt right. And then the world dropped away from under his feet at Mordyn’s next words: “All of this is happening because you’re Jory’s reincarnation.”

A cold shiver crawled down Apollo’s spine and spread over his skin, turning it to goose bumps. His mind rejected what Mordyn suggested immediately. “Bullshit.” His voice shook, giving away that he wasn’t as certain as he wanted to be.

Mordyn’s fingers brushed against his cheek and lingered there. “I know it’s a lot to take in,” he said in a softer tone.

“It’s not a lot to take in,” Apollo protested and stepped back. “Because it’s not true. That isn’t…” He struggled for words. Mordyn wanted him to believe that he’d been the vampire’s mate in a past life? What was this nonsense? 

Apollo turned and stalked toward the door, needing a little more breathing room.

Or a lot.

An entire galaxy could spread between him and Mordyn right now and it still wouldn’t be enough for him to calm his racing thoughts.

“Apollo, wait.” Mordyn caught his wrist and Apollo spun around, ready to fight the vampire if necessary to keep him away. Except… Mordyn was looking at him with such a raw emotion on his face, Apollo couldn’t move.

He didn’t even want to.

“You can’t deny that there’s something going on between us.” Mordyn’s thumb brushed against the inside of Apollo’s wrist. “You don’t have to accept it, but I need you to know that I’m not lying. You’re him, or you used to be, anyway.”

Apollo’s gaze narrowed. If he considered for a moment that what the vampire was saying was the truth…

A lot of things started to make sense.

His weird dreams. His strange obsession with Mordyn. Mordyn’s attraction *to him.* 

None of this had anything to do with Apollo at all, and everything to do with a man who’d died a hundred years ago. “Let me go.” Apollo infused his voice with ice, and Mordyn dropped his wrist without further prompting. “It’s good to know,” Apollo said, “that it’s not me you’re chasing. You’re only running after a memory.”

Apollo was not Jory, and he was not going to repeat the mistakes he’d made in a past life. 

He left the bathroom without another word. 

He had a job to do, after all.

***

Mordyn stared after Apollo for a moment.

He wasn’t sure if he’d convinced Apollo of the truth, but even if he had…

Clearly the truth was not helping his case. 

Now Apollo got it in his head that Mordyn was only interested in the man he used to be, not the man he was now. He didn’t understand that a vampire’s love for their mate was nothing as frail as that. It was Apollo’s *soul* that he’d pledged himself to, no matter what form it took. 

Apollo could go through a hundred incarnations and Mordyn would love each and every one of them with the same fervor. 

Even if Mordyn failed him every time. 

Was that to be his fate?

No, fate could be cruel, but she wasn’t *that* much of a bitch. Mordyn hoped so, at least–hoped that he’d been granted this second chance to make things right, not to fuck up all over again. 

Somehow he’d come around to Keegan’s way of thinking. Not that he’d ever let the other vampire know. 

Pulling himself together, he strode after Apollo, back into the club’s main room where the two young dragon shifters awkwardly tried to make small talk with Tarek. “So uh,” he heard one of them say, “do you guys like… sleep in a coffin during the day?”

Tarek laughed. “Only on weekends,” he replied, and the dragon shifter looked confused for half a beat before Tarek smiled. “Just kidding. Most of us aren’t that old-fashioned. I gotta say, though, coffins can be pretty comfortable. Don’t knock it before you try it.”

“If they’re so comfortable, why do you not sleep in them anymore?” the other dragon asked. 

Before Tarek could answer, though, Apollo cleared his throat as if to remind his subordinates that this was not what they’d come here for. He sat across from Tarek and went straight to business. “Mordyn says you have valuable information for me.”

“Oh, I do,” Tarek said with a grin. His gaze slid over to where Mordyn came to sit beside him. “I’ve been promised a promotion for selling out my old coven.”

Mordyn nodded, and Tarek looked back at Apollo. “What do you want to know?” 

“Is the Nightfall coven involved in the trade of mortal blood slaves?” 

“Yes,” Tarek said without hesitation. “It’s a lucrative business. Buys the coven some luxuries other vampires can’t afford.” He gestured around the club. “They don’t even have a pool table in this building, much less an actual pool.”

Mordyn almost wanted to feel offended on behalf of his coven. What would they need a pool for? 

He couldn’t muster the outrage, though. Only a quarter of his attention was on Tarek. All the rest of it focused on Apollo. 

The mortal never even glanced his way, though, his expression a mask of professional indifference as his pen scratched over the notepad he’d brought, jotting down Tarek’s answers to the questions he asked.

“Do you know if there’s currently any mortals at the coven’s base?” 

“Hell no.” Tarek sounded as if he wanted to laugh again. “They’re moved on as quickly as they’re caught, especially now that your task force is on the hunt. Nobody wants to be caught with mortal blood on their lips.”

Apollo’s jaw tightened, but he didn’t comment on that, and only asked the next question on his list. “Where are the mortals taken then?”

Tarek looked at Mordyn again. “I’m sure to get that promotion, right?” 

Mordyn had, in all honesty, forgotten to ask Altair about it, but he wasn’t going to admit that now. “Sure you will,” he said instead, hoping that Tarek wouldn’t spot the lie. 

*Mordyn* was the lie detector here, after all. 

Tarek nodded and turned to Apollo. “There’s these abandoned mines about ten miles north of the coven. We used to hold them there for a while until they’re sold. Can’t promise you that they’re still being used, but it’s probably worth taking a look. They’re locked up tight during the day, but when the guards change at 7pm, that’s when you’ve got a good chance to strike” He smiled. 

Mordyn focused on him for a second, remembering his job. If there was any indicator that Tarek wasn’t speaking the truth, it was on Mordyn to find it. 

The other vampire seemed calm, though. Not just on the surface but all the way through. He didn’t show any of the signs of someone afraid that he might get caught in a lie. Even as he sent the coordinates to Apollo’s phone, he remained relaxed, his emotions a cool blue in Mordyn’s mind.

Apollo rose. “Thank you for your cooperation,” he said to Tarek. To Mordyn he offered no thanks or acknowledgement, but only turned to leave. His dragon shifters trailed behind him obediently, and within moments, Apollo was gone again.

Mordyn sighed as soon as the doors fell close behind him.

Tarek grinned. “He’s cute,” he said to Mordyn. “And fiery.”

“Pissed off and stabby are also good words to describe him.” Mordyn went behind the bar and poured himself a glass of blood. His second of the morning, but he felt tired in a way that sleep wouldn’t solve. Maybe more blood would, once he got past the taste.

He took a few sips, then stopped Tarek on his way out of the club. “Hold on. Those coordinates you sent to Apollo, send them to me too.”

Tarek gave him an odd look. “Why?” 

Mordyn shrugged. “I just like to know where he is.”

The other vampire didn’t look convinced, but he did as he was told. “If it makes ya happy… Now how about that promotion?” 

“You’ll get that as soon as Apollo reports back with his results.” 

“You think I was lying?” Tarek took a defensive stance.

Mordyn gave him a long look. “Were you?” 

Tarek scoffed. “Fuck off,” he said, shoving past Mordyn to exit the room. “Don’t expect me to give you another lead ever again if that’s the attitude you’re going with.”

Mordyn let him go. He didn’t think Tarek had lied. He would have noticed. Still, an uneasy feeling unfurled in the pit of his stomach. Something about this whole situation didn’t sit right with him. 

Going against his better instincts, he headed down to knock on Keegan’s door. 

For once, his friend didn’t open the door immediately, and when he did, he looked as if he’d been sleeping. “What?” He yawned. 

Mordyn almost felt bad for waking him, but really, this was fair payback for all the times Keegan annoyed him. He pushed into Keegan’s room. “We gotta talk.”

Keegan groaned and shut his door. He rubbed his eyes, then looked at his phone to check the time. “Apollo just left, I guess?”

“Yes.”

“And was he mad at you when he left?” 

Mordyn glared at Keegan.

Keegan waved him off. “It was the most likely outcome.” He flopped down on his bed. “So what’s so urgent?”

Mordyn hesitated. “Should I follow him to the mines?”

Keegan raised an eyebrow. “Mines?” 

“You didn’t see anything about those?”  

“I told you. I don’t know *everything.*” 

Mordyn turned Keegan’s desk chair around and sat on it with his arms draped across the back. “It’s not my fault you always act like you do.”

Keegan shook his head. “The more closely my soul is linked with another person’s, the more I can see of their future, and even then, I don’t usually see the full picture. It’s like there are different paths I can trace, and some are clearer than others. I’ve experimented with different ways of looking at things and calculating probabilities and I find that my predictions are correct about seventy percent of the time if I’ve had a good meal, less if I haven’t. It’s a little different for the visions, and the positions of the stars can also change things, or maybe not. One night I–“

Mordyn held up a hand. He was never going to understand how Keegan’s talent worked, and it wasn’t what he’d come here to talk about. “I get it. Your powers work in mysterious ways.” 

Though sometimes he got the feeling Keegan only wanted them to think that. 

The redheaded vampire sat up a little straighter. “Okay.” He nodded as if he was now ready to be serious. “What mines are we talking about?”

Mordyn explained what Tarek had told them. “I don’t know why I have this bad feeling about all of this.”

“Are you scared because Apollo is about to confront a bunch of vampires? He’ll have his own back-up with him, all professionals.”

Mordyn knew that. Apollo was only doing his job by following up on the lead Mordyn had bought him, but why did he have to work such a dangerous job in the first place? “I wish he’d let someone else do the investigating.”

Keegan nodded. “The longer he keeps his position with the task force, the more the lines of his possible futures turn to sand.”

What an encouraging thing to hear. “Thanks for that.”

“That’s why I pushed you at him, remember? To change the trajectory of his life, so that you might end up together and you could protect him.”

Mordyn couldn’t deny his friend’s good intentions, so he stopped his grumbling. With the way Apollo was feeling, he didn’t know if they were going to end up together, but he did want to protect his mate the best he could. “I’ll follow him to the mines,” he decided. 

Keegan gave him a long look, as if he was thinking things over in the back of his head. “Good,” he said eventually. “His chances are always better when you’re around.”

Mordyn didn’t quite agree with that statement, but he didn’t contradict Keegan either.

He only went back to his own room to get some sleep so he would be ready for whatever the evening might throw at him.


New Chapter

Tarek had not been kidding when he said the mines were under lockdown during the day. Apollo and his team had needed a mage even just to locate them, and when they did, they still couldn’t get in. Explosives might have opened the heavy gate, but the blast might damage the integrity of the mines, and that was not a risk they could take if there were mortal being help captive inside. 

It was too bad. 

Apollo would have prefered it if they could find a way to attack during the day, with the advantage of the sunlight on their side.  Instead, he was forced to wait, pacing back and forth while the sun set.

“Could you sit still?” Ceska admonished him when he drummed his fingers on the dashboard of the jeep that had taken them there a little too loudly for a little too long. 

“Sorry,” Apollo grumbled. “I’m just trying to think. There’s got to be a way for us to get in there.”

He was going stir crazy with nothing to do, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that they needed to hurry if they were to free the prisoners. The idea had planted itself in the back of Apollo’s brain that he was already too late, the same way he’d been too late to safe his sister back in the day.

She’d been taken right out from under his nose, all because he’d been too slow to react when that vampire attacked them. His brows furrowed. He’d gotten a lot faster since then, a lot stronger and a lot more experienced. 

He could never go back and right his mistakes, but he could stop making new ones. 

In the rearview mirror, he saw the rest of his team. Ianair and Jaron had flown here by the strength of their own wings, and the two dragons were sitting on a large rock a bit farther from where the jeeps were parked, their eyes trained on the objective. To their side, a couple of mages huddled together, looking through spellbooks, maybe wondering if there was something they could do to break into the mines after all. 

Apollo watched them for a moment, then looked at the wolf-shifters, Mira and Lori, who paced along the edge of the clearing where Apollo had parked. They’d volunteered to scout ahead, but had found nothing of interest. 

Everyone was itching to get started, it seemed. 

Apollo climbed out of the jeep.

Slowly, it was starting to get dark. The air was still warm around him, but the temperature was dropping.

Apollo glanced at the time on his phone. Still half an hour to go before 7pm, the time Tarek had promised them would make it easy for them to get in. He shoved the device back in his pocket and scowled at the sky as if that would make time pass faster.

It didn’t work. Obviously.

Eventually, he resigned himself to sitting on the rock with the dragon shifters. 

“How many vampires do you think will be in there?” Ianair asked. His voice was low. “A dozen?”

“Two dozen,” Jaron guessed with a grin. “Maybe more.” He cracked his knuckles, and Apollo could tell that he was looking forward to driving a few stakes in a few vampires’ chests. 

Apollo didn’t begrudge him that, but he hoped they wouldn’t have to face two dozen vampires. He remembered too well how violently a gang of frenzied vampires could react when surprised by a raid. Sometimes they hurt the mortals in their care out of spite, just so Apollo couldn’t save them.

The thought caused bile to rise in his throat, but he forced it back down. There was no point in worrying. His team knew what to do. They would handle it.

With less than ten minutes to go, Apollo grew restless again, checking all his weapons. He was just inspecting his stakes when Jaron bristled. “You there! Stop hiding in the bushes!”

When Apollo whirled around to see who Jaron was talking to, he spotted Mordyn stepping out of the shadows, hands raised.

“Oh, it’s you.” Jaron recognized him. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to help,” Mordyn said, looking directly at Apollo. There was an intensity in his gaze that made Apollo’s stomach twist.

“We don’t need your help,” Apollo said gruffly, shoving his stake back into its holster. The last thing he needed right now was for Mordyn to distract him. 

God, he wished the vampire wasn’t so damn distracting. 

“We’ve got this covered,” Apollo added with emphasis, jerking his chin toward his team as Ceska got out of the jeep and joined them. 

“A little extra help won’t hurt you,” Mordyn said, unimpressed. 

“We don’t have time to discuss this.” Apollo glanced in the direction of the mines. “It’s almost seven.” 

“Perfect, if you don’t have time to argued, it’s settled. I’m staying.”

Apollo readied a biting retort, only to be cut short by movement in the corner of his vision. “Did you bring any friends?” he looked at Mordyn, but the vampire had already drawn his own weapon.

Fuck.

“Apollo!” Ceska called, but it was already too late. 

Figures emerged from the darkness, moving with unnatural speed.

Vampires.

Surrounding them.

Too many to count. So many more than there should have been here. 

They’d been sold out. 

“Down!” Apollo shouted, dropping into a defensive crouch. In the next instant, all hell broke loose. Vampires surged forward from every direction, hissing and snarling as the clearing erupted into chaos. Roars from the wolf shifters made the air vibrate as they launched themselves into the fray and spell fire crackled as the mages surged into battle.

A blur of motion caught Apollo’s eye, and he spun, raising his arms to block a strike aimed at his head. Fangs bared inches from his face as he grappled with a blond vampire. He strained, unable to break the creature’s grip until a silver-tipped blade suddenly took its head off, spraying blood everywhere.

Apollo looked up into Mordyn’s face. The vampire’s fangs were extended and his expression grim, eyes glinting red. “You’re welcome,” he grunted, and Apollo nodded in acknowledgement. He didn’t trust his voice right now. Not when his blood was singing with adrenaline and his heart pounded in his throat. 

He didn’t even know how much of that was due to the attack, and how much of it was due to the nature of his savior. He didn’t have time to dwell on it, either. More vampires were swarming the clearing, and his teammates were being hard pressed to keep them back.

He threw himself back into battle, slashing viciously at the vampire nearest to him. Swinging his blade in a wide arc, he fended off two vampires that rushed him at once. His arms trembled from the force of their blows, each impact jarring him down to the bone, and he grunted, kicking out to create some space between them.

There were so damn many vampires.

Every one of his team members was busy just holding back the attacks. 

Apollo fumbled for the small pouch at his hip and pulled out one small vial filled with clear liquid. A potion that would make him faster, if only for a little while.

He downed the contents of the vial in a single swallow, grimacing at the bitter flavor. Immediately, energy coursed through his veins, sharpening his focus. His pulse raced and his limbs thrummed with power.

It was enough of an edge to keep him alive for the next few minutes.

Time to kick some vampire butt.

With a growl, Apollo lunged forward, plunging his stake deep in the chest of a nearby vampire before the creature even knew he was coming. It dropped to the ground with an unintelligible gurgle, and Apollo yanked his bloodied stake back, already turning to face another foe.

Cries of pain and roars of anger filled the air, but Apollo didn’t allow himself to be distracted, focusing only on the enemy before him and the swing of his own blade as he fought for survival.

He got some good hits in, but so did the enemy. 

Blood ran down Apollo’s arms in painful rivulets from shallow cuts, and his breath burned in his lungs, slowing him down inspite of the potion he’d downed.

And for every enemy he fought off, two more took their place. 

“Fucking little mortal,” a tall vampire hissed as she swung a sharp blade at his face. “You should have known better than to come here.”

Apollo barely managed to duck out of the way of the deadly weapon His foot caught on a rock on the ground, and he stumbled, almost falling flat on his ass before he caught himself. His heart hammered in his chest as the female vampire loomed above him, raising her sword to finish him.

“Thalia!” another vampire snarled at the one attacking Apollo. “The boss wants him alive.”

Alive? 

Apollo didn’t have time to think about that, not with three bloodsuckers closing in on him. They didn’t aim their blows at his vital parts, but they weren’t pulling their punches either.

Pain exploded in his skull as the female vampire hit him with the hilt of her blade. The world swam in front of his eyes. Apollo staggered back, but couldn’t get away fast enough to evade a punch that slammed into his stomach. He doubled over, retching and gasping for breath, and then the vampires were *on* him, forcing him to the ground and yanking his arms behind his back. He struggled, kicking out wildly and twisting in their grasp.

Fuck this.

He was *not* going to be taken alive!

He roared and bucked like a wild beast, and then Mordyn was there, tearing at the vampires that surrounded Apollo. The creatures hissed at him in surprise, but Mordyn fought with an almost feral fury, features twisted with rage as he ripped through them, separating limbs from bodies. 

He was a savage monster, a beautiful beast.

Apollo scrambled to his feet, refusing to be usless. 

That was when he saw her.

A female figure, standing apart from the melee. Something about her face, her eyes, struck a haunting chord of recognition deep in Apollo’s soul. She couldn’t be…could she?

The thought was driven from his mind as a new wave of pain lanced through his body. Hot agony exploded in his shoulder as hot blood poured out of a fresh bullet wound, and Apollo stumbled, his vision swimming as he fought to remain conscious.

Distantly, he was aware of Mordyn roaring in fury, rushing toward him. But it was all fading, darkness encroaching from the edges of Apollo’s perception. He tried to see that woman again… if she’d really been there.

He couldn’t find her.

Then everything went black. 


New Chapter

“Fuck you, I’m not going anywhere.” Mordyn snarled as Ceska suggested he leave the safe house they’d taken Apollo to.

The woman narrowed her gaze. “We don’t even have proper blinds for the windows. What will you do when the sun comes up?” 

“Don’t care,” Mordyn grumbled. He’d taken a beating driving off the remaining vampires. They all had. But Mordyn was ready to fight again if anyone tried to separate him from his mate right now. He bared his fangs.

Ceska sighed, but backed away, giving up for the moment, and Mordyn relaxed, marginally.

He’d been forced to wait outside the door while the wounded were being treated since he was causing ‘too much of a fuss.’ 

Ridiculous. 

The reaction he was having was completely normal for a vampire who’s mate had been *shot.*

“You know he’ll be fine, right?” Ceska asked with a little more sympathy. “They bullet didn’t hit his heart.”

That was true.

And thank *fuck* for that. 

“I’m still not going anywhere.”

Ceska huffed, and left to check on her team. 

This safe house was one of the smaller ones. It had only two bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a small living area that doubled as a dining room. The walls were painted white and the furniture simple and modern. Impersonal. 

Mordyn paced the space around the dinner table. 

After what seemed like forever, the task force’s healer stepped out of the room where she’d been treating Apollo. “Apollo’s going to be fine,” she announced with an exhausted expression, and a weary look at Mordyn. “Do not disturb him. He still needs rest.”

Mordyn was too relieved to take offense at being treated like a child. 

“I still need to test his blood,” the healer cautioned, “but I’m sure it’ll come back fine.”

“Fine for what?”

“Vampire poison. We don’t know the talents of the vampires you fought today.”

“He wasn’t bitten,” Mordyn reminded her. He would have noticed if any of the vampires had gotten their fangs in his mate. 

The healer waved him off. “It’s a precautionary measure.” 

The healer waved him off. “It’s a precautionary measure.” 

Right.

Whatever. 

“Thank you for treating him,” Mordyn said, and then he walked into the bedroom before anyone could think to stop him. 

Apollo wasn’t the room’s only occupant. More people had been wounded in the recent fight and makeshift beds had been set up around the room in order to fit everyone. Mordyn paid them only a passing glance though as he moved to the bed Apollo lay in.

His mate was sleeping.

Mordyn sat on the edge of the thin mattress and brushed his fingertips against Apollo’s cheek. The skin felt warm and slightly damp with sweat. Apollo stirred under his touch, but didn’t wake up.

He looked pale, his freckles standing out starkly on the canvas of his skin in the dim light of the room.

Mordyn’s chest tightened at the sight.

“You little idiot,” he murmured. “Why do you keep throwing yourself into danger?”

He didn’t get an answer.

