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His question was met by vicious grins and nods all around. “Let’s do this.”
Travis yanked the door open on his signal.
They were outnumbered four to one. No, Aden corrected, five to one. And Silas was nowhere to be found. Typical. First, the coward sent a team of incompetents to ambush him outside the hotel, and now this. Silas couldn’t dredge up enough courage to face Aden one-on-one, but wanted to be the next Lord of the Midwest.
Not gonna happen, but that showdown would come later. Right now, Aden had to deal with the current threat, had to keep his own people alive. Because Silas or not, there were plenty of enemies here, all trying to kill him and his.
Aden waded into the crowd of hostile vampires, his power lashing left and right, thundering off the walls of the small room. There was a small bar against one wall, and the stench of alcohol permeated the air quickly as bottle after bottle shattered. Glasses rattled and fell from shelves, while the industrial lights overhead swayed alarmingly on their unadorned cables. Gradually, the air filled with a fine gray dust as vampire after vampire fell before the combined might of Aden and his cadre.
From the depths of Aden’s power, a dark force lifted its head and scented death, demanding to be set free. Drawing on two centuries of discipline, Aden flexed his will and forced it down, unwilling to permit Silas’s spies to carry word of his true abilities back to their master. But a taste of that dark cruelty must have shown in his gaze, in the midnight glow of his eyes, because Silas’s followers took one look at Aden standing there covered in blood and saw their deaths. They broke for the exit, but Bastien and the others got there first. No mercy, Aden had told his people, and they granted none.
Finally, Aden stood in the middle of the room, smelling the dust and blood that were the inevitable remains of a vampire’s battlefield, searching for an enemy among the shattered remains of tables and chairs, the pile of glass and wood that had once been an antique bar front. No one rose from the rubble to challenge him. No heart beat within the twenty-by-twenty confines of the private room, but for those four who were under Aden’s care. And Aden himself.
He knew what he looked like. Knew the cold glow of his eyes, the curl of his fingers into claws, and the gleam of his fangs dripping blood. Even his own children hesitated to approach him with echoes of his power still bouncing off the walls. Only Sebastien knew what the night’s work had cost him, the effort it took to contain the unique and gruesome ability that had come to him with his vampire blood. But he’d learned the necessity of rigid control as a child, a never-forgotten lesson that had stood him in good stead since he’d become Vampire. When he finally ran Silas to ground and forced a fight between them, he would hold nothing back, but the lesser vampires she’d left to die tonight had been more of her sacrificial lambs.
Silence slowly filled the room. The dust settled, and the last shattered bottle drained its contents onto the debris.
“Sire.” It was Bastien, of course. Of all of them, it was his eldest who had the least fear of him, no matter the circumstances.
“Any humans?” Aden growled, barely able to form the word from the depths of his anger.
“There were none in this room, my lord. A small grace, but Silas must have cleared them out in anticipation of your arrival.”
Aden clenched his jaw against the incontrovertible conclusion from that bit of information. Silas had known he was coming. But how?
“I’ll want to speak directly to your source tomorrow, Bastien. Someone warned Silas we were coming, and I want to know who it was.”
“Our action was unplanned, my lord,” Bastien protested. “No one knew except—”
Aden turned sharply to regard him. “Except who?”
His lieutenant eyed him warily, then drew a deep breath and ventured, “Ms. Reid, Sire. I was on the phone when she walked past. She might have overheard.”
Aden frowned. Was that the real reason Sidonie had approached him when she did? Was her story of a dead friend and drugs simply a cover to get her into his office, like a silk-clad Trojan horse? The thought made him so angry, he nearly choked on it. He wanted to storm over to her home and confront her, wanted to tear the truth from her mind until she begged for death.
But it was late, and he had others to protect.
“Sidonie will be joining us again tomorrow,” he said coolly. “If it was she who betrayed us, I’ll know it before the night is over.”
SID STOOD IN FRONT of the mirror, once again trying to decide what to wear for a meeting with Aden. She kept glancing at the clock. She didn’t want to be late, didn’t want to give him any reason to turn her away. She was determined not to be sidetracked tonight. She was going to confront Aden with what she knew about Klemens’s sick enterprises and ask him what he planned to do about it. She was also curious, after her conversation with Dresner last night, about what had happened between Aden and Silas. She even admitted to being a little afraid that Aden had been defeated and that there’d be no one to meet with her when she arrived at his office. Or even worse, there’d be some strange vampire that she couldn’t trust.
