Lover Revealed Chapter Two

Butch walked out of ZeroSum at three forty-five, and though the Escalade was parked in the back, he headed in the opposite direction. He needed air. Jesus¡­ he needed air.

The middle of March was still winter so far as upstate New York was concerned, and the night was meat-locker cold. Butch walked alone down Trade Street, his breath leaving his mouth in white clouds and drifting over his shoulder. The chill and the isolation suited him: He was hot and crowded even though he'd left the club's crush of people behind.

As he went along, his Ferragamos hit hard against the sidewalk, the heels grinding the salt and sand on the little concrete strip between dirty snowbanks. In the background, muffled music thumped out of the other bars on Trade, though business hours were soon going to be over.

When he came up to McGrider's, he popped his collar and up'd his pace. He avoided the blues bar because the boys on the force hung out there and he didn't want to see them. Far as his former colleagues in the CPD knew, he'd up and disappeared, and that was the way he wanted to keep it.

Screamer's was next and hard-core rap pounded, turning the whole damn building into a bass extender. When he got to the far side of the club, he paused and looked down the alley that ran the length of the place.

It had all started here. His weird trip into the vampire world had started right here the previous July, with a car bomb he'd investigated at this site: a BMW blown to shit. A man ashed.

No material evidence left behind except a couple of martial-arts throwing stars. The hit had been very professional, the kind of thing that sent a message, and shortly thereafter the bodies of the prostitutes had appeared in the alleys. Throats cut. Blood levels sky high with heroine. With more martial-arts weapons around.

He and his partner, Jos¨¦ de la Cruz, had assumed the blast was a pimp-related turf toaster and the dead women payback, but soon enough he'd learned the whole story. Darius, a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, had been taken out by his race's enemies, the lessers. And the murders of those prostitutes were part of a strategy by the Lessening Society to capture civilian vampires for questioning.

Man, back then he'd never have even guessed vampires existed. Much less drove $90,000 BMWs. Or had sophisticated enemies.

Butch walked down the alley, right to the spot where the 650i had been blown to high heaven. There was still a black soot ring on the building from the bomb's heat and he reached out, putting fingertips on the cold brick.

It had all started here.

A gust of wind came up and flashed under his coat, lifting the fine cashmere, getting to the fancy suit underneath. Dropping his hand, he looked down at his clothes. Overcoat was Missoni, about five grand. Suit underneath, an RL Black Label, about three grand. Shoes were amateur night at a mere seven hundred bucks. Cuff links were Cartier and into the five-digit category. Watch was Patek Philippe. Twenty-five grand.

The two forty-millimeter Glocks under his pits were two grand a piece.

So he was sporting¡­ Jesus Christ, about $44,000 worth of Saks Fifth and Army/Navy. And this wasn't even the tip of the iceberg for his threads. He had two closets worth of the shit back at the compound¡­ none of which he'd bought with his own cash. All of which had been purchased with Brotherhood green.

Shit¡­ he dressed in clothes that weren't his. Lived in a house and ate food and watched a plasma screen TV¡­ none of which were his. Drank Scotch he didn't pay for. Drove a sweet ride he didn't own. And what did he do in return? Not a whole hell of a lot. Every time action went down, the brothers kept him on the sidelines¡ª

Footsteps rang out at the far end of the alley, pounding, pounding, getting closer. And there was more than one set.

Butch eased back into the shadows, slipping free the buttons on his coat and his suit jacket so he could get at his heat if he needed it. He had no intention of mixing up someone else's biz, but he wasn't the type to hang back if an innocent was getting cracked.

Guess the cop in him wasn't dead yet.

As the alley had only one open end, the track-and-fielders heading this way were going to pass by him. Hoping to avoid any crossfire, he got tight with a Dumpster and waited to see what turned up.

Young guy flew by, terror on his face, his body all jerky panic. And then¡­ well, what do you know, the two thugs in his trunk were pale haired. Big as houses. Smelling like baby powder.

Lessers. Going after a civilian.

Butch palmed one of his Glocks, speed-dialed V's cell phone, and took off in pursuit. As he ran, the call dumped into voice mail, so he just shoved his Razr back into his pocket.

When he caught up with the drama, the three were at the base of the alley, a loose knot of bad news. Now that the slayers had the civilian cornered, they were moving all lazy, closing in, backing off, smiling, toying. The civilian was shaking, eyes so wide the whites glowed in the dark.

Butch leveled his gun at the scene. "Hey, Blondies, how 'bout you show me your hands?"

The lessers stopped and looked at him. Man, it was like getting pegged with headlights, assuming you were a deer and the thing coming at you was a Peterbilt. Those undead bastards were pure power backed up by cold logic¡ªa nasty combination, especially in duplicate.

"This isn't your business," the one on the left said.

"Yeah, that's what my roommate keeps telling me. But, see, I don't take direction real well."

He had to give the lessers credit; they were smart. One focused on him. The other closed in on the civilian, who looked as if he was way too scared to be able to dematerialize.

This is quickly going to become a hostage situation, Butch thought.

"Why don't you head out?" the bastard on the right said. "Better for you."

"Probably, but worse for him." Butch nodded toward the civilian.

An ice cube breeze shot down the alley, ruffling orphaned newspaper pages and empty plastic shopping bags. Butch's nose tingled and he shook his head, hating the smell.

"You know," he said, "this whole baby powder thing¡ªhow do you lessers stand it?"

The slayers' pale eyes traveled up and down him as if they couldn't figure out why he even knew the word. And then they all flipped into action. The lesser closest to the civilian made a grab and hauled the vampire against its chest, turning the hostage potential into a reality. At the same moment, the other one lunged at Butch, moving quick as a blink.