At least not from Apollo.

Someone else approached the bed, though, after a few minutes. 

“What are you doing now?” Ceska asked, eyeing him skeptically.

Mordyn studied the green-haired half-nymph in return. He wasn’t sure who she was to Apollo, but it was clear that she cared about him, and that she would get very annoying if she thought Mordyn meant to hurt him. 

He couldn’t fault her for that.

Apollo needed people on his side who would watch out for him, seeing as he was incapable of doing so himself. 

“I’m not doing anything to him,” Mordyn said without moving even an inch from Apollo’s side. 

This didn’t satisfy Ceska. “I was thinking it weird how much you fussed over Apollo, but I thought maybe you just felt guilty for the way this blew up in our faces.” Her gaze slid from him to Apollo, then back to him. “Now you’re just being creepy and I want you to get away from him.”

Mordyn stared at her impassively. “I don’t want to fight you, but if you try to make me move, I will.”

Ceska stiffened visibly. “He’s told me you’ve been putting weird thoughts in his head. I won’t let you prey on him while he can’t defend himself.” Her hand dropped to the hilt of the dagger at her belt, as if she was considering drawing the blade on him.

Mordyn watched her for a moment longer, reading the vibes she gave off. She would absolutely cut him if he didn’t give her a good reason not to. 

Mordyn could use his powers to make her relax.

But he didn’t want to manipulate Apollo’s friends. Actions like that would only come back to bite him in the ass sooner or later. 

“I don’t mean to harm him,” he said, deciding to be honest. “I’m his mate.”

Ceska snorted. “Yeah. Right. As if he’d ever pick a vampire.”

“He wouldn’t,” Mordyn confirmed, looking at the man he loved. “At least not in this life.”

That gave Ceska something to chew on. Her brows furrowed, and then she shook her head. “What are you playing at?”

“Believe me or not,” Mordyn said, “but Apollo chose me in his past life, and I’ve never stopped loving him. All I want is for him to be safe.” He looked at Ceska. “Don’t you want the same?”

Ceska crossed her arms over her chest, studying him. “Vampires lie. Especially you.” Her gaze narrowed. “It was your friend who told us to go to the mines. Obviously he just meant to lead us into that ambush. There were never any mortals there, were there? Yet somehow you failed to detect that lie and warn us.”

Mordyn winced inwardly. He *should* have detected that lie.

Why hadn’t he?

He could have gotten Apollo *killed.*

“I fucked up,” he admitted, and he was furious both at Tarek and at himself. The next time he saw that vampire, he was going to kill him. Slowly. And painfully.

“You did more than fuck up.” Ceska’s own anger ramped up, tinging the air between them red with the heat of her frustration. “Apollo isn’t the only one who got hurt today. We almost lost Jaron as well.” She shot him a glare that could have melted metal. “If he dies, his death will be on your head.”

She *liked* Jaron, Mordyn noted. More than she was willing to admit to herself.

Mordyn knew better than to poke at that wound, though.

“You’re right,” he said instead. “All of this is my fault.”

“No, it’s–” she stopped herself mid-yell when her brain processed that he was agreeing with her, sucking the oxygen out of the flames that fueled her fury. Her glare persisted, though. “If you know it’s your fault, get out of here already!”

“How will you prosecute me if I leave?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again, frowning. For a second, Mordyn got the feeling she was going to blast him with a spell just for the hell of it. What was it that nymphs could do again? Turn people into fish?

No, that was sea witches. 

“I don’t know what game you’re playing,” Ceska said, low, “but I want you gone.”

“That’s too bad.” Mordyn didn’t move an inch. “I’m not leaving.”

“I will make you if I have to.”

Mordyn met her eyes and didn’t back down, daring her to try and force him away from Apollo’s bedside. He wouldn’t go, not unless Apollo himself told him to. 

And even then he might not. 

The memory of the fight, the panic of it, was too deeply ingrained in his mind. His mate needed him here. There was nothing more important than that. 

Ceska opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, a whimper from the bed made both of them snap their attention back to Apollo. He stirred restlessly, face pinched as if in distress. His fingers twitched against the sheets, grasping at nothing as a pained sound escaped his lips.

Nightmare, Mordyn realized with a sinking feeling.

It was harder to read the emotions of sleeping people, but Apollo was broadcasting his very loudly—and there was a lot of panic. 

No wonder, considering how he’d ended up in this state. 

“You’re okay.” Mordyn stroked Apollo’s hair in an attempt to soothe him. 

Apollo cried out, the sound wild and feral. “No! Get away!” 

Ceska took a step forward, brows knitted together. “You’re having a nightmare,” she said, as if that would help anything. At the same time, she glared at Mordyn again, as if he was the reason for it. 

Mordyn ignored her. “You’re going to be okay,” he repeated to Apollo, taking one of his mate’s hands and squeezing it lightly. “Everything’s alright. You’re safe now.”

“Stop. Don’t–!” Apollo’s eyelids flew open. Confusion showed in his gaze as he stared up at Mordyn, the green of his eyes dulled by pain. In the next breath, he surged upright, grabbing onto Mordyn’s arm with a white-knuckled grip.

“You’re here,” he gasped out. “You’re here!”

The relief on his face was palpable, stealing Mordyn’s breath. He squeezed his mate’s hand. “Of course I’m here.”

“The vampires– You’re– You’re not…” Apollo shook his head, as if he was trying to clear it, and the hand gripping Mordyn’s tightened further, nails digging into skin. “Stay with me? Please?”

The uncertainty in his voice caused a deep ache inside of Mordyn’s chest.

Apollo didn’t sound like himself. He was still caught in whatever dream he’d just had, and Mordyn couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been someone else in that dream. Someone else whose side Mordyn should never have left. 

“I’ll stay right here,” he promised, lifting Apollo’s hand to his lips so he could kiss it.

Apollo exhaled shakily and fell back against the pillows. “Don’t leave me,” he mumbled, eyes sliding shut, and then he drifted off back to sleep.

Mordyn kept holding his hand. “Never again,” he vowed, brushing a strand of Apollo’s hair away from his forehead. “I won’t fail you again.”

He would not allow himself to.

Ceska cleared her throat, drawing Mordyn’s attention. Her earlier anger had faded, replaced by reluctant concern as she studied Apollo’s sleeping form. When she met Mordyn’s eyes again, her expression was guarded. “Did you put those thoughts in his head too?” she asked, nodding in Apollo’s direction.

Mordyn swallowed a sigh. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think,” she admitted. Then, for a long time, she said nothing.

Mordyn stayed on the edge of the mattress, his gaze on his mate.

Truth be told, he didn’t care what Ceska thought, but things would be considerably easier if she believed him. Fighting with her would only take his focus off Apollo. “I don’t care if you hate me or if you think all vampires are monsters,” he said. “But I’m never going to do anything to hurt Apollo. I’m not a threat to your boss.”

“Why did you not detect the other vampire’s lies?” she challenged. 

 That was a tough one. 

Mordyn looked at her. “I wish I knew. Maybe Tarek didn’t lie. Maybe his old coven simply expected to be sold out.” 

“And they lay there in waiting for days?” 

Mordyn had to agree that this seemed farfetched. He shook his head. “All I can say is that I’m sorry I failed.”

“Sorry doesn’t cut it,” Ceska muttered, looking displeased. But she walked away to take care of one thing or another without trying to tell Mordyn to get lost again. 

Good enough for now.


New Chapter 

Apollo’s world exploded in a haze of pain. Sharp teeth sank into his neck, into his wrists, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t fight back. 

And worst of all, these weren’t even Mordyn’s teeth. 

These were some strange, vile vampires whose faces he couldn’t make out. Everything blurred together in the fog of his terror. Apollo couldn’t think straight, couldn’t stop the scream that tore from his throat. He was going to die. They were going to drain him.

He cried for his mate, but his mate wasn’t here. 

His mate wasn’t going to save him. 

Apollo was never going to see him again because he was going to die here, alone and abandoned. 

Used and discarded. 

Hot tears ran down his cheeks. Tears of pain and sorrow, full of rage at the world as his blood left his veins and his senses dulled. Rough hands grabbed at him, yanked him around, laughing in his ears.

The world was falling apart around him, crumbling to ashes that slipped through his fingers when he tried to hold on.

Even the wetness on his cheeks ceased to matter. 

This was it. 

This was where it all ended. 

Except then a voice penetrated the darkness like a bright spot of light. “Shh. Everything’s going to be okay.” The voice was soothing, familiar, and Apollo clung to it desperately. 

*Mordyn.*

Could it be?

He didn’t want to hope only for that hope to be destroyed. 

“You’re going to be fine,” the voice that sounded like his mate’s continued, and Apollo felt fingers running through his hair. Gentle fingers that didn’t tear at the strands or drag his head back to expose his throat further.

Apollo blinked his eyes open, breathing in and out, trying to calm his racing heart.

He wasn’t dead.

He was with Mordyn.

Mordyn, who was right here beside him, holding his hand and brushing his hair back from his sweaty forehead.

He’d come for him. 

Relief washed over him like a tide. He reached up and touched Mordyn’s face, half-afraid that he was hallucinating the whole thing. But no, Mordyn’s skin was cool and solid under his fingers. Real and not a figment of his imagination, and Apollo couldn’t handle the rush of emotion that crashed into him. He flung his arms around Mordyn and buried his face in the crook of his mate’s neck, hugging him tightly to prevent him from getting away.

“Hey,” Mordyn whispered, his arms forming a solid circle around Apollo’s back. “Don’t tear your stitches.”

Stitches?

What was Mordyn talking about? 

Apollo loosened his grip just enough so he could pull back and look at the vampire, and then around the room. He didn’t recognize this place. This wasn’t their apartment. 

Hadn’t he been…?

No.

Reality came back to him in bits and pieces. The attack at the mines, the ambush, the overwhelming numbers. 

The fact that Mordyn was not his mate. 

Fuck. He must have been dreaming of his past life again. 

His head hurt as he sat back, as did his heart. 

Had he dreamed of his own death? 

Now that he knew it was a memory rather than a figment of his imagination, it wasn’t so easily brushed aside. 

“Would you like something to eat or something to drink?” Mordyn asked. 

Apollo looked at him again. What was the vampire even doing here? And what must he be thinking now that Apollo had flung himself at him? “It was only a dream,” Apollo said as if to defend himself. His voice came out raspy. His throat was dry.

How long had he been asleep?

“What happened?” he asked as Mordyn offered him a glass of water. “Where are we?”

“You were shot,” Mordyn said, nodding at Apollo’s bandaged shoulder. “We brought you to this safe house along with the other wounded, but now it’s just you and me here. And Ceska. She wouldn’t leave you with me. Your healer will come by to check on you again this evening.”

Apollo tried to make sense of all that in his head, but it was difficult. “Where’s Ceska?” 

“In the kitchen, I think. I can let her know to fix you something. She’ll be happy to see you eat.”

This still didn’t make sense. “You two are friends now?” 

“I wouldn’t say that, but she tolerates me. She could hardly argue with my presence here after you asked me to stay.” His lips quirked into a teasing smile, as if he knew absolutely how mortifying this was for Apollo to hear. 

“I didn’t ask you to stay.”

“Yes, you did, sunshine. Drink your water.”

Damn it. Now Apollo didn’t *want* to drink his water. But his throat was parched, so he did, anyway, emptying the whole glass at once. “How long was I out?” he asked as he handed the glass back to Mordyn, eager to change the topic. 

“It’s been two days since the attack,” Mordyn said. “You weren’t asleep for all that time, but I guess you were never awake for long enough to remember either.”

Apollo shook his head. He didn’t remember anything but the nightmares. Involuntarily, he shuddered. 

Mordyn noticed, of course.

He put the empty glass aside and sat back down on the edge of the bed. “We were all worried about you.”

“I don’t want your worry.” 

“Tough luck,” Mordyn brushed his harsh words aside. “I care about you whether you want me to or not.” 

Apollo searched his mind for a biting comeback, but nothing came. 

The truth was that he did not have the energy to fight with Mordyn. His body was tired, and his heart was a mess, after that dream. He’d been so relieved to see the vampire, waking up. He hadn’t yet managed to suppress all of that, the emotion too big for him to push aside without some effort. 

Even though he knew it didn’t belong to him. 

Not really.

What he felt was *Jory’s* affection for Mordyn, and yet, even knowing all that, a part of him wanted to close his eyes again and curl up next to the vampire. He wanted to fall asleep hugging the vampire’s arm so he could not leave again. 

Mordyn watched him as if he too struggling to make sense of Apollo’s emotions. 

Apollo huffed the softest of laughs. Good luck with that. 

He was ready to give up himself.

“Where did everyone else go?” Apollo asked. 

“Back to the city.” That was Ceska’s voice. She stood in the door with a small tray laden with sandwiches and an apple.

Apollo’s stomach grumbled at the sight. He was hungrier than he’d thought. 

Ceska put the tray down on the small table by his bed. “Eat.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Apollo picked up a turkey sandwich and took a bite. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

Apollo ate a bit more and swallowed before speaking again. “When do we head back to the city ourselves?”

Ceska and Mordyn exchanged glances, and Apollo didn’t like it. Were those two conspiring against him now? 

“It’s best if you stay here,” Mordyn said after a moment. “Those vampires ganged up on you specifically, and they wanted you alive.”

Apollo’s memory of the battle was vague, but Mordyn’s words made him recall a few gory details. The vampires that had fought him, deliberately missing his vital spots. 

The woman he’d seen. 

That particular flash of memory almost made Apollo choke on his food. 

She’d looked like his sister. 

But he’d only caught a glimpse of her, and the memory was so hazy now. 

Had he only imagined her there? 

“Apollo?” Ceska asked. 

“I’m not going to hide out here,” he decided. “We’ve still got to find Ella.”[

“The others are working on that,” Ceska tried to assure him. “You should stay here at least until you’re all healed.” 

Apollo glanced down at his shoulder. Was the wound really so bad? He could probably push through the pain. “I need to get back to work.” If Mordyn could be believed, he’d already lost two days to lying around. 

Mordyn shook his head at Apollo. “Do you trust the others on your team so little that you think they can’t do anything without you there?” 

Apollo bristled. “Of course I trust them.”

“Good. Then you can trust them to take some of the burden off you. You just focus on getting better.”

Apollo huffed and turned to Ceska, but the hard look on her face let him know he wasn’t going to get any support from that side either. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered. “I’m the head of this task force, you can’t put me out of commission.” 

“Everyone’s agreed it’s for the best,” Ceska said as if she was trying to be gentle while remaining firm in her stance. It made it hard to fight with her. 

“Just another day or so.” Apollo grumped and moved to cross his arms in front of his chest, but the movement sent a jolt of pain through his wounded shoulder.

Fuck, that hurt.

Maybe Mordin and Ceska were right.

He didn’t need them fussing about him, though. “You should go back to the city,” he said to Ceska. “You can be more use there than you are here.” 

Her expression turned grim, and Apollo wondered if it might help if he added that the sandwiches were much appreciated. Probably not. 

Ceska glanced at Mordyn, and then Apollo turned to the vampire as well. “If you insist on hanging around,” he said, “at least give me a moment to talk to my assistant.” 

Mordyn hesitated for a second, then nodded, got up, and headed into the living area.

When the door had clicked shut behind him, Apollo looked at Ceska. “It’s very kind of you to worry about me, but I’ll be just fine.”

“You should tell the vampire to go, not me.” Ceska crossed her arms in front of her chest. “His coven has already betrayed us once.” 

“Do you think he’s going to hurt me?” 

Ceska gave him a long look. “You think he won’t?”

Apollo didn’t like to admit it, but she was correct; he didn’t think Mordyn was going to hurt him. It was true that Mordyn’s coven, or the vampire it harbored, had betrayed him, but Mordyn hadn’t known about that. Mordyn wouldn’t have allowed other vampires to attack Apollo like that. 

Apollo remembered the way Mordyn had looked on the battlefield. His rage as he’d torn through the vampires coming for Apollo. 

A lot of his memories were muddy, but that one stood out in shining clarity. 

“He won’t hurt me,” Apollo said firmly.

Ceska licked her lips. She seemed deep in thought as she regarded Apollo, as if there was something she wanted to talk about, but she wasn’t sure how to bring it up without offending Apollo. 

“What is it?” Apollo prompted. 

“Well,” Ceska pushed a strand of green hair back behind her ear. “Mordyn said you were his mate.”

Apollo suppressed a sigh. This was not something he wanted to discuss with his assistant. Ceska was more than that, though, wasn’t she? She was also his friend, and he could use a friend right now. “He might be right about that,” he admitted. “It wasn’t me, though. I mean, not the person I am right now.” 

“He talked about your past life,” Ceska added. 

Apollo nodded and gave Ceska a despairing smile. “Apparently I fought for improved vampire-mortal relationships in a past life, can you believe it?” 

Ceska snorted. “I can not.”

“Me neither, but somehow I think it’s true.” Apollo let out the sigh he’d been holding back and took another bite of his sandwich. “I’ve been having these dreams… Memories, I guess I should call them, of Jory’s relationship with Mordyn.”

“Jory?”

“That was my name.” It seemed so unreal he felt silly talking about it. Any minute now, he was sure Ceska would start laughing at him.

Ceska wasn’t laughing, though. “It’s not uncommon in my culture for souls to return to the earth,” she said. “To be reborn. But most don’t remember.”

“I never did,” Apollo said. “Not until him.”

“I see.” Ceska looked at him a moment longer, then she shook her head. “Of all the people to be fated to a vampire…”

Apollo cringed because he’d been thinking pretty much the same thing, and also because she’d used the ‘fate’ word as if it was obvious. As if he had no choice. “I’m not Jory,” he said, putting his plate aside. “I don’t mean to repeat the choices he made. They didn’t lead him anywhere good.” He shuddered as the nightmares he’d had came back to him. 

Most of the dreams he had about his past life, he could remember in great deal after waking up. 

It was different with these nightmares. Only vague impressions remained, as if his mind was rejecting the memories because they were too terrible to bear. 

“I’m not doomed to repeat my past life, am I?”

Ceska tilted her head and regarded him thoughtfully. “I don’t think you’re supposed to. If you’ve been reborn and fate led you back to your mate… that’s a second chance. You’d be stupid to waste it by doing everything exactly the same.”

“So I should stay away from Mordyn,” Apollo concluded. It was an answer he should be happy with, and yet somehow, it didn’t seem right. 

Ceska didn’t seem to think it was right either. “He probably came into your life for a reason.”

“And that reason would be?” 

Ceska shrugged. “I don’t know what happened between you two.”

Apollo glanced aside because he could not look straight at Ceska while his mind went back to the memories of him and Mordyn in bed together. Mordyn and *Jory* in bed together. *He* hadn’t fucked Mordyn. Well, except for that one blowjob at the park. 

God, that had been good.

He cursed before he could stop himself. “If only he wasn’t a damn vampire.”

Ceska gave him a sympathetic smile. “Fate’s a powerful thing, but you’re not a slave to it.”

“No,” Apollo agreed, “I’m not.”

But when Mordyn was in the room, it sure *felt* like he was. 

“In any case,” Apollo said, trying to focus his thoughts again. “You don’t have to stick around here. Get back and keep me up to date on what’s happening.”

“Are you sure?” 

“A hundred percent.”

“Good.” Ceska looked down. “I’ve been wanting to check in on Jaron.”

“Was he wounded too?” Apollo tried to remember if he’d seen anything, but the whole battle was a blur in his head.

Ceska’s shoulders stiffened. “He got bitten and there was some poison in his blood.” She paused. “It was looking pretty grim for a while.”

Apollo cursed again. Seriously. Fucking vampires. “Is he going to be okay?”

“I hope so.” Ceska’s voice was as tight as her posture. 

“Definitely check in on him,” Apollo said. “Give him my best.”

Ceska nodded and turned to go. Before she left, though, she said, “I’ll be mad at you if you leave here before we catch the vampires who wanted to take you.”

Apollo waved her off. “I’ll be good.”

Her gaze narrowed as if she didn’t fully believe him. 

Apollo didn’t blame her. 

He didn’t mean to make good on that promise. 

As if he was going to hide in this cabin while a little girl waited to be saved somewhere out there.

He would allow his shoulder to heal for one or two days, and then he was going to jump straight back into action. 


New Chapter

Mordyn looked at the mortal foods in the fridge and wondered in what ways they might be combined into a meal.

It had been a long time since he’d been mortal, and an even longer time since he’d been sick, but he remembered taking care of Jory from time to time, when his mate got sick.

Jory liked to eat soup when he wasn’t feeling well.

Unfortunately, Mordyn had no idea how to make soup when the process involved more than opening a can and pouring its contents into a pot to be heated. 

*Fortunately*, though, these days you could learn anything by following instructions online, and Mordyn was a modern vampire who knew how to use technology… even if the technology he preferred to use had been around for decades and decades. 

He punched a few search terms into his phone’s web browser and located a recipe for a basic vegetable soup, which sounded like an easy one to start with.

At least he’d seen some vegetables in the fridge.

He was in the process of laying them out on the counter when Apollo walked into the kitchen. 

“Should you be up?” Mordyn asked, giving him a once-over. It had been a few hours since Ceska had left, and Apollo had gone back to sleep right after. Clearly, he needed the rest. 

At least the dark rings under his eyes were starting to fade.