Not that she trusted Aden. She wasn’t that naïve. But he seemed, if not honest, then at least businesslike. And maybe a little intrigued by her sexually. And, okay, maybe she was intrigued right back at him, which made her wonder at her own sanity. But she couldn’t get the image out of her head of Aden’s mouth on her neck, his breath warm as his fangs slowly emerged from his gums, as they pierced her vein . . .
Damn. She shook herself mentally. Was this why so many women, and men, too, lined up for those blood houses? Did the vamps exude some sort of pheromone that made regular humans lose every ounce of survival instinct?
“Snap out of it!” Sid told herself sharply, then laughed. She really was going nuts. She stepped into the green wool sheath she’d decided to wear tonight, pulling it up over her hips and reaching back to zip it before eyeing herself critically. It was a nice enough dress, but she’d chosen it for the neckline. Most of her winter clothes had turtlenecks, because they were winter clothes. This was Chicago, after all. The sweater she’d worn last night and this dress were probably the only exceptions in her closet.
She smoothed the soft wool over her hips, fighting the instinct to find a cardigan to cover the sweetheart neckline, which not only bared her neck, but also showed a fair amount of cleavage. With a deep sigh, she stepped into a pair of simple black pumps. Simple in that they were unadorned, but the heels were high and spiky, and there was a tiny bow on the back that transformed them from businesslike to sexy. Or so she thought. Hopefully, Aden would, too.
With another long-suffering sigh, she pulled on her warm coat and headed off to walk voluntarily into the lion’s den once more.
ADEN STOOD BEHIND his desk as Sidonie Reid entered his office. Not for the first time, he wished his vampire gift had included a greater telepathic component, especially when it came to humans. He could work his will on them easily enough. If he’d wanted, he could have had Miss Reid stripping herself naked and on her knees before him in no time at all. He rarely did such things, however. He preferred seduction, drawing his victims in until they begged for the very thing he’d wanted from them all along, even when they’d denied him only moments before.
Some vampires used their ability to mesmerize humans to enrich themselves. But it was never money or gold that Aden wanted. He had plenty of both and could always get more. No, what he desired was sexual surrender. And he was a master at getting what he wanted.
Take Sidonie, for example. She wanted something from him and was willing to use her sexuality to get it. She probably had no intention of following through on her seductive advances. No doubt she was used to confusing men into giving her what she wanted and then dancing away without ever having to deliver. She and Aden were alike in their use of seduction, except that Aden always delivered. That was half the fun, after all.
She dropped her coat onto the sofa and turned with a polite smile. The dress was a dark green that flattered her hair and accented the pink hue of her pale skin, especially along the curve of her breasts which were showcased by the curved neckline. She wasn’t quite comfortable with the dress. He could tell by her frequent, aborted attempts to tug the neckline higher. He smiled in amusement at her modesty, especially when contrasted with the fuck-me heels she was wearing.
He didn’t say anything, just watched and waited, as an embarrassed flush crept up over her neck and face.
“Is something wrong?” she asked, managing to stop her hand halfway to another tug at her neckline.
“I don’t know,” he said smoothly. “Is there?”
She tried to cover her irritation, but two little crease lines appeared between her brows.
“Where did you go last night, Sidonie?” he asked. “After you left here.”
The crease lines deepened into a scowl. “I went home. Why, what’d you do?” she demanded.
Aden’s lips curved into a slight smile as he strolled over to face her. She stared up at him with wide eyes and started to take step back. But then she squared her shoulders and glared, her lips flattened defiantly.
“Sidonie,” he purred and smoothed the back of his fingers down her silken cheek.
She blinked rapidly, her clear blue eyes meeting his, her heart pounding so loudly in his ears that she had to be hearing it herself. She swallowed and whispered, “Yes?”
“Oh, don’t say yes too quickly, sweetheart,” he murmured, letting his fingers continue downward, over the curve of her elegant neck, and down even farther to skim the swell of her breasts. He leaned forward until his lips were nearly touching her ear. “I like the dress even better than the sweater,” he whispered.
She sucked in a startled breath, and he was standing so close that her breasts brushed against his chest. But rather than backing away, as a gentleman might have done, he stepped even closer and rested one hand on her hip.
“Have you ever been bitten, Sidonie?” he asked, his mouth hovering above hers as he slid his hand around to caress her lower back, just above the curve of her ass. It was a light touch, but enough to hold her in place, enough to let her know she was his to control.