Apollo shrugged and sat at the small table, watching as Mordyn tried to prepare the vegetables. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to cook for you,” Mordyn said, washing carrots and peeling off their skin. 

“Why?”

Mordyn glanced at him with a half-smile. “Guess why.”

Apollo huffed and said nothing else in reply. 

Mordyn cut the carrots into thin slices. This was the easiest part when it came to cooking. He knew how to handle a knife. 

“How do you know how to cook?” Apollo asked into the silence.

Mordyn cast a glance back over his shoulder. “I don’t. I’m winging it. You’d best pray I don’t poison you.”

Apollo huffed again, but this time it sounded like he was amused despite himself. 

Good. If Mordyn could make him laugh, maybe the sound would bridge the empty space that seemed to stretch between them now. Even as Mordyn focused on the carrots before him, he could feel the uneasy tension in his mate. 

Apollo’s heart was torn in a hundred directions. He hated vampires, still, but it was getting impossible for him to deny the pull he felt toward Mordyn, and the whole past-life issue only confused him further. 

How many of his feelings were his own and how many belonged to a dead man?

Mordyn understood. For him, the matter was straightforward; he was Apollo’s. But Apollo might still decide not to be his. 

He slid the cut-up carrots into a pot and washed some potatoes in the sink. “You don’t have any allergies, do you?” he asked Apollo as he did so.

“No,” Apollo said. “And you really don’t have to cook for me.”

“Afraid I’m actually gonna poison you?”

“More afraid you’re going to cut yourself or set the kitchen on fire.”

“That’s adorable.” Mordyn put the washed potatoes down on the counter and turned to Apollo, twirling the knife in his hand with practiced ease. “You’re afraid I’m going to cut myself?”

Apollo looked away. “Cut yourself all you want, but I don’t want your blood in my food. I’m not a vampire.”

Mordyn turned back to the sink. “Don’t worry. I won’t feed you my blood unless you ask for it.”

“Why would I ever…?”

Mordyn’s mind went elsewhere. Back to the moment he’d sealed his mate bond with Jory. He’d had his cock in Jory’s ass, his fangs in his mate’s neck, enjoying the mortal’s body in every way possible while Jory sucked on a small wound on Mordyn’s wrist, lapping Mordyn’s blood right up.

“You wanted it once,” Mordyn murmured as the memory fed the hunger inside him. Apollo was so close by, his scent permeating the air in the room and his heartbeat loud in Mordyn’s ears. 

And yet he was so far.

Mordyn set the knife aside and drew a deep breath to keep himself from doing something stupid. Like grabbing Apollo and shaking him for being stubborn, for shutting him out like this after he’d *clung* to Mordyn during his nightmares. 

Couldn’t he see that all Mordyn wanted was to be there for him?

“Not me,” Apollo said, softly. “It wasn’t me who wanted your blood.”

That was the crux of the issue, wasn’t it? 

Apollo might be his mate reborn, but he was his own person as well. In his mind, he and Jory were separate. 

In Mordyn’s, they were not. He recognized his mate’s soul.

If he wanted to make any headway with Apollo, though, he had to accept that Apollo was not Jory.] 

“Fine,” he said. “We are strangers to each other.” Strangers with the strongest urge to fuck each other, but Mordyn chose not to mention that for the sake of peace. 

“Thank you,” Apollo said, while Mordyn moved on to cutting the potatoes into cubes. 

“I’m still going to make you soup, though,” he warned, just to watch Apollo roll his eyes.

Apollo said nothing.

Mordyn finished slicing up the potatoes and dropped them into the pot along with the carrots. He reached for the celery next. There was something very calming about cutting things. 

“Tell me about yourself,” Apollo said, unexpectedly.

“What do you want to know?” 

“Who were you before you became a vampire?”

Mordyn snorted. “A loser.”

“Oh? Give me details.”

Mordyn let his knife sink into the celery. “There’s not a whole lot to tell.” Not a whole lot that he wanted to tell, anyway. Nothing that would raise Apollo’s opinion of him. 

“I guess we’ll just stay strangers then.” 

Mordyn paused, recognizing the challenge. “Wouldn’t you rather get to know me as I am now than who I used to be?”

Apollo laughed. 

Mordyn turned to him. “What?”

“That’s rich, coming from you. All you know about me is who I used to be rather than who I am now.”

Mordyn wiped his hands on his pants and approached the table. This was probably not a good time to mention that he’d watched Apollo’s interviews over and over. “If I don’t know much about you, that’s because you block me out every chance you get.”

Apollo stared back at him. “I block you out because all you care about is a dead man.”

“No.” Mordyn leaned in close, daring Apollo to lean away. “You block me out because I’m a vampire and you’re scared of me.”

Apollo’s green gaze flashed, and for a second, Mordyn thought he would take the bait and explode. But he kept his anger on a low simmer. “Go fuck yourself,” he hissed without moving away. “I’m not scared of vampires.”

“Hate often comes from a place of fear.”

This did set Apollo off. “You think I hate vampires because I’m scared? Fuck no. I hate vampires because they killed my little sister. Because they hunt and torture mortals all over the world.” His voice rose, growing more heated with every word he spoke. “Don’t you dare tell me I’m wrong for hating your kind when they’re out there treating my kind like cattle!” He glared at Mordyn. “I’ll rip your fangs out and put them in a trophy case.”

Mordyn stared at him.

He knew he had to come up with a response, preferably a really good one, but all he could think of at the moment was how fucking sexy Apollo looked all worked up. His pale face flushed with the heat of his anger, his heart hammering against his ribcage, and those green eyes blazing bright as if lit from within.

Apollo scoffed as if he could guess Mordyn’s thoughts. “Unbelievable,” he muttered. His chair nearly fell over as he rose and marched out of the room, slamming the door to the bedroom shut behind himself.

Mordyn watched him go and resisted the urge to follow him.

Barely.

***

Mordyn knew that he had made an ass of himself. It was a particular talent of his to piss people off–and most of the time he enjoyed it–but this wasn’t going to get him anywhere with Apollo. 

He needed to rein himself in, at least a little. 

As a peace offering, he finished cooking the soup he’d started. At least he hoped it was done and properly cooked through by the time he moved the pot off the stove. He couldn’t taste it without making himself sick, and even the smell of mortal food was not usually appealing to him. 

He’d thrown in some spices, though he couldn’t be sure if it was enough.

Serving the soup into a bowl, he placed it on a small tray and brought it over to Apollo’s room, knocking on the door first. “Dinner’s ready.”

“Don’t come in,” Apollo warned. “I removed the blanket from the window.”

Mordyn grimaced. He’d used some tacks to pin a black blanket in front of the window in order to protect himself from the sun. It wasn’t an ideal solution, but it was good enough as long as Mordyn didn’t sit directly in front of the window.

He’d done the same with the kitchen windows, though there was still a corner of the living room that was unsafe because he’d run out of blankets. 

“Why did you remove it?” Mordyn asked, though he could guess the answer. 

“I find sunlight to be quite pleasant,” Apollo said with an air of defiance. 

Well, at least he’d *warned* Mordyn instead of letting him walk in to get burned. 

“Your food’s here if you want it,” Mordyn said, feeling useless as he stood by the door he could not walk through, listening for sounds from the inside. Apollo didn’t seem to be moving. 

Was he still mad?

Either that or he wanted to piss Mordyn off for the hell of it. 

Mordyn wasn’t going to *let* the mortal piss him off, though. 

Instead, he sank to the floor in front of the door and leaned back against it. “You want to know who I used to be? Fine, I’ll tell you.” When no response came from inside, Mordyn continued. “I was born back when mortals ruled the world and vampires still hid away for fear of having stakes driven through their heart or their headquarters burned to ashes. We knew of their existence, but most people never met one.” He paused. His memories of his time as a mortal had grown so fuzzy. He hadn’t thought about any of this in a century. At least not deeply. 

“You must be at least two hundred years old,” Apollo noted. 

“I didn’t keep track.” Mordyn leaned his head back and closed his eyes. His age meant nothing to him. How could it, when he’d wasted most of his years? 

“What was it like, your life as a mortal?”

Mordyn snorted softly. He’d been a vampire for two centuries and mortal for only a quarter of one, but it was *that* part of his life that Apollo was curious about, as if it defined Mordyn somehow. “I was abandoned as a small child,” he admitted. “I don’t remember my parents, and at this point, I guess it doesn’t matter, but when I was mortal, I spent a long time trying to track them down, just to know where I came from.”

Movement in the bedroom, but Apollo didn’t come to the door. 

Mordyn didn’t let that deter him. “I never did figure it out, so I can’t tell you anything about my background. I ran away from the lady who was supposed to raise me when I was fifteen or sixteen, since she preferred to spend all that government cash on booze anyway. I lived on the streets for a couple of years, begging, stealing, anything to get by. Like I told you, I was a loser. There’s really not much more to say.” Surely none of this was endearing him to Apollo, but Apollo had wanted to hear it, so who was Mordyn to deny him?

The silence between them stretched out, until Mordyn felt compelled to break it again.

“I was an idiot when I was young,” he said. “Angry at the world and all that.” He waved the thought away like an annoying gnat. “I was like that for a long time, to be honest.” 

He nearly fell on his back when the door he’d been leaning against opened. Apollo looked down at him, his expression unreadable. “What changed?”

Mordyn peered into the room behind Apollo to see that he’d hung the blanket back up. How courteous. He licked his lips, considering his words. The truth would sound like a cliche, but that didn’t make it any less true. “I found a community,” he said, and looking straight at Apollo, he added, “and then I fell in love.”

Apollo looked back at Mordyn, unflinching. His emotions were still chaotic, but more subdued now. Less hostile. “I know that you and Jory loved each other,” he said after a moment. 

“Your dreams tell you that?” Mordyn climbed to his feet, picking up the tray with the soup as well. 

“Yes.” Apollo took the tray from Mordyn and carried it into the room. 

Mordyn hesitated for a second, then followed. 

Apollo set the tray down on the small table beside the bed. “I’m guessing by community you mean your coven.” He spoke the last word with some disdain. 

“They’re my family. More than any mortal ever was.” With them, he’d found a place where he belonged. A home that wasn’t temporary. Altair might make him roll his eyes at his rules, and Keegan might annoy him to no end with his cryptic remarks, but he’d never leave his coven. The Rubyville vampires weren’t perfect. They took the blood he’d *clearly* marked as his out of the fridge, cheated at game night and tracked mud all over the floors he’d been forced to clean… but they were his family, and he’d be lost without them. 

They’d given him an anchor. 

And Jory had given him a purpose.

Until he’d fucked all that up, anyway.

***

Apollo sat on the edge of the bed and studied the vampire he’d invited into his room. 

This was a side of Mordyn he hadn’t seen before. In Apollo’s dreams, he was kind and affectionate, and in Apollo’s waking life, the vampire he dealt with was a bit of an ass, ready to challenge him at every turn.

This Mordyn, who looked so wistful as he talked of his past, of his coven, was softer than that. Not quite the vampire Jory remembered, but Apollo could see the resemblance more clearly. 

Mordyn was opening up to him, as Apollo had asked him to, and Apollo didn’t have a clue how to respond. He almost wanted Mordyn to be snarky again so Apollo could lash out at him and ignore all the other emotions mingling in his chest. 

Like the warmth that lit up his insides when he remembered waking up with Mordyn’s fingers in his hair, soothing his nightmares. 

 Like that odd longing he felt to reach out and touch the vampire’s arm in a comforting way.

Things would surely spiral out of control if he did. 

That was the issue. He couldn’t control himself around Mordyn. Call it fate or repressed memories or whatever, but when he wasn’t raging at Mordyn, he wanted to fuck him.

There was hardly any room for rational thought there.

Mordyn walked over to the desk and sat down in the chair, keeping an unusual amount of distance between them, as if, for once, he didn’t aim to provoke Apollo.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Mordyn said. “I didn’t know about your sister.” 

Apollo didn’t say that it was fine–because it wasn’t–but he nodded to acknowledge the apology as his mind flashed again to that woman he’d seen on the battlefield. The one who’d looked so much like Selene.

It couldn’t have been her, though.

Could it?

All these years he’d operated under the assumption that she was dead. 

Vampires out in the fringes ate and moved on. They were covenless, most of them. They didn’t *keep* mortals the way the more organized groups did here…

At least, Apollo had never heard of any of them doing that. 

“Apollo?” Mordyn asked, and Apollo got the feeling that he’d missed a question.

“Sorry.” Apollo rubbed a hand over his face. He’d slept so much, how was he still tired? 

“Is your shoulder bothering you?” Mordyn asked with some concern.

“No. I was just distracted.” Apollo straightened. “What were you saying?”

“I was inviting you to tell me about yourself.” He gestured at Apollo with a wave of his hand. “Since you were so disgruntled about my alleged lack of interest before.”

“Alleged?” Apollo shot back with a raised brow.

“I know a few things about you.” Mordyn lifted a hand and ticked his points off on his fingers. “You grew up in the Fringes where you lived close to a pack of wolf shifters. As an adult, you joined the local militia to create some sense of order in your small town.” 

“You got all that on the internet,” Apollo said, unimpressed.

“The internet and the interviews you gave,” Mordyn admitted. 

“So you’re a cyberstalker.”

“I’m interested,” Mordyn corrected. “Even if you refuse to believe that. I do want to get to know you.” 

“You won’t manage that by reading articles written about me.” No amount of words typed out by a stranger could convey everything Apollo had gone through, and he never talked about anything of substance during the interviews. 

Mordyn hadn’t even known about Selene.

Apollo swallowed the lump in his throat.

Mordyn leaned forward. “I won’t push you to share anything you don’t want to,” he said, “but don’t claim I don’t care. I do.” Mordyn’s eyes settled on his in a way that made the distance between him and Apollo appear too vast. “There isn’t anyone I care about more than I care about you.”

The intensity of his gaze was too much to bear, and yet, Apollo couldn’t look away. His mouth opened, but before he could speak, Mordyn stopped him. 

“Don’t say it’s not *you* I care about.” 

That was exactly what Apollo had wanted to say. The one defense he had left. He tried so hard to hate Mordyn on principle, for the sole reason that he was a vampire, but against the avalanche of *other* feelings he had for Mordyn, it was a flimsy shield to hide behind. 

It was much easier to reason all those uncomfortable feelings away with the explanation that none of this had anything to do with him, and everything to do with Jory.

So long as he could separate himself from Jory, he could keep himself out of this mess.

It wasn’t so easy, though.

The lines blurred.

In his dreams, he didn’t know where he ended and Jory began, and that feeling was starting to carry over into reality. Every time he looked at Mordyn, something pulled at his guts, urging him to close the gap between them.

“If we’d never been together in my past life,” he mused, “would I still feel this way about you?”

Mordyn stood and walked over to Apollo, kneeling in front of him so their eyes were level. “It’s your soul that calls to mine. Whether or not Jory and I had ever met, that wouldn’t change. Your soul would still be the same.” He reached for Apollo’s hand and when Apollo didn’t draw it away, he entwined their fingers, running his thumb across Apollo’s knuckles. “It’s easy for me to love you because I know your soul so well. The fire that burns in you and drives you forward is the same fire that burned in Jory. You express yourselves in different ways, but you’re made from the same stuff. A melody played in a different key. A story reimagined with a different setting. New but familiar.”

Apollo’s chest tightened. He wanted to say something, but the words got stuck in his throat. When had this vampire become such a smooth talker?

It wasn’t fair.

Mordyn’s lips twitched as if he knew precisely what effect his words were having on Apollo. “It’s easy for me to love you because of our history,” he said, “but I would fall for you with no history between us at all. Every time. You’re my favorite story.”

Fuck.

What was Apollo supposed to say to *that*?

Mordyn spoke of love, and Apollo couldn’t. He knew what it felt like to fall for this vampire. He’d done it in his dreams. Easily. Jory and Mordyn had *fit* together in ways that *he* and Mordyn did not. They both had too many jagged edges that tore at each other instead of interlocking.

Either Mordyn didn’t see that or he didn’t care about a little pain.

Apollo’s fist clenched as he remembered the way Mordyn had kissed him in the park, ignoring the knife in Apollo’s hand as it cut into his skin.

That was the level of his obsession. 

It was fucked up, though.

No sane person would put themselves in a situation like that.

“This can’t work,” Apollo whispered, though he didn’t pull away. 

Mordyn smirked. “Want to find out?”

Fuck yes.

Apollo didn’t have to say it out loud. Mordyn’s grin widened a fraction as he clearly read his answer in Apollo’s emotions, and then he grabbed Apollo by the back of the neck and pulled him forward until their mouths collided.

Mordyn’s lips on his sparked a surge of desire that Apollo couldn’t deny. 

Whose was it, though? His or Jory’s?

As Mordyn deepened the kiss, pushing his tongue into Apollo’s mouth and stealing his breath, Apollo struggled to disentangle the two.

There was a tender emotion, buried deep within his heart. An ache for the vampire who kissed him so desperately.

Jory’s.

It intermingled with the heated arousal that spread through him as their bodies pressed closer. His breath hitched as Mordyn’s hands wandered over his back, and his cock grew hard as the vampire sucked on his lower lip.

That reaction was all his own, he was pretty sure. 

Mordyn moved onto the bed and Apollo shifted with him, allowing Mordyn to lay him back against the mattress. Mordyn’s hands were all over him, tugging his shirt out of his pants and sliding beneath. His fingers were cold against Apollo’s skin, making him shiver. 

A contrast to his memories. 

Back when he’d been with Jory, his touch had not been so cold.

Apollo liked that this was different, though.

Undeniably real.

He moaned against Mordyn’s mouth, unable to stop himself, and Mordyn growled low as if that noise pleased him. He tugged Apollo’s pants down and then pulled Apollo’s cock out, stroking along the length as he continued to devour Apollo’s mouth with kisses.

The sensation made Apollo’s thoughts stutter and his heart beat faster, and when the vampire’s fangs descended and scraped against Apollo’s lip, Apollo knew he should push the vampire away.

But he didn’t want to.

Jory had liked it when Mordyn drank from him.

Apollo wasn’t sure that *he* would, but his pulse spiked with anticipation all the same.

“I’m not going to drink from you,” Mordyn promised as if he’d picked up on the thought. He drew back just enough to meet Apollo’s gaze with his eyes, which were all crimson now. He looked like a vampire ready to feed, even if he claimed he wasn’t going to.

How long had it been since he’d last had blood? There certainly wasn’t any here, and he’d gotten some scratches on him during the battle for sure. Healing would have made him hungry. Even if he was over two hundred years old. 

He should be salivating at the chance of fresh warm blood.

As Apollo watched, though, Mordyn forced his fangs back. “I’m not a fledgling,” he said. “I can control myself.” He pulled his shirt over his head as he spoke and casually threw it aside, letting Apollo marvel at the sight of his bare chest. It was pale like Apollo’s, but more heavily muscled than Apollo’s slender frame. A dark trail of hair ran from his belly button and disappeared beneath his pants.

Apollo licked his lips. “What if I don’t need you to control yourself?” he suggested, watching Mordyn closely to see his reaction. This was not an offer he was likely to make twice.

Mordyn’s red eyes glowed a shade brighter as he stared back at Apollo. “You have no idea how tempted I am.” His voice sounded rough, as if his hunger was a feral beast, clawing at his insides. “I want to taste you so badly.” His gaze dipped to Apollo’s throat. “But I don’t think you really know what you’re asking.”

“Explain.”

Mordyn’s gaze slid up again. “I bound my soul to yours once, and if I drink from you now…”

“What?”

“I think that bond would snap right back into place.” His expression turned grim. “You’re not ready for that.”

Apollo stared at Mordyn. There wasn’t anything he could say to disagree. 

If Apollo became the vampire’s mate in this fashion, he would be the only mortal Mordyn could drink from for the rest of Apollo’s life. 

No wonder Mordyn had forced his fangs back. He’d be entirely at Apollo’s mercy if their bond reestablished itself. And while Apollo wanted to fuck this vampire, *that* was not a responsibility he wanted. 

Was it? 

Jory had wanted it, had given himself to Mordyn recklessly, and if he was being honest with himself, Apollo envied his past life his ability to love without thought or hesitation. 

Mordyn was right: Apollo wasn’t ready for that. Not with this vampire or anyone. 

“Don’t worry about it,” Mordyn said, casting a last wistful look at Apollo’s neck before his gaze slid lower and the corners of his lips tugged up. ” I can think of lots of other fun things for us to do.” He reached for the hem of Apollo’s shirt and pushed it up. Apollo began to raise his arms to assist when a sharp pain in his shoulder reminded him why that was a bad idea. 

“Don’t move.” Mordyn’s hands slid underneath Apollo’s shirt and pushed it up a little higher. “This is good enough.” As soon as he’d finished speaking, his lips descended upon Apollo’s exposed skin.

Apollo shuddered as the vampire sucked on his nipple. God, he couldn’t let Mordyn dominate their whole session. Lying there and taking it was *not* his thing, but he couldn’t easily roll them over without aggravating his shoulder either. 

Mordyn moved his attention to the other nipple, teasing and licking, and making Apollo’s cock ache. “Fuck.”

“That is the plan,” Mordyn agreed with an infuriating smirk.

Apollo huffed, and decided he couldn’t possibly let Mordyn score *all* the points. He reached for his vampire’s crotch, squeezing the bulge that strained against his pants. It was hard to get a good grip through the denim, but it was satisfying to hear Mordyn groan. Even more satisfying to see him lose that smirk.

“Get rid of those pants,” Apollo demanded.

Mordyn complied, pulling his pants down and kicking them off along with his socks and shoes until he was fully naked. Full hard as well, his cock standing tall.

Apollo licked his lips as he stared, and the corner of Mordyn’s mouth quirked back upward. “Like what you see?” he purred.

“Seemed bigger in my dreams,” Apollo lied. “Did you shrink with age?”

Mordyn laughed, climbing back on the bed and leaning low to brush a kiss against the corner of Apollo’s mouth. “It’ll feel big enough inside you.” 

“Oh, really?” 

“Two hundred years of experience, sunshine. I know how to fuck.”

Apollo shivered despite himself. “Who says you’ll be the one on top?”

Mordyn leaned back and studied him, one hand reaching down almost lazily between them to close around Apollo’s cock. He started stroking, slowly, his thumb brushing over the tip of Apollo’s shaft in a teasing caress that had his breath coming faster. “I wouldn’t mind riding you,” he said, “if you’d prefer that.”

Apollo swallowed hard at the image Mordyn’s words painted in his mind, of Mordyn’s tight ass enveloping his hard dick and Mordyn’s weight pressing Apollo into the mattress.

“You’d still be on top,” Apollo pointed out.

Mordyn grinned. “I’m only trying to be mindful of your injury.”

Right. Like Apollo was going to believe that. 

Before Apollo could protest, though, Mordyn pulled a small bottle of lube out of his discarded pants and squirted some out into his hand before he kissed Apollo again.

Apollo hated how difficult Mordyn’s kisses made it for him to think. How was he supposed to argue when all the blood left his brain and his mind turned to mush?

His thoughts scattered further as Mordyn slicked Apollo’s cock, coating it thoroughly before lining both of their dicks up and rubbing them against each other. Apollo’s eyes closed and any words he might have wanted to fling at the vampire died on his lips as Mordyn’s hand wrapped around both their erections and he started to stroke. 

His world narrowed down to Mordyn and the pleasure building inside him. Mordyn’s lips on his, his fangs scraping Apollo’s lips without drawing blood, and his hand working over their lengths, making Apollo’s hips jerk.

The motions of his hand were rough, but the kiss was surprisingly tender, drawing out a part of Apollo that Apollo was doing his hardest to suppress. The part of him that had nothing but warm, fuzzy feelings for the vampire. 

Apollo’s heart ached.

Almost as much as his cock.

Mordyn’s free hand slid between Apollo’s ass cheeks, his finger circling Apollo’s entrance and teasing him with the possibility of being penetrated. “Sure you don’t want this?” he murmured as the digit pressed inside, just a little.

Apollo groaned, feeling his resistance shatter. 

He’d wanted Mordyn inside him from the first time he’d laid eyes on the vampire. He’d fought the urge, cast it aside, but it had grown into a physical need.

Mordyn pushed his finger in deeper and Apollo’s resolve crumbled completely.

“Fuck me.” He tried to make it sound like a command, like he wasn’t giving up control, but his voice was far more breathless than he wanted it to be.

Mordyn gave him another one of those kisses that made his brain go soft, and then a second finger joined the first while Apollo squirmed against him, utterly unable to stop himself.

“Please,” he whispered, and then cursed himself for saying it out loud.

Mordyn’s eyes shone as he looked down at Apollo with an unbearable mixture of affection and amusement. “You beg so sweetly.”

“Fuck you.”

Mordyn chuckled and curled his fingers, putting pressure on Apollo’s prostate in a way that made his toes curl. 

Evidently, he hadn’t been lying when he said he knew what he was doing. 

Apollo bit his lip to prevent any other words from tumbling past his defenses. His body was already revealing far too many truths, arching against Mordyn’s and pushing his ass down against Mordyn’s fingers.

Mordyn leaned low, his lips hovering by Apollo’s ear as he whispered, his breath tickling Apollo, “I know exactly how badly you want my cock right now. Empath, remember? Don’t bother trying to hide how much you’re enjoying this.” He punctuated the word ‘enjoying’ by rubbing harder against that spot inside Apollo that sent sparks shooting down his spine. 

Apollo tried to glare at Mordyn but failed.

This vampire was not playing fair.

But then, Apollo would have been a fool to expect fair play from a vampire. He had no one but himself to blame for ending up in this situation.

Mortifying as it was, Mordyn was absolutely, 100 percent right about how badly Apollo wanted that dick in his ass at this point. Badly enough that he was willing to admit it. “If you know what I want, why are you still teasing me?”

Mordyn smirked again. “Maybe I want to see you beg for it.”

“I’m not going to,” Apollo hissed.

He would *never.*

A mischievous glint entered Mordyn’s red eyes. “I could make you, you know. If you were anyone else. I could reach into your feelings and give just a little nudge, make you so horny you’d never think twice about begging for my cock.”

Apollo narrowed his gaze, hating both the suggestion and the way his guts twisted at the thought of how many other lovers Mordyn must have had. “Why don’t you?” he challenged.

“Because a hundred years ago I promised you I would never use my talents on you.”

Apollo’s breath caught. 

Mordyn withdrew his fingers. “I never wanted Jory to doubt his feelings around me. I don’t want that for you either.”

He sat up, straddling Apollo’s legs, and poured more lube into his hand, spreading it on his cock. Apollo’s heart hammered against his chest as he watched. His own cock throbbed with anticipation, precome leaking from the tip as he waited for Mordyn’s next move.

He didn’t have to wait long.

“I don’t need you to beg,” Mordyn said, bending to brush another kiss over Apollo’s lips. “I only need you to spread your legs for me.” His tone was playful but his eyes were full of hunger.

Not hunger for blood, but hunger for connection, Apollo thought, and he found that same hunger reflected within his own soul.

It wasn’t something he could fight. 

More than that, it wasn’t something he wanted to fight. Not right now.

He met Mordyn’s gaze with a challenging look. “Make it worth my while.”

Mordyn flashed him a grin. “Oh, I will.”

Without any further preamble, he lined his cock up with Apollo’s hole and pushed inside. The head of his cock slid inside easily enough, but the stretch as his length sank further into Apollo was intense in all the best ways.

Apollo groaned, throwing his head back as he arched into it, and Mordyn leaned over him. One hand came down on the mattress beside Apollo’s head to hold himself up while the other reached between them, wrapping around Apollo’s erection and stroking it as he continued to push deeper into Apollo, inch by slow fucking inch.

Apollo’s eyes rolled into the back of his head. He’d expected Mordyn to be rough, given how desperate they were both feeling, but it seemed that he was determined to give Apollo no grounds for complaints.  

The bastard. 

By the time he’d bottomed out, Apollo was breathing hard, sweat sticking to his forehead despite the cool room. He’d forgotten what it was like to lie back and enjoy the ride, to let someone take care of him.

Mordyn’s thumb stroked over his cock in a teasing manner that made his hips want to buck. “All good?” 

Apollo grunted an affirmative, not trusting his voice.

Mordyn smiled at him in a way so tender that Apollo had to close his eyes to keep his heart from hammering against his ribcage, getting stupid ideas.

The vampire didn’t allow him to withdraw from the moment, though. True to his word, he didn’t use his powers to manipulate Apollo, but he managed the same effect with the kiss he pressed to Apollo’s lips, getting right under his skin. 

It made Apollo feel vulnerable, and he didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not here. Not in front of this vampire who could read his every emotion anyway.

He tried to focus on something else.

On the cock in his ass and the way his inner walls stretched to accommodate. On the coldness of Mordyn’s skin.

But the only thing he could think about was the gentleness of his kiss and all the emotion in it.

Apollo couldn’t take it.

“Fuck me,” he urged, trying to break the moment before it broke him. He lifted his legs a little, hooking his feet behind Mordyn’s back to pull him closer and urge him to *move*.

The vampire chuckled but didn’t deny him, drawing his cock almost all the way out of Apollo’s body before slamming it all the way back in again. Apollo moaned at the sensation, his hands reaching out for Mordyn’s shoulders to anchor himself as Mordyn repeated the move, thrusting into him harder this time.

Apollo’s fingers dug into the skin as Mordyn set a fast rhythm that drove his cock deep inside with every snap of his hips against Apollo’s ass, hitting that perfect spot inside Apollo over and over again and reducing his mind to blissful mush.

Apollo embraced the sweet relief of oblivion. 

With his prostate getting nailed, he had no room to think or doubt or regret. No room for anything but the intense need building within him. 

Mordyn’s hand worked over his shaft in time to the movement of his hips, stroking him with the same rhythm he used to drive into his ass, and Apollo lost himself in the sensations. He was aware on some level of moaning and whimpering, and of the way he clung to the vampire, but none of that was important.

The only thing that mattered was the pleasure that kept spiraling higher until his orgasm slammed him with such force, he thought he might have blacked out for a second, coming hard all over himself and Mordyn.

The vampire followed soon after, his cock pulsing as he emptied inside Apollo and collapsed on him like he was boneless. He was careful not to aggravate Apollo’s wound, but Apollo was too out of it to pay that fact much mind. His mind drifted in the hazy aftermath, his body buzzing with endorphins and his eyelids so heavy he couldn’t keep them open any longer.

“Best sex I’ve had in a century,” Mordyn murmured, his breath ghosting against the shell of Apollo’s ear as he pressed a kiss to Apollo’s temple.

Apollo hummed, unwilling to get his brain going enough to form a proper response. Mordyn’s compliment made him feel warm and content inside, like a cat basking on a sunny windowsill.

Mordyn shifted, his cock slipping out of Apollo’s ass. The movement was enough to jolt Apollo back to awareness, though the haze lingered around the edges, lending a soft glow to reality. Mordyn climbed off him and settled by his side, his arm resting over Apollo’s torso with a familiarity that Apollo should probably object to.

That felt like too much effort, though.

And besides, he wasn’t sure that he actually minded.

Mordyn’s fingers brushed over his skin, tracing idle patterns as if he just couldn’t stop touching. “How’s the shoulder feel?”

“Trying not to think about it,” Apollo mumbled.

Surely he’d be all better soon, and then he could go out and hunt more vampires and free that little girl and check to see who it was who looked so much like Selene. 

But for now, he only wanted to drift. 

***

Mordyn watched as Apollo’s breathing slowed and evened out in sleep. His mate’s face was peaceful, relaxed in a way Mordyn had never seen it before. The sight filled him with a sense of satisfaction that he hadn’t known in a very long time.

His fingers continued to trace lazy circles over Apollo’s pale stomach. 

The mortal would probably return to being prickly when he woke up again, but Mordyn was fine with that. He enjoyed their verbal fights. Almost as much as he enjoyed fucking the tension out of Apollo.

He dozed next to Apollo for a while, at peace with the world until Apollo moaned in his sleep–and not in a good way. His face screwed up as if he were in great pain, and he jerked, rolling over and putting pressure on his injured shoulder, waking himself up with a sharp cry that made Mordyn’s heart clench.

“It’s alright,” he said, moving closer again as Apollo sat up, his eyes wide. “It was only a nightmare. You’re safe.”

Apollo stared at him with an unfocused expression as if he had to make sure that the world he saw now was real and he’d left that dream realm behind.

He took a few breaths, blinking and looking around the room, before his gaze settled back on Mordyn. He looked confused for another second or two, and then he frowned.

“I was so sure I was dying,” he said, making Mordyn’s stomach drop.

“It’s probably trauma from the ambush,” Mordyn said, because he didn’t want to consider the other possibility–that Apollo was reliving Jory’s death in his dreams.

Apollo shook his head, even as he tentatively checked his shoulder. “It’s not like that.” He glanced at Mordyn. “I’m not me, in those dreams.”

He didn’t have to say more for Mordyn to understand. 

Mordyn licked his lips, guilt twisting his insides. To think that Apollo was struggling now because of the mistakes Mordyn had made in the past… 

He’d known to stay away from Apollo after the way things had ended with Jory… that he had no right to a second chance… 

But he was here to protect Apollo, to do better this time.

“Mordyn?” Apollo asked, studying him. 

Mordyn looked back at him, waiting for judgment. If Apollo remembered… 

It seemed that he didn’t, though. 

“These dreams are so confusing,” he said. “There’s only panic and pain. But the worst thing is always…” He paused, looking distraught. “The worst thing is always that you’re not there.” 

The words cut into Mordyn’s soul like knives, reopening a wound that had never fully healed. He’d failed his mate in the most devastating way, and now the memory had come back to plague Apollo too.

“You abandoned Jory.” Apollo stated it like the terrible truth it was.

Mordyn nodded, unable to speak around the lump in his throat.

“Why?” Apollo pressed.

Mordyn swallowed hard. He could explain himself, could feed Apollo all the excuses he’d made for himself over the decades, but to what end? He didn’t deserve forgiveness, and he didn’t want it. “I should never have left Jory, but I made the wrong choice.”

Apollo stared at him, clearly expecting more, but Mordyn couldn’t give him that. His throat was dry and closing up, visions of his dead mate flashing before his eyes and making his hands tremble. He clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palm in the hope that the sensation would bring him back to the present. It didn’t work.

“You hurt Jory,” Apollo said. “I don’t remember how, but I felt that pain. You broke his heart.” The words tore at Mordyn’s heart but not as much as the next thing Apollo said: “You broke his heart and yet… when he was dying, all he wanted was to be with you.”

Mordyn’s vision blurred and his eyes stung in a way that had been alien to him for decades His heart hammered against his ribcage as he struggled to hold himself together. 

He couldn’t.

The memories consumed him.

“Mordyn!” Apollo snapped, but the sound of his voice came from somewhere far away, barely registering as Mordyn sank into the darkest depths of his mind, the place where he’d spent the first decade or two after Jory’s death. 

Except back then he’d only been able to imagine what his mate had gone through in his final hour. 

He’d thought that Jory must have hated him when he died. 

The truth hurt so much more.

Who was he trying to fool pretending he could make things right?

Mordyn’s eyes stung as tears slid down his cheeks. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d last cried. Fifty years?

He gasped in a breath, trying desperately to ground himself. He had to get back to reality, had to pull himself together and stop falling apart in front of Apollo.

Forcing himself to move, he picked his pants off the floor and fumbled to put them back on, then grabbed his shirt and headed toward the door. 

“Stop,” Apollo called, sharply. “Where do you think you’re going?” 

Anywhere. Mordyn couldn’t say it, though, not while Apollo looked at him like that. Brows drawn together and anger flashing in his green eyes. 

“You promised you wouldn’t leave.” Apollo’s gaze was full of accusation.

“You remember that?” Mordyn’s thoughts wandered back to the night before, when Apollo, still half-asleep, had asked him to stay after his nightmare… and Mordyn had promised not to fail him again. He hadn’t thought that Apollo was alert enough to remember–or that a fully awake Apollo would even want him to stay by his side. 

“I remember enough,” Apollo said, the faintest blush creeping into his cheeks. 

Mordyn considered him. His beautiful mate, still half-naked on the bed. A miracle he didn’t deserve. He’d always known that, but he felt it more keenly now that he’d learned the true extent of the horror he’d put Jory through. 

He’d allowed his mate to die alone and afraid and crying for him.

How could he promise anyone anything?

“You really want me to stay?” he asked Apollo.

Apollo hesitated, clearly struggling with himself. He didn’t want to admit any positive feelings toward Mordyn, Mordyn knew. He wasn’t ready to make any big confessions or even small ones. There was still time to end this before it ended in disaster. 

But if Apollo jumped over his own shadow and admitted that he wanted Mordyn around… 

Mordyn would stay.

Apollo’s features drew tight, though. “I just want answers,” he said, stubbornly holding on to his pride.

“I don’t have answers for you.” Any explanation would sound like an excuse, and he wasn’t going to make excuses for himself. “I broke up with Jory and when he was alone, the vampires came for him.” A pain sharper than anything sliced through Mordyn’s chest as he spoke the words.

Apollo stared at him uncomprehending. “What do you mean you broke up with him? You were mates. You can’t just break up with your mate.”

A bitter laugh tore its way out of Mordyn’s throat. “And yet I did.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

Mordyn turned away from him before he could say something truly biting. There was an old anger, a dark, ugly thing building up in him, and Apollo didn’t deserve to be its target. 

He knew a certain treacherous vampire who would be perfect for it, though.

“Where are you going?” Apollo demanded again when Mordyn went for the door. 

“I’m going to kill a vampire who deserves it almost as much as I do,” was all the response Mordyn gave.

Tarek had it coming.


New Chapter 

Mordyn stormed into the club and pushed his way through a throng of people until he spotted Tarek sitting at the bar, talking to Vitra as he sipped a drink.

Mordyn grabbed a fistful of the vampire’s jacket and spun him around, pulling him right off his stool and shoving him hard into one of the nearby tables. Glasses and bottles shattered as they crashed onto the floor and Tarek glared at Mordyn with an expression of outrage as he scrambled upright, clothes stained with liquor and ketchup from the burger his ass had landed on. 

“What the fuck?” he yelled, his eyes glowing crimson with rage.

Mordyn didn’t give him time to collect himself. He lunged at him again, grabbing him and slamming him into the wall behind them. His fangs descended as the darkness inside him rose to the surface, threatening to consume him.

He welcomed it. 

“You sold Apollo out,” he snarled. “You almost got him killed! How did you do it?” His gaze narrowed on Tarek. “How did you lie to me? Was it the ice dragon blood? Did you drink gallons of the stuff to calm your emotions?” Before Tarek could even utter a response, Mordyn shook him again as his grip tightened. “You betrayed me!”

Tarek bared his teeth, hissing at Mordyn. “I didn’t betray you, asshole.”

Yeah, right, like Mordyn was going to believe that.

He growled and pushed Tarek against the wall again.

Tarek was apparently done talking too. He snarled as well, then pushed back at Mordyn with supernatural strength.

Mordyn roared. 

How dare Tarek fight back?

He was going to kill this fucker! 

His fists connected with the other vampire’s face in a flurry of brutal punches. The force of the blows sent Tarek reeling, but he managed to regain his footing and retaliate with a swift kick to Mordyn’s gut.

The impact barely registered as Mordyn’s fury drove him forward, his mind focused solely on making Tarek pay for his betrayal. 

As long as he could think about that, he didn’t have to think about anything else. Like how he himself deserved a similar beating, but he wasn’t going to get it, so he would have to live vicariously through Tarek.

He grabbed the traitor by the throat, slamming him against the wall with enough force to crack the plaster. Tarek clawed at Mordyn’s hand, trying to escape.

Mordyn’s vision blurred, the edges tinted red with the intensity of his anger. He drew back his fist, ready to deliver another devastating blow, when strong hands suddenly gripped his shoulders, yanking him away from Tarek.

Iskander’s voice cut through the haze of Mordyn’s rage. “Enough!”

Mordyn struggled against Iskander’s hold, his chest heaving with the effort to break free. “Let me go! I’m going to kill him!”

Altair appeared in front of Mordyn, his expression stern and unyielding. “Stand down, Mordyn. This is not how we handle things in this coven.”

Mordyn snarled, his fangs still bared as he glared at Tarek, who had slumped to the floor, his face a bloody mess. “He betrayed us! He almost got Apollo killed!”

“He didn’t betray us,” Iskander insisted, still holding Mordyn tightly.

Mordyn jerked against his grip again, his heart pounding with the desire to rip into Tarek. The other vampire had regained his footing now, but he only stood there, leaning against the wall, glaring at Mordyn, though it was a pathetic display with his broken nose.

“What’s gotten into you?” Altair asked, and Mordyn nearly snapped at his boss. Altair wasn’t impressed by Mordyn’s lust for violence, though. “Do you think I wouldn’t know if he’d betrayed us? I went through his mind after your first message from the safe house.”

That couldn’t be right.

Mordyn pulled in a ragged breath. “Then who the fuck was it? Those vampires knew we were going to be there.” 

“We don’t know, but you need to calm down. Now.” Altair stared at him with all the authority of the vampire lord he was. A move he didn’t often pull on Mordyn, but all eyes were on them.

Vampires and non-vampire patrons alike were gaping at them with varying degrees of shock and unease.

Mordyn didn’t care about them. Rage burned in his veins, demanding an outlet.

“Don’t make me punish you,” Altair said, low. 

Mordyn wanted to argue, but if Altair was right, he’d just beaten the shit out of another coven member for no reason. As the leader of their coven, Altair *had* to punish him or risk appearing weak.

Mordyn finally wrenched himself out of Iskander’s grip and rolled his shoulders. He shot another glare at Tarek but didn’t try to get another punch in, however much he wanted to. 

“My office, now.” Altair didn’t wait for Mordyn to agree before he turned and walked away, his expression dark and displeased.

Mordyn straightened his shirt, still seething with anger, but knowing he had to follow.

***

Altair sat behind his desk and leveled a hard stare at Mordyn, who remained standing in front of him. 

Mordyn glared back at Altair defiantly, refusing to feel shame for his actions. Tarek had deserved every blow that landed on his face. If not for the reason Mordyn thought, then probably for some other reason. 

“Explain yourself.” Altair’s tone made it clear that he wasn’t going to be satisfied with flimsy excuses or half-truths. If he needed to, he *would* dig into Mordyn’s mind, friends or not.

Mordyn gritted his teeth. “I thought Tarek had betrayed us and risked my mate.”

“You thought that three nights ago, but you didn’t fly into a blind rage three nights ago. What happened today?”

Damn Altair for being so perceptive.

Mordyn’s jaw clenched. He didn’t want to tell Altair what had upset him. 

“You tried to kill one of my vampires in a manner wholly unlike you.” Altair leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. “Something happened and I want to know what.”

Mordyn looked away, unwilling to meet Altair’s eyes.

“Did something happen to your mate?” Altair ventured a guess. “Did his shoulder not heal?”

Mordyn exhaled loudly. “His shoulder is healing just fine.” That wasn’t the issue. Mordyn slumped in the chair across from Altair. “He’s been dreaming.”

“Dreaming?”

Mordyn nodded, still not meeting Altair’s eyes. “About me. About his previous life.” He squeezed his eyes shut, unwilling to say it aloud, but unable to keep it in any longer either. “He remembers how Jory died.”

There was a pause before Altair spoke again, more softly than before. “That must be difficult for you.”

Mordyn scoffed. That didn’t even begin to describe it. 

“Is he blaming you?”

Mordyn very nearly scoffed again, and Altair understood without him having to say anything. 

“You’re blaming yourself.”

There was no use denying it, so Mordyn remained silent.

“You only did what you thought was best for him.” 

Mordyn clenched his fists at his sides. “I should have been there for him. I should have protected him.”

“You thought you were protecting him.”

Mordyn glared at Altair as the darkness inside of him turned cold and cutting. “What I thought doesn’t fucking matter, does it?” The end result was still the same. Jory had died without Mordyn by his side.

All because Mordyn had thought Jory would be *safer* without him. 

Their campaign had picked up too much steam. It had been easy to get people on their side once they got going. Even easier once Mordyn drank his mate’s blood and turned into a vampire who could convince every person in the room that his ideas were the best. 

Not all vampires loved the way Jory and Mordyn were shaping the politics of their city, though. They didn’t care about being nice to mortals, or mortals being nice to them. They wanted the right to hunt in their territories, not publically funded blood banks. 

They saw Mordyn’s newfound powers as a threat to their way of living. 

So they threatened Jory. 

The source of his powers. 

Jory never took the threats seriously, though, not the way Mordyn did. Mordyn knew what vampires were capable of, but Jory didn’t listen when Mordyn asked him to go into hiding, just for a while. 

And then, during one of the speeches Jory was giving, a knife whizzed right by his ear.

Even now, Mordyn remembered the terror of that moment. The blade had come out of nowhere, and it could have taken Jory’s life in an instant. 

It had shaken him to his core. 

Mortal lives were way too fucking fragile.

Jory, only a little shaken, laughed it off, but Mordyn couldn’t brush the incident off so easily. 

Especially not when he received a letter, later that night: Stay away from the mortal and nobody has to die.

Remembering this, Mordyn’s hand balled into a fist. He’d split from Jory to keep him safe, and then he’d gone out to hunt the vampire who’d sent that letter, but while he was doing that…

His chest constricted.

It was a good thing vampires didn’t strictly need oxygen, because he couldn’t breathe.

He’d been played for a damn fool. 

“In any case,” Altair said, “I can’t allow you to take your anger out on your coven mates.”

Mordyn swallowed his protest. Deep down he knew that Altair was right and that he’d been acting irrationally, but he wasn’t interested in considering reason yet. “Am I going to be punished?” he asked.

He almost wanted the answer to be yes. 

Altair knew it, of course, considering him with dark eyes. “I think you’re punishing yourself already. Shouldn’t you be with your mate instead of sitting here in my office?”

Mordyn stiffened but said nothing. There was nothing to say. This second chance he’d been given was wasted on him. Maybe the only reason fate had put Apollo before him was to drive home how massively he’d fucked up with Jory.

“You said the Nightfall vampires tried to kidnap him,” Altair reminded him. “Do you suppose he’s safe by himself?” 

Mordyn growled low under his breath. “The bastards don’t know where he is.” The location was called a safe house for a reason. 

And yet, Mordyn couldn’t rest easy knowing that Apollo was alone while he recovered from the bullet he’d taken.

“That’s good then,” Altair said. “I would just hate for you to make the same mistake twice.” 

It was all the prodding Mordyn needed. He was out the door and up the stairs before his boss could say another word. 

When he reached the club’s exit, though, and pushed the door open, he was stopped by the brightening color of the sky in the distance. 

He would not make it back to Apollo before the sun was up. 


New Chapter 

For a long time, Apollo didn’t know what to do with himself after Mordyn had stormed off. There were so many questions floating around his head that he didn’t have answers to. 

It was evident that Mordyn felt guilty about what had happened to Jory. 

But why?

What had caused him to break up with his mate? 

How could such a thing even be considered by a vampire? 

Apollo knew enough about the subject to know that a vampire was bound to his mate, once he’d taken one. Mordyn would not have been able to drink from anyone else after leaving Jory. Starvation did not kill a vampire, but it pained them and rendered them weak and powerless. A vampire who didn’t consume blood was no stronger than a dying man, and likely suffered just as much. 

Why would Mordyn have taken on that fate willingly?

There must be a part of the story that Apollo was missing, and if he could just make himself remember…

Angrily, he stared up at the ceiling above his bed. All the answers were locked somewhere inside him, he was sure of it, but so far he’d been unable to access Jory’s memories actively. It was almost as if he was being haunted by a ghost who shared only what he wished to. 

“I need to remember,” he said to no one in particular. “Even if it’s a painful memory.” 

If he could remember everything that had happened with Mordyn and Jory… maybe he would be better prepared to make decisions about his own life. 

Maybe he could avoid facing the same end Jory had. 

He closed his eyes, but sleep would not come easily. 

His shoulder ached, reminding him of the events that had brought him here. The way Mordyn had fought for him, like a feral beast. 

He grabbed the bottle of painkillers from the bedside table and took another pill. More than the recommended dose, but after a few minutes, the pain faded and his eyes drooped, finally.

In sleep, he found himself in Jory’s body once more. 

He was in the apartment he shared with his mate, arguing with him. Frustration clouded his thoughts, and fear, too, though the source of it was far more vague. Besides, this was not the time to be afraid. They were so close to a real breakthrough. The crown prince had taken an interest in their cause.

Now if they could only persuade a few more of the dragons…

“It’s not worth the risk,” Mordyn said. “We need to stop this.” 

“We can’t stop now. If we do, it’ll all have been for nothing!”

Mordyn wouldn’t listen to reason, though. He’d been spooked by that damn knife, Jory knew. As if a little threat like that would make Jory falter. They’d just have to be more careful about security in the future. He wasn’t going to let some assholes scare him into giving up. 

“They’re going to kill you,” Mordyn said, his face grim. “They’re not fucking around.”

“They can try,” Jory shot back, crossing his arms in front of his chest defiantly. 

“No.” Mordyn’s tone had a note of finality to it. Jory knew his mate well enough to know that he wasn’t going to be budged from his position. He was all fun and games most of the time, but when he dug his heels in like this, he could be quite immovable. 

Which was too bad because Jory could be just as stubborn. “Fine,” he spat. “You stop, then. I won’t.” 

Mordyn gave him a long look, eyes darkening. “I have to leave you.”

What?

Was that supposed to be a joke?

“Leave me to go where?” Jory demanded. 

“I can’t tell you.”

“That’s bullshit.” Jory glared at the vampire. Why was Mordyn even saying things like that? “We’re mates, remember? Wherever you’re going, I’m going with you.” Jory didn’t wear a ring, but he might as well have. They’d promised themselves to each other, and now suddenly Mordyn wanted to go on a secret mission by himself? Why? Because they were fighting? “Where is this coming from?”

“I need to find out who’s threatening you.”

“You don’t have to leave me for that.” 

“Yes, I do. You’re in danger as long as you’re with me.”

That… Jory shook his head. “You think I care about that? You think I’m scared?”

“I think you’re not scared enough.” Mordyn’s eyes flashed crimson with emotion. “You need to stop being so damn reckless!”

Jory’s gaze narrowed, heart pounding furiously against his ribcage. “There’ll always be people annoyed at what I do and there’ll always be vampires envious of your powers. We can’t let them get in our way.” 

“They tried to kill you.” Mordyn’s voice shook, his features tight as he looked at Jory. “I can’t expose you to that danger.”

Jory stepped closer to him, taking his hand and looking him straight in the eyes. “I don’t care about any danger as long as you’re with me.” He leaned up and brushed a kiss against Mordyn’s lips before giving him the best smile he could muster while his stomach was tying itself up in knots. He’d known the situation rattled Mordyn, but enough to talk about leaving? “You’re mine, vampire,” Jory whispered. “There’s no way I’m letting you go anywhere.”

Mordyn’s hands slid around Jory’s waist as he pulled him into an embrace. He buried his face in Jory’s neck, breathing him in.

Jory stilled, sensing the tension in Mordyn’s frame. Something was very wrong.

“There’s something I never told you,” Mordyn said, voice rough.

A shiver ran through Jory. Whatever Mordyn was about to say, Jory knew he was going to hate it.

“The first time I saw you, I wanted you so much…” Mordyn drew back a little. “I used my powers to make you want me back.”

Jory froze in Mordyn’s arms, staring up at the vampire.

It couldn’t be…

“You’re lying.” Jory’s voice sounded strangled to his own ears. Mordyn would never.

He couldn’t have.

“We’re mates,” Jory insisted, though he shoved Mordyn away from him at the same time, furious. “My attraction to you was natural.”  

“We’re mates because I wanted us to be.” Mordyn stared at Jory impassively. “Everything you feel for me, I manufactured.”

Jory wanted to strike at him. How could Mordyn stand there and claim such a thing? After all they’d been through together…

He opened his mouth, then closed it. Words failed him. He was so angry he was shaking. “You promised you’d never…”

Mordyn offered no apology. “You never would have agreed to be my mate if I didn’t.”

Jory felt dizzy.

Mordyn was lying. He was trying to make Jory angry by pulling their whole relationship into question. He had to be.

Jory’s feelings weren’t a lie.

His love couldn’t be artificial.

It *couldn’t* be.

But Mordyn’s strategy was working in spite of Jory’s better knowledge. He was too mad to look at the vampire any longer. He went for the door, slamming it behind himself as he left.

Apollo woke with a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. Somehow he knew that Mordyn had been gone by the time Jory had returned home, and that Jory had never seen him again. 

He rubbed a hand over his face.

His eyes stung, but he refused to cry. 

This was not his sorrow. Or was it? The memory felt like his, even if the event had happened to a different person, originally. 

Were he and Jory so wholly separate? 

More and more it was becoming difficult to convince himself of this. 

Apollo couldn’t imagine fighting for a world in which vampires and mortals might live together in harmony, but he knew what it was like to fight for a cause, unwavering. He couldn’t fault Jory for sticking to his guns. 

It was exactly what Apollo had to do as well. 

He moved from the bed, carefully. A dim streak of sunlight filtered into the room through the blanket he’d hung before the window. He listened, for a moment, for movement from anywhere else in the house, but he didn’t think Mordyn had come back while Apollo was asleep, and now he wouldn’t. At least not until night fell. 

Apollo was alone. 

He looked around the room until his gaze fell on the bowl of soup that Mordyn had prepared for him and which he’d never touched. It didn’t look any more appetizing now than it had last night, but it would be something to eat if he reheated it. 

He swallowed another painkiller with a glass of water, and then he took the bowl and carried it into the kitchen to stick it in the microwave.

As the food heated, Apollo checked his phone for messages. He had a few from Ceska, telling him that Jaron was on the road to recovery and asking how Apollo was doing. 

Apollo noticed the absence of any news about the lost girl.

He typed out a quick reply to Ceska saying that he was doing fine, thumb hovering over the Send button. Should he let her know that he was by himself? 

Yes, probably.

But she’d likely send him a chaperone, which would make it all that much harder for Apollo to leave this boring place when it was time. 

The microwave dinged and Apollo hit Send. 

The soup tasted as if Mordyn had been incredibly generous with the salt. Apollo ate a spoonful and winced. Clearly, the vampire had zero cooking skills. 

But he’d tried for Apollo’s sake.

Apollo looked down at the bowl with an uncomfortable tugging sensation in his chest, his thoughts drifting back to his dreams against his will.

Mordyn must have lied when he said all that about manipulating Jory’s emotions. He must have been. 

A soft sound of ironic amusement escaped Apollo.

For the longest time, he’d been convinced that Mordyn was messing with his own mind in all the ways he claimed to have done to Jory… and now that he heard the words from Mordyn’s mouth, he couldn’t believe them. He’d felt the love between Jory and Mordyn, deep in his bones. It was a love intense enough to last through the ages and survive death to reawaken in *him* a hundred years later. 

It wasn’t fabricated. 

Jory hadn’t thought so either, while he was dying. 

Yet Mordyn had found it necessary to separate himself from Jory, to keep him safe from danger. 

Only that it hadn’t worked out that way. 

Apollo set the soup aside, trying to shake the image of Mordyn from his mind, the way he’d looked when Apollo told him of Jory’s last moments. He winced now at his own words, realizing how deep they must have cut. 

What a damn mess. 

He needed to distract himself from it, so he got up and checked the fridge for something more edible than the soup. He found a couple of eggs and a pack of bacon, so he started cooking.

Once breakfast was ready, he sat back down with his plate.

He checked his phone again, restless. He could hardly stand to be stuck out here while there was work to be done. Important work too. The Nightfall coven had to be brought to justice, one way or another. There could be no question now that they were involved in the trades somehow. 

They must have the girl. 

And also that woman who Apollo tried not to think about too much. 

It was as if everything about this case wanted to remind him of his sister and how he’d failed her. 

The bacon settled heavy in his stomach as he forced it down in spite of his lack of appetite. 

If only they knew where the mortals were taken… But they didn’t, and their only lead had ended in an ambush. He wasn’t likely to get any more information out of defectors from the coven either. At least, not any useful information. The Nightfall vampires were sufficiently warned now, and outdated intelligence would not help in finding their recent victims. 

Apollo sent another message to Ceska, asking for an updated report. 

With every day that passed, the chances of them rescuing the little girl fell dramatically. 

A fact that made Apollo want to pace as he waited for a response from his assistant. 

When it finally came, it did little to calm him down. They had no new witnesses. Ceska wanted to brute force a solution by going to the king and getting permission to arrest the leader of the Nightfall coven. 

Apollo had to advise her against it. 

Every time they had moved against the vampires directly, they had started killing the mortals in their hold out of spite. They couldn’t attack before they knew exactly where the victims were located, and at this rate, it didn’t look like that was going to happen. 

They’d tried tracking spells, of course, but it was exceedingly difficult to track non-magical creatures, made even harder by the fact that the vampires had likely set up wards. They’d asked three different mages and gotten three different possible locations for Ella, none of which turned out to be correct.

Seriously, fuck magic. This would be much easier if she’d had an old-fashioned GPS tracker on her. Some small device that the vampires would never have expected. 

But of course no one had known that she was going to get kidnapped…

A thought struck Apollo that moment. A plan, forming in his head so quickly he was halfway out the door to set it into motion before he could even consider its merit. 

They hadn’t known the vampires were going to kidnap Ella.

But they did know who else the vampires wanted. 

And Apollo had a whole day to outfit himself before anyone could tell him that he was being insane. 


New Chapter 

Mordyn made it back to the safe house half an hour after sunset, anxiety eating away at him.

What if, somehow, something had happened to Apollo while he was gone?

What if his absence had *allowed* something to happen to Apollo? 

The light was lit in the living room, though, and when Mordyn knocked on the front door, Apollo opened it only a moment later. Curiously, he held a pair of boxer shorts in his hands, along with some thread and a needle. 

“What are you up to?” Mordyn asked. 

“Just fixing my clothes,” Apollo replied as he stepped aside to let Mordyn in. “Gotta keep busy.” 

He was lying. 

Mordyn chose not to call him out on it, though. He was probably just embarrassed about being caught sewing or something. Whatever it was, Mordyn was sure it was innocent, and besides, he didn’t really care what Apollo was doing. He was just relieved to see him safe and sound. 

Apollo put the underwear and the sewing needle aside. “You came back,” he observed. “I didn’t know if you would.”

Mordyn paused before saying. “I thought about it, and you shouldn’t be here by yourself.” 

Apollo regarded him with a pensive look. There was something guarded about his expression, though, as if he wasn’t sure what to make of Mordyn. “You mean I shouldn’t be here by myself,” he said after a moment, “the way Jory was by himself.” 

Mordyn closed his eyes and took a breath, letting the pain that statement evoked wash through him. Apollo was trying to get a rise out of him, testing him. Mordyn wasn’t going to let Apollo’s words drive him away a second time. No matter what. “Yes,” he said evenly, looking at Apollo. “That is exactly what I meant.”

Apollo held his gaze, studying him intently. “I dreamed about the break-up.”

Mordyn’s breath caught in his throat. 

Should he apologize? 

Should he explain?

He wet his lips and opened his mouth, but Apollo spoke before he could.

“You were really fucking stupid, you know.”

He said it with such dry sincerity it almost made Mordyn laugh in spite of everything. It was the most honest observation anyone had ever made about him on the subject.

Mordyn inclined his head. “I won’t deny it.”

Apollo nodded. “Good.”

They stood there for a moment longer, looking at each other in silence. Mordyn wanted to say something because he felt too little had been said between them to lay the matter to rest, but all his feelings were too big for words, and anyway, it seemed Apollo understood without Mordyn struggling his way through an explanation that could only be inadequate.

Mordyn had been fucking stupid.

What could be added to that?

Eventually, Apollo did find something to add. “You’re also a terrible cook.” He jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen where a pot full of Mordyn’s rejected soup was still sitting on the stovetop. “I hope you at least fed yourself while you were out.”

Mordyn had, reluctantly. His hunger had been stronger than his distaste for blood that wasn’t his mate’s. Especially because he wasn’t likely to be able to drink from Apollo any time soon. Maybe not ever. 

God, how he longed to drink Apollo’s blood. 

It had taken all his willpower to turn the offer down last night. 

Even now that his physical hunger was sated, the memory sent a jolt of lust through his system.

“I had some blood,” he answered, gaze straying to Apollo’s shoulder. “Need any help getting those bandages changed?” 

“The healer was here earlier.” Apollo’s hand went to his shoulder automatically, touching it lightly through his shirt. “I’ll be fine in a little bit.”

Mordyn itched to push Apollo’s shirt up and check for himself, but he knew he’d be overstepping boundaries, no matter how intimate they’d been last night. 

“Seriously,” Apollo said with a twitch of his lips. “You don’t have to worry like that.”

Mordyn met Apollo’s half-amused, half-exasperated expression with a serious look of his own. “I’ll always worry about you.”

Apollo said nothing for a long moment. Mordyn expected him to take another jab at him or to tell him that he was being an idiot, but Apollo did neither of those things. Instead, he said, in a softer tone of voice. “I’m not going to die like he did.”

Mordyn found himself unable to respond, throat clogged with a painful lump of emotion. “If you make me a promise like that,” he said, eventually, “you’d better fucking keep it.”

Apollo regarded him for another second, then moved toward him, taking the initiative, for once, and placed a gentle, fleeting kiss against Mordyn’s lips. It wasn’t the enthusiastic confirmation that Mordyn wanted, but he chased it anyway, drawing Apollo into his arms and holding on to him, savoring the warmth of his body, the weight of it.

His mate was alive in his embrace.

Mordyn would do anything to make sure things stayed that way.

***

Apollo wasn’t sure how or when he’d decided that he was going to kiss Mordyn. The impulse had gripped him without warning. 

There was still a part of him, however small, that wanted to claim he wasn’t in control of his actions, that he was being yanked around on a chain by emotions that belonged only to his past self, but this didn’t feel like that. 

It wasn’t like him to kiss a vampire, no, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t acting of his own accord. There’d been something in Mordyn’s gaze that compelled him. The broken sound of his voice, the raw vulnerability in his expression as he asked Apollo to keep his promise. 

It was all too real for Apollo to brush aside with a sweep of his hand. This right here wasn’t a dream Apollo would wake up from in another moment. That pull he felt toward the vampire wasn’t a second-hand emotion. 

He wasn’t going to pretend like it was, either. 

If Mordyn could be open and vulnerable, maybe Apollo could be too.

So he’d kissed the vampire.

It was different from the kisses they usually shared. Not the heated, near-desperate clash of lips they usually shared because they were both too stubborn to do anything about their feelings until they were on the verge of exploding.

No, this was something new.

It was almost tender.

Apollo didn’t do tender, but maybe just this once, he would make an exception.

He allowed Mordyn to hold him, allowed his own mind to shut up for a minute and just feel.

He liked the way Mordyn’s arms felt around him. Solid and strong, protective, though Apollo had never thought of himself as someone who needed protecting. He would have protested the treatment, except that Mordyn didn’t do it because he thought Apollo was weak. Mordyn held him like this because Apollo was the most important thing in the world to him. 

It was a feeling Apollo could have drowned in, just then.

He still could not give himself as easily as Jory had, but maybe that was okay. Jory had led a very different life from his. They might share a soul and have all those similarities Mordyn claimed they did–and which Apollo could not ignore–but they were not the same, in the end.

Mordyn had changed too. He was no longer the same vampire Jory had known, no longer the carefree vampire who was all jokes and easy smiles.

This Mordyn was darker, more intense. His grief had cut deep ridges into him.

Apollo didn’t mind. He didn’t long for Jory’s Mordyn. He liked this one, with all those sharp edges to match his own, even if they ran the risk of hurting one another. In the end, maybe they could find a way to line up all their broken parts and fit together.

Maybe.

If he could be a vampire hunter who loved a vampire.

But he didn’t want to think about that now. 

Mordyn’s hand slid down his spine to his ass and a frisson of need rushed through Apollo, just gentle enough to be savored. He sighed at the feeling, letting slow urgency build in his body as Mordyn squeezed his ass through his pants, fingers curling into the pocket of his jeans and pressing him closer, grinding them together.

Their kiss deepened naturally. Apollo let himself get swept away by it, and when Mordyn lifted him up with vampire strength, he only wrapped his legs around his waist and hung on to him.

He didn’t protest when Mordyn carried him into the bedroom and laid him down on the mattress, crawling over him to cover Apollo with his body.

Apollo’s mind was entirely blank except for one singular desire. Connection. He wanted Mordyn wrapped around him, wanted to feel his skin against his own, wanted the vampire’s fangs in his neck, drinking his blood. 

That last thought caught him unaware as he shuddered with the intensity of the need. 

He wanted this vampire to bite him.

Mordyn looked down at him, eyes glowing red as if he knew what Apollo was thinking.

He probably did, empath that he was. 

Apollo swallowed. He remembered what Mordyn had told him last night. If he let the vampire drink from him, it might well reestablish their bond. 

“Not yet,” Mordyn said, and then he was kissing him again as if he wanted to take the thought out of Apollo’s head, fighting against a need they both clearly shared. 

Apollo did his best, though, to ignore it. It wasn’t *natural* to yearn for a vampire’s bite. Much better to focus on different urges. Like the urge that stirred in his pants when he bucked his hips up to meet Mordyn’s and their erections pressed against one another. He moaned softly, fingers digging into Mordyn’s jeans.

In another moment, they’d both pulled down each other’s pants, and then they were rocking together, flesh against flesh, panting against each other’s mouths as they kissed.

Their efforts were uncoordinated, rough, and driven by blind desire, but Apollo wouldn’t have had it any other way. Caught in the search for friction, he didn’t have time to long for the sharp prick of fangs. He could only chase the rising pressure of his impending orgasm, Mordyn’s low groan in his ears sending shivers of pleasure through him.

Only then Mordyn’s mouth traced a wet line over the curve of Apollo’s collarbone, teeth scraping over his skin without breaking it.

Apollo tensed all over. 

If he moved too suddenly, if Mordyn accidentally sank his teeth in…

“Hold very still,” Mordyn whispered as if he could hear the thoughts in Apollo’s head, and Apollo froze in his grip, his blood rushing in his ears as Mordyn gripped his cock firmly, stroking him as his mouth returned to the spot where his neck and shoulder met, exploring the skin there with his lips and tongue and the barest hint of fangs.

Apollo trembled with the effort of remaining motionless, but he did not dare to move, scared that Mordyn might nick him by accident.

Scared of how much he wanted that. 

“The fuck are you doing?” he hissed at Mordyn, barely suppressing the shudder that wanted to roll through him.

Mordyn’s response was to squeeze Apollo’s cock in his fist and pump him harder. “Can’t handle it?” he purred in a silky, dark voice.

Apollo gritted his teeth. He could handle anything Mordyn could throw at him. Anything.

Except maybe for the torture of this slow, measured pumping of his length that was driving him crazy, making him want to thrust up into Mordyn’s fist. 

A helpless noise escaped his lips as he held himself still, and he cursed himself for it while Mordyn chuckled and pressed an open-mouthed kiss to Apollo’s throat. 

He was going to make Apollo lose his damn mind, the motions of his hand bringing him closer and closer to the edge, pushing him there with single-minded determination.

Apollo gasped, his breath stuttering as his whole body locked up, a shiver racing through him as his climax approached and the need to move got to be too much. Mordyn’s fangs grazed his skin again, shooting a thrill of adrenaline through him, and then he was coming, jerking against Mordyn in a way that would have made Mordyn’s teeth sink into him if the vampire hadn’t lifted his mouth at the last second, chuckling softly as Apollo shook.

“You fucking bastard,” Apollo gritted out.

“What?” Mordyn nuzzled his throat with his nose. “Did you want me to bite you?”

“Obviously not,” Apollo spat back, but the denial tasted sour on his tongue, even as pleasure hummed through him in waves.

“Liar.” Mordyn pressed another kiss to Apollo’s neck, fangs withdrawn.

Apollo shifted beneath him, reaching for Mordyn’s neglected cock. Mordyn was still hard, and when Apollo touched him, the vampire’s breath hitched. An exchange of power Apollo couldn’t help but relish. It was almost enough to make him forget how close he’d come to having Mordyn’s fangs in him.

Almost.

He watched the vampire’s face as he stroked his hardness, squeezing the base of his cock before sliding his palm over the tip, gathering the wetness there before his strokes became firmer. He studied Mordyn’s parted lips and the way his eyes fluttered shut with the attention, noted the way his whole body vibrated with tension as he held himself above Apollo.

Apollo smiled to himself, increasing the speed of his strokes.

Mordyn growled softly, hips canting forward, pushing into the circle of Apollo’s hand, chasing his own release now.

Apollo enjoyed the show, but after a minute, he reached his free hand up to wrap around the back of Mordyn’s neck and drew him down for a kiss. He felt Mordyn gasp against his mouth, but he didn’t break the rhythm of his hand, rubbing his thumb over the sensitive head of the vampire’s cock, teasing him mercilessly until Mordyn stiffened and a groan broke from his lips, a tremor running through his frame as he spilled himself into Apollo’s fist.

Apollo released Mordyn and reached for something to clean his hand with, but Mordyn was faster, lifting Apollo’s messy fingers to his own lips and licking them clean without so much as a blink.

“Funny,” Apollo murmured, watching him.

“What?” Mordyn cocked his head. 

“I kind of thought blood was the only thing you could safely ingest.”

Mordyn grinned. “A little cum won’t kill me.” He rolled off Apollo and lay beside him on the bed. “Trust me, if it did, I’d be dead by now a thousand times over.”

“You are dead. You’re a vampire.”

“Undead,” Mordyn corrected, closing his eyes and settling in comfortably with a lazy smirk on his face. For a second there, he looked like he had in Apollo’s dreams. Younger and less burdened.

Had Apollo brought that out in him?

He turned on his good side and faced Mordyn, but the vampire didn’t open his eyes again, not even when Apollo ran his hand through the dyed green strands of his hair.[

Apollo watched him for a while longer, almost falling asleep himself. He could have, easily. He would have loved to curl up against Mordyn’s side and remain there for the rest of the night.

But he had other things to do.

He climbed off the bed slowly, trying not to disturb the vampire.

Mordyn mumbled something and reached for him, but didn’t wake.

Apollo covered him with the blanket, heart constricting strangely in his chest. It wasn’t right to leave Mordyn like this, was it, after the promise he’d made the vampire earlier. 

Mordyn would never let him do what he needed to do, though. 

And anyway, it wasn’t like Apollo was going to die. If the Nightfall vampires wanted to kill him, they would have come at him very differently during the ambush. 

Apollo watched Mordyn for a minute longer. Now that quiet had settled over the room and his thoughts, he could better contemplate what had just happened between him and Mordyn, from the moment he’d walked back in through the door to now. 

If someone had told him a month ago he was going to sleep with a vampire, he would have called them insane. Now Apollo was the crazy one. Mostly because he didn’t regret it. 

He could, slowly, wrap his mind around the fact that he liked Mordyn. 

What was harder to stomach was his innate reaction to the feel of the vampire’s fangs on his skin. 

That more than anything made him feel strange to himself. 

He brushed the uncomfortable notion aside. He was still Apollo Harlow. Still a vampire hunter, at his core. 

Tonight would prove that.

In the living room, he put on the underwear that he’d sewn the tracker into. On a note, he scribbled instructions for how to track it and left it on the kitchen counter. He sent the same note to Ceska, via courier, so she wasn’t going to get it before morning. 

Having sent that note, though, he had to act tonight or never.

Quietly, he dressed, and then he picked the note on the kitchen counter up once more and added three more words. “I had to.” 

That done, he left. 


New Chapter

Apollo stepped out of the taxi, the cool night air brushing against his face as he surveyed the deserted street leading to the Nightfall coven’s roadhouse base. A quiet resolve settled in his chest as he reviewed his plan in his mind. Once the vampires took him to wherever they kept their victims, Ceska would be able to track his location, finally allowing them to rescue the stolen mortals.

He approached the roadhouse, the dim lights casting eerie shadows across the cracked pavement. Before he could reach the entrance, two vampires materialized in front of him – a slender woman with electric blue hair and a hulking man with a shaved head.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” the woman purred, eyeing Apollo with a predatory gaze. Apollo had seen her file before and remembered her name. Kaya. She was one of the coven’s oldest enforcers. 

Just the kind of vampire he’d hoped to run into. 

Apollo straightened his shoulders, feigning confidence as he lied, “I’m here to speak with your leader.”

The man snorted derisively. “Is that so? And what makes you think we’d allow a pathetic mortal like you to even breathe the same air as our master?”

Apollo’s hand tightened around the hilt of his knife, pulling it out in a show of defense. He didn’t mean to fight these vampires, not really, but it wouldn’t do for them to see through his plans straight away. “I’m protected by the law,” he warned. 

“Oh really?” Kaya shot him an amused look which quickly turned into a snarl. “Fuck your laws.” 

Apollo tensed as the female vampire’s fangs glistened in the dim light. “You’ve been a thorn in our side for far too long, mortal. The authorities won’t be able to protect you once you’re ours.”

The burly vampire cracked his knuckles menacingly. “Should’ve minded your own business instead of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

A chill ran down Apollo’s spine, but he refused to show fear. This was all going according to plan – letting them capture him would lead straight to the missing mortals. He leveled his gaze at them. “I’m not afraid of you.”

Kaya laughed, a harsh sound that grated on Apollo’s ears. “How fortunate for us that you’ve decided to deliver yourself right into our hands then.”

Just as they started closing in on him, though, the roar of a motorcycle approached. 

Apollo whirled around with a sinking feeling. 

It couldn’t be…

It was. 

The bike ground to a halt just in front of him and the vampires and Mordyn dismounted, fury etched into his handsome features as he took in the scene. 

He yelled at Apollo first. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” 

Apollo could hardly explain himself in front of the Nightfall vampires, and in any case, Mordyn was making a total mess of things. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“If you think even for a moment that I’ll let you go through with this idiotic plan of yours…” He didn’t get any further than that. 

“What a heartwarming display of heroics,” Kaya’s voice cut in, and then her blade cut into the flesh of Mordyn’s upper arm.

He grunted in pain and spun around to meet her as she attacked again.

Apollo watched in horror crimson droplets spattering the pavement between Mordyn and Kaya. The blue-haired vampire grinned wickedly, her eyes alight with sadistic glee as she lunged forward again. 

Mordyn jumped back, his dagger clashing against Kaya’s in a shower of sparks. With a flick of her wrist, she conjured a blast of freezing air that crystallized around Mordyn’s feet, locking him in place.

Fuck. 

Apollo hadn’t even known there were vampires who could do that. 

He glanced at the bald vampire, wondering what he could do as he stomped toward Mordyn, baring his fangs while Mordyn strained against the icy shackles.

They wouldn’t give.

“Impressive tricks,” Mordyn growled through gritted teeth. “But you’ll have to do better than that.”

His eyes flickered with concentration and suddenly the large vampire froze as effectively as if Mordyn had used ice magic himself. Terror twisted his features and he backpedaled, whimpering like a frightened child. 

Mordyn must be manipulating his emotions, making him too scared to fight.

Kaya hissed, shards of ice bursting from her palms as she flung them towards Mordyn with lethal precision. He managed to wrench himself out of his bindings just in time to deflect the jagged projectiles, but not without suffering a handful of shallow cuts.

Blood seeped from the fresh wounds, but Mordyn didn’t seem to care even a little bit. With a feral growl, he launched himself at Kaya, slashing at her.

Apollo watched, paralyzed, as the two enforcers traded blows with blinding speed. Mordyn fought with a ferocity that bordered on recklessness, placing himself in front of Apollo and shielding him from the burly vampire’s terror-stricken swings whenever the bald man regained enough sense to attack.

“Run, damn it!” Mordyn bellowed between ragged breaths, his clothes tattered and damp with sweat and blood. “Get out of here!” He tossed Apollo the keys to his bike.

Apollo closed his fingers around them. 

He didn’t want to run. He’d come here with a plan for fuck’s sake, but if he didn’t go…

Mordyn wouldn’t stop, and all this fighting was soon to draw more vampires from the roadhouse soon. He’d be hopelessly outnumbered. 

Apollo’s heart clenched. He knew the Nightfall vampires weren’t going to kill him, but they might kill Mordyn… and Apollo found that wasn’t a price he was willing to pay for the success of his mission. 

God damn it all. 

Apollo’s heart raced as Mordyn took another brutal hit meant for him, a crimson stain blossoming across the vampire’s shirt. 

He couldn’t go on like this. 

Apollo pushed himself into action. He turned and sprinted toward Mordyn’s motorcycle, the keys gripped tightly in his fist. 

Too late.

More vampires poured out of the roadhouse, their numbers quickly overwhelming Apollo and Mordyn and cutting off any escape route. Within moments, one of the vampires had Apollo trapped, a sharp blade pressed so close against his throat he didn’t dare swallow or breathe too deeply.

“We’ll take good care of your little pet if you surrender,” Kaya mocked Mordyn, her fangs glinting menacingly.

Mordyn’s shoulders slumped in defeat as he let his weapons clatter to the ground. Two vampires were on him in an instant, restraining him while Kaya smirked triumphantly and pulled out a stake, no doubt intending to end Mordyn right then and there.

The sight of the wooden spike aimed at Mordyn’s heart made Apollo’s blood run cold. He couldn’t let this happen.

If Mordyn died here, it would be all his fault. 

“Wait!” Apollo cried out, his voice thick with desperation. “Don’t kill him, please!”

Kaya turned her predatory gaze on him, the stake still poised to strike at Mordyn. He swallowed hard, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’ll do whatever you want, just…don’t kill him.”

A cruel smile curved Kaya’s lips. “Look at that. The infamous Apollo, protector of mortals, begging for a vampire’s life?” She let out a mocking laugh. “How deliciously ironic.”

Apollo clenched his jaw, hating the smugness in her tone but refusing to take the bait. If sparing Mordyn meant sacrificing his pride, so be it. “I’m serious. Let him go and I’ll…” He wasn’t sure what he could offer. “I’ll make your criminal files disappear.” 

Kaya’s eyes glittered with dark amusement as she considered his offer. Finally, she gave a casual shrug. “Very well.” 

She gestured for the other vampires to release Mordyn. They did so roughly, sending him crashing to his knees with a grunt of pain.

“Mordyn!” Apollo started forward on instinct, but the blade at his throat stopped him short. 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Kaya purred. “Unless you want your boyfriend’s sacrifice to be for nothing.”

Apollo froze, his gaze locking with Mordyn’s across the distance separating them. The vampire’s eyes burned with a swirl of emotions—fear, anger, desperation. Apollo tried to convey his silent apology through his own pained expression.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. He’d been prepared to take on great risks to himself, but he’d never wanted Mordyn involved in this. “Take him,” Kaya said to her coven mates with a dismissive wave. 

They grabbed Mordyn’s arms, hauling him away while he struggled futilely against their iron grip. Apollo watched helplessly as Mordyn was dragged off, panic and self-loathing churning in his gut.

What had he done?

A harsh shove between his shoulder blades jolted him back to the present. “Move it,” one of the vampires snarled.

Apollo stumbled forward, his mind racing as he was marched toward the roadhouse. He needed to stay calm and keep his wits about him if he was going to get out of this. If he was going to get *Mordyn* out of this.

Inside the building, his captors forced him down a narrow set of stairs that reeked of mold and stale blood. Apollo tried not to gag on the rancid odor as he was shoved into what looked like an old storage room, remodeled into a prison. Rows of bars sectioned the room into three separate cells, all empty.

Rough hands searched him for weapons, stripping him of his gear. He’d known this would happen, and yet, when his knife was taken from him, panic rose in his chest. He did his best to quell it. Giving in to fear would make him useless.

When his captors finished, they shoved him into a cell and slammed the door shut behind him. Locking it. Leaving him alone.

Apollo exhaled slowly, trying to steady his racing pulse. 

There weren’t any other captives here, but he hadn’t really expected there to be. 

If the Nightfall coven kept their victims at their base, Apollo would have found them long ago. They were moving them somewhere else, and Apollo knew he too would soon be moved. 

It would be far too risky for them to let him remain here for long. 

He paced the perimeter of his cell. Five steps across. The space was tiny and offered no bed to rest on. That was the least of Apollo’s worries, though. 

Especially when the door to his prison opened and his jailers reappeared, dragging in a bound and thoroughly beaten Mordyn. His lips were smeared with blood and his hair was wild and disheveled.

He was alive, though, at the very least, trying to fight the other vampires even now. 

They pushed him into the cell next to Apollo’s, forcing him to fall, his wrists and ankles tied with rope. They laughed as Mordyn crashed to the floor with an agonized groan.

“That’s what you get for siding with the mortals.”

“Serves you right!”

“Bet you’re regretting it now.”

Apollo felt his hackles rise. These vampires were the worst kind of scum. “Hurt him again and it’ll be the last thing you do,” Apollo ground out, his voice tight with anger.

More laughter met his threat. “And how are you going to accomplish that from behind those bars?”

Apollo said nothing, fists balling at his sides as he glared at his tormentors.

“Apollo,” Mordyn’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Stop.”

Apollo wanted to argue, but knew that he couldn’t. If he provoked these vampires, Mordyn was likely to be the one to bear the brunt of their anger. 

But that wasn’t what Mordyn had on his mind. “I can’t help you if they try to hurt you,” he said in a pained tone of voice. 

Apollo didn’t know what to say. His throat was suddenly tight. 

His captors weren’t similarly afflicted, though. “Look at those lovebirds,” one of them mocked.

“If you try, you can probably kiss through the bars,” the other one added. 

They both sneered, and then they finally left.

Once they were gone, Apollo immediately stepped up to the bars separating him from Mordyn and dropped to his knees. “Why did you have to come after me?” he demanded, guilt and helpless anger twisting his stomach.

Mordyn scoffed, turning on his side to look at him. “Someone’s got to save you from yourself.”

That was not fair. Things would have been *fine* if Mordyn had not followed him. Apollo would still be here in this cell, yes, but Mordyn would not be lying bruised and bloody next to him. A bargaining chip to use against Apollo. 

A *powerful* bargaining chip.

The past hour had taught Apollo just how much he did not want to see Mordyn get hurt. The panic of it still lingered, encasing his mind in a shell of fear that made him restless as he took in the state of the vampire. 

“They made you bleed,” he murmured.

Mordyn huffed. “Only so I can’t use my powers.”

Apollo’s lips thinned. How much blood had they taken? Drained vampires often became senseless, almost feral in their hunger, but Mordyn seemed to retain a good grip on himself. 

“Don’t sweat it,” Mordyn said. “I can deal with hunger for a long time.” 

Apollo swallowed, realizing when Mordyn had gained that experience. When he’d split from Jory, naturally. 

Would there ever be any incarnation of Apollo that wouldn’t cause misery to the people he loved?

Biting his lip, he reached through the bars, determined to ease Mordyn’s suffering at least a little. If he could get the vampire’s wrists untied… He slipped his fingers under the rope and tugged.

It was a tight knot, and it was awkward for him to work on it through the bars, but he would get Mordyn out of his bondage if it was the last thing he did.

Mordyn didn’t say a thing while Apollo worked, only watched him, eyes hooded as if he was in pain.

He probably was. 

The moment his hands were finally free, he shifted so he could reach for Apollo and touch his cheek.

Apollo flinched at the contact, but only because Mordyn’s hands were even colder than usual. Had these monsters drained him of *all* the blood in his body? If they had, it was Apollo’s fault. Mordyn would never have let himself get taken if not for him. “You shouldn’t have come,” he murmured, though he knew that it was too late for regrets now, and that, if he was saying anything at all, he should be apologizing, but he couldn’t do that. 

His guilt weighed too heavy for him to carry it. 

So much easier just to keep telling himself that he’d only done what he’d had to. 

Easier to be mad at Mordyn for making this complicated. 

Except that he didn’t manage to feel angry at the vampire on the other side of the bars. Mordyn looked defeated, and Apollo *felt* defeated. 

He shifted closer to the bars. 

Mordyn sat up with some effort and leaned against them too. “I don’t want to be anywhere else,” he said. 

Apollo wanted to scoff at him again, but he didn’t have it in him. Instead, he touched his fingers to Mordyn’s hands, taking hold of one of them.

Mordyn closed his fingers around his, squeezing gently. “I’m not going to let any vampire take you from me.”

Apollo swallowed hard. He didn’t think there was much Mordyn could do in his current situation, but spoke as if he meant it. As if he had hidden reserves he’d somehow tap into if he needed to protect Apollo.

Wishful thinking, probably, but Apollo took comfort in the sentiment. 

In reality, though, he knew it was on him to protect Mordyn now. He’d gotten Mordyn into this mess, and he was going to get him out of it, somehow. 

His thoughts were interrupted when the door to their prison opened again, allowing a tall, dirty blond vampire inside. He was carrying a tray with food.

Apollo sat up straighter. 

Once the cell door, opened, he had to move. He had to act and–

A wave of nausea rolled over him so suddenly it almost came like a punch to the gut. He didn’t move when his cell door opened, except to scramble back from the vampire putting the tray on the floor before him. 

What was going on? 

Apollo couldn’t look at the vampire without a headache exploding behind his eyes. He was dizzy, his body hot and cold all over, and he found himself breathing too quickly, unable to calm down.

The vampire locked the door of the cell, his expressionless face nothing more than a blur to Apollo’s vision.

Apollo backed up against the wall of his cell, trying his hardest not to throw up.

“Apollo.” Mordyn’s voice reached him as if from a million miles away. “Breathe!” he commanded, but that command made no sense. Apollo was breathing. He was taking in so much air so quickly it hardly made it all the way to his lungs before the next exhale forced it back out again. 

Something was wrong.

Something was horribly wrong about that vampire who’d brought him the food. 

Apollo doubled over as the walls of his cell seemed to warp and distort before his eyes. 

Suddenly, he was no longer in his cell at all. 

He was in his apartment. 

No, not his apartment. 

Jory’s apartment. The one he’d shared with Mordyn. 

Apollo tried to hold on to the thought, but it was impossible to hold on to any thought at all through the panic that overwhelmed his nervous system. 

Pain shot through his body as cruel fangs tore into his flesh. His clothes had already been shredded. He was on the floor, held there by the firm grasp of three different vampires. 

Apollo cried out, his voice disturbingly high-pitched and unfamiliar. Tears streamed down his cheeks as a cold blade slashed through his skin, causing more blood to stain the carpet beneath him. 

He’d lost so much of it already. 

If he lost any more of it, he’d never see Mordyn again. 

He’d never…

His thoughts thinned as another set of fangs sank into his wrist, drinking greedily. 

His vision wanted to go, but he forced himself to stay alert. Once he closed his eyes…

It would be all over. 

He looked at his tormentors, and for the first time, Apollo managed to make out their faces. There was the vampire who’d brought him food just now, in another life, there was Tarek, and there was… Balea, that first vampire lady he’d tried to interview. Her fangs were stained crimson now. 

He couldn’t hold the image in his mind. 

His consciousness began to fade. He was dying, his vision growing darker with each struggled breath. A profound sense of loss and regret washed over him.

Mordyn…

The name echoed through his mind, a lifeline in the swirling vortex of pain. Jory needed to see Mordyn one final time before the end. He had to…he had to…

But it was too late. The darkness closed in, smothering him, dragging him down into the void. Jory’s memories faded to black as his battered body finally surrendered to death’s iron embrace.

Apollo gasped, the memory abruptly shattering. Awareness slammed back into him with a bone-jarring force. He was curled on the damp floor of his cell, shaking violently.

Tears streamed freely down Apollo’s cheeks as the phantom echoes of Jory’s anguish still reverberated through his mind.

Through the bars, Mordyn watched him with a stricken expression. 

“Apollo?” he called softly. “You with me, sunshine?”

Apollo choked back a sob. He wanted to respond, but his tongue felt heavy and thick. The sound that came out of him was garbled, as if he’d been drugged.

“Shh.” Mordyn’s low voice cut through the haze. “It’s okay. I’m here. You’re safe.”

As if.

Neither of them was safe in this prison. 

The vampires who had caught him now were the same vampires who… 

He took a shuddering breath, then another. Slowly, his pulse began to settle.

He moved toward the bars again, toward Mordyn. He had to…

He didn’t know what he had to do, but he knew his heart wasn’t going to rest before he touched the vampire.

The moment he drew close enough to Mordyn, the vampire reached for him through the bars, rubbing his arm. “I felt that,” he said. “You had some sort of panic attack.”

Apollo shook his head.

“Not a panic attack, huh?” Mordyn asked. “What then?”

Apollo swallowed hard. His skin still crawled where the vampires had bitten Jory. With a ragged breath, he found his voice, the words emerging hoarse and shaken. “It was them… Tarek, Balea… and that vampire from before. They were the ones who…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud, the memory too raw, too visceral. But he didn’t need to explain further – Mordyn understood. 

His features twisted into a mask of pure, unadulterated rage. 

Apollo had never seen him like that. Not in this life or the last. 

There was a murderous intent in his gaze that chilled Apollo to the core. Mordyn didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. It didn’t take an empath to understand what was going through the vampire’s head. 

Apollo would have bet anything that Mordyn was picturing exactly how he was going to tear the other vampires apart.

Apollo relished the thought.

He wanted those vampires to suffer just as much as Jory had suffered. More. He wanted them to pay for ripping him away from Mordyn.

“I’ll kill them,” Mordyn said, meeting Apollo’s gaze. “And I won’t make it quick.”

There was an intensity in those dark eyes that left no room for argument. In this moment, Mordyn didn’t look like a vampire who’d been drained of most of the blood in his body. He looked like someone who wanted to fight. 

And Apollo wanted to enable him to do it. 

Through the bars, he offered his wrist to Mordyn. “Bite me,” he said, determined. 

Mordyn’s lips parted on a sharp intake of breath, looking at Apollo’s wrist. 

Apollo repeated himself. “Bite me,” he urged, gripping one of the bars tightly in his other fist. “Drink. Get strong and fight those bastards.”

If Mordyn drank his blood, if their bond snapped back into place… Apollo was sure his vampire would be stronger than all the vampires who held them captive. 

But Mordyn only laughed bitterly. “I’d drink from you in a heartbeat, sunshine.” 

“Then why don’t you?” Apollo demanded, heart hammering. He was ready for this, he *wanted* this. Couldn’t Mordyn see that?

“You’d take me for vengeance, not for love…” Mordyn touched Apollo’s cheek again. “Even if that didn’t bother me…” He opened his mouth wide and Apollo saw the problem, understood why Mordyn’s mouth had been so bloody when they’d dragged him into the cell. 

They’d pulled his fangs.

For the second time that night, Apollo felt the sudden urge to vomit.

“Those fucking bastards,” he cursed, rage boiling in his veins.

Mordyn huffed. “They declawed me like a cat.” 

Apollo pushed away from the bars and began to pace the narrow confines of his cell. There had to be something he could do. “I could scratch myself,” he murmured, thinking. “I could…” He stopped and touched a hand to his shoulder where the bullet had gone through. The wound wasn’t fully healed. 

“Apollo, no.” Mordyn was at the bars once more. “Don’t you dare rip your stitches.”

Apollo scowled. “Do you have a better idea?” 

Mordyn retreated to the other end of his cell where Apollo could not reach him. “I won’t drink blood from your shoulder.”

Apollo gave him a long look. “Do you want to avenge your dead mate or not?”


Chapter Break

A guttural sound of frustration escaped Mordyn’s throat. He raked a hand through his hair, eyes blazing with warring desires. He craved violence just as much as Apollo did, Apollo was sure of it. 

Still, he held himself back. 

Why, though? 

Apollo glared at him. “We’ve got to do this.” 

Mordyn inhaled visibly, his gaze hardening. “The cost is too high.”

“What are you talking about?” 

Mordyn’s gaze narrowed. “I’m not risking your health.”

Apollo’s hands clenched into fists. Who’d have thought a vampire might prove to be so squeamish? Apollo would be fine.

Without further thought, he pulled his shirt off over his head, exposing the bandages going across his chest and covering his left shoulder.[ He hooked two fingers under the bandages. Surely, once Morldyn smelled his blood, he would stop being scared. 

Mordyn’s eyes followed the movement of Apollo’s hand, and Apollo thought maybe he caught a glimpse of his predator instinct flickering to life, pupils dilating, before Mordyn visibly quashed it with a violent shake of his head.

“Don’t even think about it,” he growled out in warning. “I won’t drink from you like some kind of monster.”

“You need your strength!” Apollo shot back, urgency fraying his tone. “What other choice do we have here?”

He began to pull at the bandage, prepared to rip it off and reopen the injury if needed. Mordyn’s jaw ticked, every muscle in his body tense as he wavered on the razor-thin edge of restraint. 

Apollo could push him over it.

He was fully prepared to do so until Mordyn spoke again. 

“Apollo…” There was something about his tone of voice that gave Apollo pause. Something raw and vulnerable. “I can’t lose you too,” he said. “I won’t.”

A tremor rushed through Apollo at the desolation in Mordyn’s voice. A tremor that shook him straight down to his soul.

Fuck.

There was something more important to Mordyn than avenging Jory’s death: keeping Apollo safe.

Apollo had always felt that Mordyn’s affection for him was abstract somehow, superimposed. A flimsy echo of the real love he’d once felt for another man.

When Mordyn looked at him like this, though, he wasn’t so sure. 

Apollo offered him a chance to go and kill the vampires who had taken Jory from him, and Mordyn refused because he didn’t wish to see Apollo hurt. “I’m not him, you know,” Apollo said softly. “No matter how much I remember. Jory isn’t coming back to you, but if you just drink–“

“No,” Mordyn cut him off. “I will kill those vampires, don’t doubt it, but I won’t do so by hurting you.” He moved closer again, reaching through the bars for Apollo’s hand. “And I don’t need you to remember a thing, so stop talking like that.”

Apollo looked down at their hands, noticing again the chill of Mordyn’s skin. He had to be ravenous. He had to be furious too, hungering for revenge, and still, he chose to make Apollo his first priority. 

Apollo didn’t need him to. He’d never needed anyone to protect him. 

But damn if it didn’t make him feel all kinds of weird and soft things.

He laced their fingers together. “Fine.” He exhaled. “What are we going to do then?” 

“You didn’t come here without a plan,” Mordyn reminded him. 

Right. His plan…

If he just held out a little longer, his team would come for him, and then the vampires would be sorry.

But what if he was moved in the meantime and Mordyn wasn’t moved with him? 

Cold fear closed cold fingers around his heart at the thought. 

Just then, the harsh clang of the cell door caught his and Mordyn’s attention. Both their heads whipped around as the same dirty blond vampire guard swaggered in, lips curved in a cruel smile.

“Hope I’m not interrupting anything?” he taunted, dark eyes glittering with malice as he took in Apollo’s discarded shirt. 

Seeing him didn’t make Apollo nauseous anymore, but it did bring his anger to a fresh boil. “What do you want?” Apollo spat at him when he opened the door to Apollo’s cell.

“My lady wants to see you.” He grabbed Apollo’s arm and dragged him out.

Apollo tried to yank free, but the vampire held him easily. He didn’t look like he had a ton of muscles, but he had supernatural strength on his side. 

“Behave,” he said. “Or we’ll stake your lover.”

Apollo swallowed hard, fury burning in his chest.

The vampire threw him a feral grin. “That’s right. Nice and quiet now.”

Mordyn growled in protest, hands on the bars of his cell as if he meant to pull them apart to get to Apollo. “If you hurt him, you fucking assholes–“

“Relax. We’re just going to have a nice little chat. Unless, of course, your pet is foolish enough to make things difficult for us.”

Mordyn’s rage did not quiet even a little bit. He knew now what this vampire had done to Jory, and seeing him touch Apollo was clearly breaking something in his brain. “You’re going to regret this,” he promised, eyes glowing red in spite of his famished state. 

Maybe some small bit of his power remained, because the dirty blond looked terrified for a moment before he caught himself.

He tightened his hold on Apollo. “Come now,” he said, hurrying him along out of the prison.

Apollo didn’t resist. He cast one last look at Mordyn, hoping to reassure the vampire. He’d be fine. The Nightfall vampires wanted him alive, so he wasn’t in any immediate danger.

He hoped. 

***

Apollo was led down a narrow corridor, the vampire’s grip on his arm tight and unforgiving. He tried to remain calm, pushing aside the dread coiling in his gut.

Panicking now wouldn’t do him any good. 

The vampire knocked twice, and a silky voice from within beckoned them to enter. As the door swung open, Apollo caught his first glimpse of the Nightfall coven’s leader. Minea.

She was a striking woman, her pale features framed by cascades of raven hair. Her crimson lips curved into a predatory smile as her icy gaze settled on Apollo. “Well, well… our esteemed guest has arrived.”

Apollo clenched his jaw, refusing to be cowed by her intimidating presence. The vampire shoved him forward, and he stumbled slightly before regaining his footing.

“Leave us,” the woman commanded with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Once they were alone, she circled Apollo slowly, like a shark sizing up its prey. “I must admit, I’m quite curious as to what prompted this… unexpected visit.”

Apollo straightened his shoulders, adopting an air of indifference. “I came to talk to you and let you know that you might expect a milder sentence if you confessed your crimes now. We know you’re involved in the trading of mortals somehow.”

She arched a perfectly sculpted brow. “Is that so?” Her tone dripped with skepticism. “You’ll forgive me if I find that rather hard to believe. You’re far too smart to come here by yourself and assume to leave unscathed.”

Apollo held her gaze, his expression impassive. “I didn’t come here by myself.”

“Ah yes, your vampire companion.” Minea laughed softly. “A great help he’s been to you.” 

Apollo refused to reply to her taunting. 

Eventually, Minea shook her head. “I think you’ve come here with far more nefarious intentions.” She trailed a sharpened nail along his jaw. “Perhaps a foolish attempt at heroics.”

Apollo’s jaw clenched, but he remained silent, unwilling to reveal anything. The vampire wasn’t deterred, though. 

“You’ll tell me eventually,” she purred. “We have ways of making even the strongest will break.” Her smile turned predatory. “Kaya told me how much you care about that vampire who accompanied you. Your mate, is he?”

Apollo’s heart stuttered, and Minea seemed to sense the shift in his demeanor.

“So it’s true,” she said, as if to herself. “How troublesome. But how considerate of the two of you to come visit us. You’re a far too dangerous combo to be allowed to run around freely.”

What could Apollo say to that? Nothing. He only gritted his teeth. This vampire already knew too much. 

And she’d clearly been responsible for Jory’s death somehow. 

She leaned in closer, her lips nearly brushing his ear. “Tell me what you’re planning. Why did you come here?” 

“I won’t tell you anything.”

“Oh?” She leaned back. “That’s just as well. It’ll amuse me to drag the information out of you if you don’t cooperate.”

Apollo steeled himself. “Do your worst.”

“To you? No.” She laughed again. It wasn’t a nice sound. “I’ll torture your mate instead, until you talk.” She seemed to delight in this thought. “Nothing will get you talking faster.”

Apollo’s hands clenched into fists at his sides, his nails digging into his palms. He couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow them to hurt Mordyn. Not again. But if he told his captors about the tracker in his underwear, they could not hope for rescue.

The vampire tilted her head. “You know what’s the best thing about torturing vampires? They don’t tend to black out too quickly. Really, they can take a lot of abuse, so you don’t have to be careful about how you hurt them.”

Apollo’s stomach churned at her casual words, bile rising in his throat. “Don’t you dare lay a finger on him,” he hissed.

She regarded him with cold amusement. “Would you rather be the one to be tortured? I’m sure we can arrange that too. How many times would I have to cut into your flesh before Mordyn talks? What do you think?”

Apollo’s mind raced, his thoughts a frantic jumble. Mordyn would go mad if they tortured Apollo before his eyes. He would do or say anything to get them to stop.

There was no way for them to win.

Apollo’s pulse hammered in his ears as the Nightfall vampires’ leader eyed him like a hawk circling its helpless prey. “What’s it going to be?” She asked. “Do I get to torture you or your lover?”

***

Mordyn paced the confines of his cell, a caged predator. Every fiber of his being strained to sense Apollo’s presence somewhere in this roadhouse, to catch even the faintest whisper of his heartbeat, to know how he was doing. But there was nothing, a void of silence that clawed at Mordyn’s sanity.

If only they were properly mated. 

Regret gnawed at him. If he had taken Apollo’s offering of blood earlier…

He would have the strength to break free and tear through these wretched vampires until he found the man he loved. But in his current state, he was weaker than a fledgling.

Fury and fear churned in his gut, a toxic cocktail that left a bitter taste in his mouth. Images of Apollo suffering at the hands of their captors flashed through his mind, each one more horrific than the last. 

He should have been able to prevent this situation. 

He should have killed every vampire who tried to take Apollo captive.

What kind of vampire was he that he kept failing to protect his mate?

He slammed his fists against the unyielding bars, wishing them to break.

Time crawled by in agonizing increments until finally, the clang of the prison door made his head whip around. The guard who had taken Apollo earlier stood there, smiling as he shoved Apollo back into the room.

Mordyn’s eyes widened in alarm as he took in Apollo’s state of undress, not a stitch of clothing on his body. There were no visible injuries, but the implications of his nudity sent ice flooding through Mordyn’s veins.

“What did you do to him?” he demanded, pressing himself against the bars as if he could tear them apart with sheer force of will. “If you touched a single hair on his head, I’ll tear your dick off and shove it in your mouth until you choke on it!”

The guard only laughed, clearly reveling in Mordyn’s fury. “Relax, man. We didn’t lay a finger on your precious mate…tonight.”

Mordyn’s lips peeled back in a feral snarl, and for a fleeting moment, he felt a surge of power, a crimson haze bleeding into his vision as he channeled every last ounce of his vampiric power. The guard’s mocking expression faltered, a flicker of fear passing over his features as the weight of Mordyn’s influence bore down on him.

Yes, be scared, motherfucker. Be very scared.

While the guard focused on Mordyn, Apollo proved how dangerous it was not to give him his full attention. He moved with the swiftness of a striking viper, wrenching the guard’s knife from its sheath and slashing his own palm in one fluid motion. 

The coppery scent of his blood bloomed in the air, thick and intoxicating, awakening a deep, primal hunger in Mordyn that took over his whole being.

Before Mordyn could truly process what was happening, Apollo thrust his bleeding hand through the bars, pressing it against Mordyn’s lips. 

The taste of it obliterated the very last of Mordyn’s rational thoughts.

With a ravenous growl, Mordyn seized Apollo’s wrist, holding it in an unbreakable grip as he sealed his lips over the wound and drank deeply.

Every swallow was like a jolt of pure vitality surging through his veins, healing him more thoroughly than any spell could ever have hoped to manage.

A low sound rumbled from the depths of his chest—part growl, part moan—as the bond between them, the tether that had lain dormant for so long, snapped taut once more. He could feel it, that profound connection transcending the physical realm, a cosmic force that bound their very souls together across lifetimes.

Power, glorious and intoxicating, pulsed in his blood with each heartbeat. He tasted it on his tongue, felt it crackling beneath his skin like lightning waiting to be unleashed. The sheer intensity of it overwhelmed him, an all-consuming maelstrom of sensation that eliminated everything else until all that remained was him and Apollo.

Mine, a feral voice seemed to growl from the deepest recesses of his mind. Mine, forever and always.

Through the red haze of his hunger, Mordyn was vaguely aware of the guard’s muffled shouts of alarm and outrage. A mere insect, buzzing in his ear—nothing more than an irritating distraction to be swatted away.

He released Apollo’s wrist, licking the last crimson drops from his lips. His gaze locked onto the petrified guard, and a wicked smile curved his mouth as he extended his will.

The guard’s expression went slack, his eyes glazing over as Mordyn’s power washed over. Adoration bloomed across his features, a look of rapturous devotion that would have been comical in any other circumstance.

With a few muttered words, Mordyn compelled the guard to open the cell door. The vampire obeyed without hesitation, his movements sluggish and dreamlike as he fumbled with the keys. 

As the door swung open with a metallic groan, Mordyn stepped out of his prison, rolling his shoulders to work out the lingering stiffness. He plucked the knife from Apollo’s grasp, turning it over in his hand as he regarded the guard with cold contempt.

This was one of the bastards responsible for Jory’s death. 

Mordyn had waited a hundred years for a chance to kill him. 

He was going to enjoy this, was going to enjoy making this wretched creature hurt the way Jory had hurt, the way Mordyn had so often wanted to hurt himself over the pain he’d inflicted on his mate. 

“What’s your name?” he asked the man. 

“Levi.”

“Good, Levi,” Mordyn said, drawing the name out as he strengthened his grip on the vampire’s emotions. “I believe this is yours.” In a calculated move, he handed the knife back to Levi.

Levi accepted the knife without a flicker of comprehension crossing his vacant features. Mordyn’s gaze bored into him, his will becoming an irresistible force. “Now, stab yourself with it.”

There was a moment’s hesitation, the guard’s fingers tightening around the hilt as some primal instinct for self-preservation flickered in the depths of his mind. But it was a fleeting resistance, crushed beneath the weight of his need to please Mordyn. “Will you love me if I do?” 

“I’ll hate you if you don’t.” 

Without further protest, Levi plunged the blade into his own thigh, gritting his teeth as it sliced through flesh and muscle. A sharp sound of pain escaped his lips, but his expression remained one of rapt adoration, desperate to please Mordyn no matter the cost.

Mordyn’s lip curled as he drank in the sight of Levi’s suffering with a twisted sense of satisfaction. 

“Again,” he commanded.

Levi obeyed, stabbing himself in the other thigh, his anguished gasps filling the air as his blood poured out of him.

“Stab your guts for me,” Mordyn said. “Slowly. I want you to feel every…single…inch of that blade sliding into your worthless flesh.”

A tremor wracked the guard’s frame, sweat beading on his brow as he fought against Mordyn’s dominion over his heart.

Reaching out, Mordyn gripped Levi’s wrist in an unbreakable hold, guiding the blade with measured precision. He dragged the razor-sharp edge across Levi’s abdomen, watching in morbid fascination as crimson welled up in its wake.

“Do you know why I’m doing this?” he asked, his tone almost conversational despite the brutality of his actions.

Levi could only whimper, tears of pain streaking his cheeks as he shook his head mutely.

“Because you sank your filthy fangs into my mate.”

With a vicious twist of his wrist, Mordyn forced the knife deeper, carving into Levi’s flesh as if he were made of butter. The guard’s screams echoed off the stone walls, the best kind of music to Mordyn’s ears. 

“You’re going to suffer as he suffered,” Mordyn promised, his eyes blazing crimson as he poured every ounce of his rage, his grief, his guilt into tormenting this pathetic excuse for a vampire. 

Levi could only whimper, tears of anguish streaking his pallid cheeks. Pathetic. Mordyn’s lip curled in disgust as he drank in the vampire’s suffering, that twisted sense of satisfaction curling through his veins like a dark caress.

Yes, this was right. This was justice, long overdue. 

A flicker of movement in his peripheral vision drew his attention. Apollo stood nearby, his features drawn as he watched the brutal scene unfold.

For a moment, Mordyn’s righteous fury faltered.

Apollo wouldn’t ask him to stop, would he? 

What did his mate see when he looked at him, at this moment? A monster? A savage beast? 

Or did he understand?

Apollo’s expression was unreadable, his jaw set in a tight line as he moved to stand at Mordyn’s side. 

Then, without preamble, Apollo reached out and grasped the hilt of the knife still embedded in Levi’s gut. The vampire let out a pitiful whimper, features contorting. 

Mordyn’s breath caught in his throat as he watched Apollo’s fingers tighten around the blade. 

In one brutal motion, Apollo wrenched the knife free and whipped it across Levi’s throat in a savage arc. Crimson sprayed through the air, hot and slick, as blood spilled from the ragged wound.

Levi gurgled, his eyes going wide with shock and fear as his hands flew up to clutch at his ruined throat. But it was far too late. Within seconds, the light had faded from his gaze and he fell to the floor.

It wasn’t anything a vampire couldn’t recover from. His head was still attached to his body, after all, but Apollo had no intention of giving the vampire a chance to heal. He dropped down next to Levi’s body and sawed at his neck. 

Mordyn could only watch, something molten and fierce uncurling in the pit of his stomach at the display of feral violence. His mate’s chest heaved with every ragged breath, his features twisted into a mask of grim determination.

Mine, that primal voice within Mordyn growled once more, clawing at his undead heart with possessive yearning. His mate was a force to be reckoned with, powerful and merciless and beautiful in his fury.

Lethal sunshine indeed. 

When he was done with his gruesome work, Apollo turned back to Mordyn. “We have to get out of here,” he said. “They took my tracker and destroyed it.”

That was why he was naked, Mordyn finally understood. 

Not that there was any time to worry about it. Footsteps were approaching the room. 

Mordyn’s head snapped towards the corridor.

More vampires were coming for them. 

He exchanged a glance with Apollo. He’d heard it too.

Without another word, they took up positions on either side of the door as the footsteps drew closer. 

Mordyn’s fangs descended, having regrown as he drank from Apollo. His body thrummed with predatory tension as he prepared to launch himself at their would-be attackers.

Just a few more seconds…

The heavy bar securing the door slid back with a metallic clang that seemed to reverberate in Mordyn’s very bones, every muscle in his body straining like a tightly coiled spring as the door creaked open a fraction.

Now!

With a feral roar, Mordyn exploded into motion, overwhelming the first vampire through the door before she could react. He had his fist in her gut and the tendrils of his powers in her mind. She shook, terrified, while Mordyn cast a wider net, throwing it over all three vampires who had entered the room. 

They all stared at him, even the one currently being attacked by Apollo. 

Apollo didn’t hesitate to drive his bloodied blade up under the vampire’s ribcage with enough force to impale him through the heart.

The vampire’s eyes went wide with shock, a gurgling sound escaping his lips as Apollo wrenched the knife free.

This was enough to set the other vampires into motion again, but they were still under Mordyn’s influence and did not fight as efficiently as they otherwise might have. 

“Mord!” Apollo called, tossing him a dagger he’d ripped free from the vampire he’d just defeated. 

Mordyn caught it gratefully, the handle of the blade a familiar weight in his hand as he wielded it against the two remaining vampires who came at him at once.

With Apollo’s help, he made short work of them. 

One of them nicked his cheek, but Mordyn hardly even registered the sting of the injury as he and Apollo stood together, their weapons still at the ready, both panting and wild-eyed from the adrenaline rush of the fight, scanning for any further threats. 

When none materialized, Apollo moved quickly, stripping the fallen vampires of clothes and weaponry with ruthless pragmatism. 

Once Apollo was outfitted, he handed Mordyn a short sword he’d claimed from one of the bodies. He kept another knife and a number of stakes for himself, his jaw set in a grim line, his features hardened with steely determination. 

“Ready to get out of here?”

“Can’t wait,” Mordyn replied. He would cut through every single obstacle until he and Apollo were free of this wretched place. 

***

Adrenaline rushed through Apollo’s veins as he and Mordyn prepared to fight their way out. 

It wasn’t going to be easy, but at least he’d helped Mordyn unlock some truly useful powers, and all it had taken was a little blood. 

Taking a deep breath, Apollo tried not to think too much about that—about the way it had felt to share his blood with Mordyn. He’d done more than just unlock some greater power in the vampire, and he knew that. 

He’d bound his own soul to Mordyn’s. 

And it had felt good. Powerful and intimate in ways he lacked the words to explain. 

But he couldn’t get distracted by that now. 

They had to get out of here. 

More vampires would be on them soon. 

The sound of approaching footsteps echoed through the corridors, signaling the arrival of more vampire. Apollo tightened his grip on the weapon he had acquired, his muscles tensing in anticipation. Beside him, Mordyn’s eyes narrowed, his gaze focused and intense.

The first wave of vampires rounded the corner, their fangs bared and their movements swift and predatory. Apollo and Mordyn sprang into action, moving in perfect synchronicity. 

A blue-haired vampire lunged at Apollo, but faltered before he could strike, confusion creasing his brow as Mordyn invaded his mind, no doubt. 

Apollo didn’t hesitate. He struck hard and fast, exploiting the opening Mordyn had created. He buried his blade deep in the vampire’s chest, the coppery smell of blood thick in the air.

He tugged the blade free and whirled to face his next attacker. He feinted left then pivoted to the right, slicing across the vampire’s forearm. Blood spurted from the wound, and the vampire growled in anger and pain. He retaliated with a vicious slash, his claws leaving deep furrows in Apollo’s shoulder.

*Not* the one already injured, fortunately, but that had been a close call.

Apollo’s vision blurred from the sudden onslaught of pain, but he managed to stay upright. Mordyn was there at his side in a flash, tearing into the offending vampire. Apollo blinked to clear his vision, his hand instinctively reaching up to press against the fresh wound.

“Are you all right?” Mordyn asked, worry evident in his voice.

“I’m fine,” Apollo insisted, biting back a pained grunt. “We need to keep moving.”

Mordyn nodded curtly and together they pressed on, fighting their way through the seemingly endless stream of vampires. 

Apollo had known Mordyn was strong, but still, he was impressed with just *how* strong he was, striking fear in the hearts of several vampires at once and confusing others in such a way that they turned against their own coven mates.

It was no wonder so much of the vampiric world had seen him as a serious threat.

Apollo almost thought there was no way they were going to lose this fight.

And then he caught sight of Minea.

She stood tall and imposing at the end of the corridor, her features cold and emotionless. 

Next to her stood Apollo’s sister.

Selene.


New Chapter

The ground dropped out from under Apollo. 

That had to be what was happening, because that couldn’t really be his sister over there at Minea’s side. 

How was Selene alive?

How was she here?

Apollo had half-convinced himself that he’d been imagining things when he’d seen her at the abandoned mine, but now he knew that wasn’t so. 

She’d been there, and the tiny chance that he might see her again had led him here. 

Apollo knew a trap when it presented itself to him so obviously, but he was powerless to resist this one. 

His emotions roiled like a storm, each one crashing into the next in a chaotic tumult. Part of him wanted to rush forward and sweep Selene into his arms, to reassure himself that she was really here, really okay. Another part tensed, ready to launch himself at Minea and bury a stake in her chest. 

But Selene’s eyes caught his, and he stilled. She looked at him with a desperate sort of hope, her expression almost pleading. Was she trying to tell him something? Beg him not to do anything rash? 

His jaw clenched.

After all these years, how could she ask him to be calm?

Did she have any idea how much he’d suffered? How hard he’d blamed himself for her disappeance?

How he’d mourned her death? 

It had shaped the direction of his life ever since. 

His joining the group of vigilantes that protected their home town, his move to the sun kingdom so he could help mortals more effectively… it had all been done so he could atone for the sin of his failure to protect his little sister. 

“Well, isn’t this a touching family reunion?” Minea’s cold voice cut through the tension like a razor. The vampires in the room had stopped moving, all eyes on her as she walked closer to Apollo. 

Apollo’s lips drew into a thin line, his body close to shaking with pent-up rage. 

“Surprised to see your sister?” Minea asked. “I’ve been getting so much use out of her. Honestly, one of my most prized possessions.” She reached out and gripped Selene’s arm in a cruel vise. Selene flinched, her eyes squeezing shut.

Minea smiled. “And now she’ll help me get you in line. “Surrender yourself or your sister will suffer the consequences.”

Apollo’s breath caught in his throat. He could feel Mordyn’s gaze burning into him, but Apollo couldn’t focus on him now.

“Don’t give in to her demands,” Mordyn said in a low tone of voice. 

Minea glanced at Mordyn with a smile. “I’m too powerful for you to control me. Stop trying.”

Mordyn’s jaw clenched while Apollo’s heart pounded in his ears. He wanted to keep fighting, to tear through these vampires until they were all dust, but he couldn’t risk Selene getting hurt. 

Not now that he’d been given a second chance to safe her. 

Squeezing his eyes shut, Apollo took a deep breath. When he opened them again, his gaze locked onto Minea’s smug expression. “Alright, I surrender,” he bit out, the words like ash in his mouth. “Just don’t hurt her.”

Minea’s lips curled into a cruel smile. “A wise choice.” She snapped her fingers and two burly vampires stepped forward, roughly grabbing Apollo’s arms and wrenching them behind his back.

“Don’t fucking touch him,” Mordyn growled at the vampires who immediately stepped away from Apollo as Mordyn impressed his fury on them. 

“Mord!” Apollo gave his mate a sharp look. “I’ll be fine.” 

“Get your mate to behave,” Minea warned, tightening her grip on Selene.

Apollo grit his teeth. He wanted so badly to tell Minea to go fuck herself, but he forced himself to remain quiet, his eyes never leaving Selene. 

She looked scared, but there was a determined set to her jaw that Apollo recognized from their childhood. His little sister had always been brave, facing down bullies and standing up for what was right. Seeing that familiar expression on her face now filled him with a mixture of pride and heartbreak.

How many horrors had she endured at the hands of these monsters? 

He would not leave her here by herself.

“Mordyn,” he said glancing at his mate, willing him to understand. “I need to do this. I can’t let this vampire hurt her any more than you could let anyone hurt me.”

A muscle ticked in Mordyn’s jaw, and through their bond, Apollo felt his fury like a living thing. But he didn’t lash out again when Minea’s vampires tried to lead Apollo away once more. He cursed, and he promised the vampires a world of pain if they put a scratch on Apollo, but he behaved. “This isn’t over,” he said, crimson eyes settled on Minea. 

Minea, though, ignored him. “You know where to take him,” she said to the vampire who’d taken hold of Apollo, and then, to Apollo she said, “Don’t worry. Your sister and your mate are safe. As long as you behave.” 

Apollo glared at her but he didn’t respond, allowing himself to be pulled along. He couldn’t let his anger control him. 

Not when Selene’s life was on the line. 

***

Predictably, they didn’t keep Apollo at the roadhouse after that. 

Apollo got his wish after all; they took him where the other mortals were kept. 

Apollo couldn’t tell where exactly the vampires had taken him. He’d been blindfolded during the car ride, but his final destination was a cavernous chamber, somewhere underground. Rows of cages lined the walls, each containing huddled forms – mortals, just like him. Some stared vacantly, eyes glazed over, while others whimpered softly, rocking back and forth.

The coppery tang of blood hung thick in the air, mingling with the reek of sweat and despair. Apollo swallowed hard, bile rising in his throat as he took in the squalid conditions. Filthy rags served as makeshift bedding, and empty food bowls were scattered haphazardly, some still bearing traces of what looked like gruel.

The mortals were in a pitiful state, their clothes tattered and their bodies emaciated. Some bore visible wounds, the dried blood a stark contrast against their pallid skin. 

Evidently, the vampires had no regard for even the most basic of human needs. 

Apollo had heard stories from survivors of the blood slave market, and he’d seen the conditions some mortals were forced to live in by the covens that purchased them, but this was the worst case he’d encountered yet. 

The Nightfall coven did not intend to keep these mortals. They were products to be sold, and clearly, they didn’t care about the state of their merchandise. 

His captors shoved him roughly into an empty cage, the rusty bars clanging shut behind him. 

Rage simmered beneath Apollo’s skin and he held on to it as he cast his gaze around once more. Anger was good. It would keep him going through all that lay before him. 

He searched the cages around her for the little girl who’d been kidnapped and found her curled up in one of the cages near him. At first, he feared she might have been killed, but she sat up and held onto the bars of her cage, gazing at him.

She looked just as miserable as the other prisoners, her clothes stained with dirt and blood. But, at the very least, she was alive.

“I’m a friend of your brother,” he said. “I’ll get you out of here, okay?” 

An older man in the cage next to Apollo’s grunted. “And how are you going to do that, I wonder?”

“I’m working on it,” Apollo snapped at him. “I’m going to think of something.”

The man merely grunted again.

It was clear that he didn’t think there was anything Apollo could do. Apollo didn’t let his lack of faith disturb him. 

He’d figure something out. 

Somehow. 

Truth be told, he had no idea what he was going to do. The tracker he’d brought in had been destroyed, and his powerful vampire mate was being held at a different location.

He knew Mordyn would move heaven and earth to save him, but there was little Mordyn could do without Minea threatening Apollo. 

Leaning against the back of his cage, Apollo sighed. 

It was a proper mess he was in. 

***

Someone came by to bring him food and water after a few hours, and once, he was led to a dingy bathroom to relieve himself. Apollo toyed with the thought of trying to overwhelm the vampire who’d led him there, but decided it wasn’t time to make his move yet. 

He knew too little about where he was and where he could run after escaping his guard. 

For now, he would watch and observe.

Bide his time, save his strength. 

At least, that was the plan until Selene visited him. She wasn’t even accompanied by a vampire. She just walked into the room and stood in front of Apollo’s cage and regarded him with the look of someone who felt guilty. 

“You shouldn’t have come here,” she said by way of greeting. 

Apollo stared at his sister in disbelief. “I had to come here to save you.”

She didn’t say anything for a long time, but the look on her face made her thoughts clear. Apollo was in a cage, and she was not, so who needed saving, really?

“You can’t save me,” she said, eventually. 

“Why not?” Apollo demanded. “Because I’m behind bars? I’m not going to let that stop me.” He’d devoted his entire life to fighting vampires for her sake. In her memory. Didn’t she see that? 

He couldn’t stop now. 

He’d never thought he’d get a chance to save his sister, to redeem himself, and he wasn’t going to waste that chance just because his circumstances were less than fortuitous at the moment. 

Selene shook her head slowly. “You don’t understand. I’m not a prisoner.” Her gaze drifted around the dank chamber with its rows of cages holding abused mortals. For a moment, conflict flickered across her face before she seemed to steel herself. “I’m not a prisoner like them. It’s…complicated.”

“Explain it to me.” Apollo had noticed that his sister wasn’t exactly a prisoner, but what was she then? What was her role in this coven? “What happened to you? You were kidnapped more than ten years ago. Did you spend that whole time here?” 

Selene licked her lips. “The vampires who kidnapped me were going to kill me,” she said softly, and Apollo could tell that this memory wasn’t an easy one for her to relive. “I was so convinced that I was going to die…” She trailed off, looking lost for a moment, and then a glimmer of light brightened her eyes. “My mate rescued me. It was fate.”

“Your mate?” The implications of his sister’s words hit Apollo hard. A tremor ran through him. He’d spent so many years imagining the worst, punishing himself for the ways his sister must have suffered in her final moments… 

Never once had he considered that she might have been saved by someone who wasn’t him. 

He braced himself as he looked at her now. “Is it another vampire?” 

Selene nodded, confirming his fears. “Yes, she’s a vampire.” 

It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t.

And yet he had no other way to explain why Selene was standing in front of him, healthy and unshackled in the midst of a vampire coven. 

“Don’t look at me like that,” Selene said. “You mated a vampire yourself.” 

A surprised murmur of voices from the cages around him in reaction to this. Apollo had almost forgotten that he and Selene weren’t alone. 

“It’s different,” he insisted. 

It was different, wasn’t it? He’d only mated Mordyn a few hours ago, and he’d only done it because there was no other way to escape and… and anyway Mordyn wasn’t like the vampires who held them captive right now. 

There was no such thing as a ‘good vampire,’ so Apollo wasn’t going to argue that he mated one of the good guys, but if Mordyn was bad, these guys were worse.

Selene had to understand that. 

“It isn’t different,” Selene said. “Mates are mates.”

“You were a child,” Apollo insisted, enraged on her behalf. “You had no idea what you were getting into. Did you even have a choice?”

Selene lifted her chin in defiance. “She didn’t ask anything of me when I was still a child. You don’t have to worry about my virtue, brother.” 

“Your virtue isn’t what I’m concerned about.” Though he was glad to hear Selene’s mate might not be mistreating her. 

“Well, good.” Selene hesitated. “She always loved me, and I came to love her as well. I thought you would understand. You clearly care about your mate.” 

Apollo’s lips drew into a thin line. Instinctively, he wanted to protest that he didn’t have a mate and that she was getting it all wrong and he’d only acted out of desperation… but what was the point? 

He’d better get used to the fact that he did have a mate. He’d let Mordyn drink from him knowing what it would mean—and he couldn’t deny that he cared about the vampire, that it was hell not knowing what they were doing to him right now. It was his fault that Mordyn had been recaptured. 

He tried not to think about that because there wasn’t anything he could do for Mordyn right now other than ‘behave.’ 

If he tried to tell his sister that she was wrong, though, he would be lying. 

He did care. 

Even if he didn’t want to let his mind go there, his heart ached. 

“Mordyn isn’t like the vampires here,” he said. “And my situation isn’t like yours. He didn’t kidnap me.” Apollo might like to think that he’d been forced into this mate bond by circumstance, but he’d still made that choice willingly. 

“My mate didn’t kidnap me either,” Selene said. “She saved me.”

“So you can leave this place?” 

Selene frowned. “No, but that’s not her fault.” 

Apollo waited for her to explain. 

Selene looked around the room once more and sighed. “It’s Minea’s fault,” she said. “She uses me to control Balea.”

Apollo’s heart stopped as Balea’s name slipped from his sister’s tongue. 

Balea. 

The vampire who’d allegedly defected to the Rubyville coven, who he’d tried to interview, at the start. One of the vampires he’d seen in his nightmares about Jory’s death.

That was his sister’s mate?

He felt like the air had been sucked from his lungs. 

“Please tell me your mate is not Balea.”

Selene’s brows rose. “You know her?” 

Disgust curled in Apollo’s gut. “Know her?” His voice grew loud without him wanting it to. “She killed me in a past life. She’s a monster.” 

Selene blinked, uncomprehending. “What are you talking about?” Her expression hardened. “She’s not a monster.”

Apollo scoffed. “Look around you and tell me that any vampire responsible for this is not a monster.” He gestured at the mortals in their cages. “How can you defend someone who does this?” 

Selene’s gaze narrowed. “I’m not defending this. I hate this.” Her hands formed into fists. “But this isn’t her fault. This is Minea’s doing. She’s calling all the shots.” 

“And your precious mate goes along with them.”

“To protect me.” 

Apollo shook his head. “You weren’t even born back when she killed Jory.” 

“I don’t know who Jory is.” Selene scowled. “But I don’t care what happened in her past either. She’s not the same vampire anymore. She’s told me this.” 

“You really think vampires can change?” Apollo glared at his sister. “Don’t be naive.” 

“If I’m naive, so are you,” she shot back. “You think your vampire was always a docile little lamb?”

“I have no illusions about Mordyn,” Apollo said dryly. 

“But you love him anyway?” Selene challenged. 

Apollo said nothing. If he confessed to that, he would confess to being a goddamn idiot. 

It wasn’t a confession he would make to his sister before making it to himself. 

Selene shook her head and exhaled, stepping close to Apollo so she could whisper. “I’m going to help you get out of here,” she said. “Minea plans to use you to control Mordyn. I know how this goes. I won’t let it happen.”

“I’m not leaving here without you.”

“Don’t be stupid.” 

“They’ll hurt you if you help me,” Apollo insisted.

“Yes, maybe, but they won’t kill me. Balea’s too valuable, still.”