Butch wasn't into getting rattled, though. He calmly angled the muzzle of the Glock and shot the steamrolling sonofabitch right in the chest. The second his bullet penetrated, a screech worthy of a banshee exploded out of the slayer's throat and the thing hit the ground like a bag of sand, immobilized.

Which was not the normal lesser response to getting plugged. Usually they could throw it off, but Butch was packing something special in his clip, thanks to the Brotherhood.

"What the fuck," the upright slayer breathed.

"Surprise, surprise, cocksucker. Got me some fancy lead."

The lesser snapped back to reality, hauling the civilian off the ground in a one-arm waist hold, using the vampire as a body shield.

Butch leveled the gun at the twosome. Goddamn it. No shot. No shot at all. "Let him go."

A muzzle emerged from under the civilian's armpit.

Butch dove for a shallow doorway as the first bullet ricocheted off the asphalt. Just as he took shelter, a second shot ripped through his thigh.

Fuuuuuck, welcome to roadkill-ville. His leg felt like it had a red-hot roofing spike drilled into it, the niche he was jammed into offered about as much protection as a lamppost and the lesser was moving into better shooting position.

Butch grabbed an empty Coors bottle and tossed it across the alley. As the lesser's head popped around the civilian's shoulder to track the sound, Butch lit off four precisely targeted shots in a semicircle around the pair. The vampire panicked, just as expected, and became an unstable load. As he fell loose from the slayer's grip, Butch put a slug into the lesser's shoulder, spinning the bastard away, landing him facefirst on the ground.

Good shot, but the undead was still moving, and sure as shit he was going to be on his feet in another minute and a half. Those special bullets were good, but the stun didn't last forever and it helped if you nailed a chest rather than an arm.

And what do you know. More problems.

Now that the civilian vampire was free, he'd caught his breath and started to scream.

Butch limped over, cursing through the pain in his leg. Jesus Christ, this male was making enough racket to bring in an entire police force¡ªall the way from goddamned Manhattan.

Butch got up in the guy's face, pegging him with hard eyes. "I need you to stop yelling, okay? Listen to me. Stop. Yelling. Now." The vampire sputtered, then clammed up like his voice box's engine had run out of gas. "Good. I got two things I need from you. First, I want you to calm yourself so you can dematerialize. Do you understand what I'm saying? Breathe slow and deep¡ªthat's right. Nice. And I want you to cover your eyes now. Go on, cover them."

"How do you know¡ª"

"Talking wasn't on your to-do list. Close your eyes and cover them. And keep breathing. Everything's going to be okay provided you get yourself out of this alley."

As the male clamped trembling hands over his eyes, Butch went over to the second slayer, who was lying facedown on the pavement. The thing had black blood oozing from its shoulder and little moans coming out of its mouth.

Butch grabbed a fistful of the lesser's hair, tilted the thing's head off the asphalt, and put the dock's muzzle in tight to the base of the skull. He pulled the trigger. As the top half of the bastard's face vaporized, its arms and legs twitched. Fell still.

But the job wasn't done. Both slayers needed to be stabbed in the chest to truly be dead. And Butch didn't have anything sharp and shiny on him.

He got out his cell phone and hit speed dial again as he rolled the slayer over with his foot. While V's cell started to ring, Butch went through the lesser's pockets. He lifted a BlackBerry as well as a wallet¡ª

"Fuck me," Butch breathed. The slayer had activated his phone, obviously calling for an assist. And through the open line, the sounds of heavy breathing and flapping clothes were a loud and clear sign that the backup brigade was coming fast.

Butch glanced at the vampire as V's phone continued to ring. "How we doin'? You look good. You look really calm and in control."

V, pick up the damn phone. V¡ª

The vampire dropped his hands, and his eyes fell upon the slayer, whose forehead was now all over the brick wall on the right. "Oh¡­ my God¡ª"

Butch stood up, putting his body in the way. "You don't think about that."

The civilian's hand came out and pointed downward. "And you¡ªyou're shot."

"Yeah, you don't worry about me, either. I need you to cool out and leave, my man." Like right fucking now.

Just as V's voice mail kicked in, the sound of boots pounding the pavement drifted down the alley. Butch shoved his phone in the vicinity of his pocket and ditched the clip out of the Glock. As he slammed in a fresh one, he was through with the hand-holding. "Dematerialize. Dematerialize now."

"But¡ªbut¡ª"

"Now! For fuck's sake, get your ass out of here or you're going home in a box."

"Why are you doing this? You're just a human¡ª"

"I am so sick of hearing that. Leave!"

The vampire closed his eyes, breathed a word in the Old Language, and disappeared.

As the hellfire beat of the slayers got louder, Butch looked around for shelter, aware that his left shoe was soaking wet from his own blood. The shallow doorway was his only bet. Cursing again, he flattened himself in it and looked at what was coming at him.

"Oh, shit¡­" Jesus God in heaven¡­ there were six of them.

Vishous knew what was about to happen next, and it was nothing he needed to be a part of. As a flash of brilliant white light turned the night to noontime, he spun away, shoving his shitkickers into the ground. And there was no reason to glance back when the great roar of the beast rumbled through the night. V knew the drill: Rhage had turned, the creature was loose, and the lessers they'd been fighting were about to be lunch. Pretty much business as usual¡­ except for their current location: Caldwell High School's football field.

Go, Bulldogs! Rah!

V pounded over to the bleachers and StairMastered them, taking himself to the top of CHS's cheering section. Down below, on the fifty-yard line, the beast snatched a lesser, tossed the thing up into the air, and caught the undead between its teeth.

Vishous glanced around. The moon wasn't out, which was great, but there were maybe twenty-five frickin' houses around the high school. And the humans inside those split-levels and ranches and Middle America colonials had just woken up to a flare as bright as a nuclear explosion.

V cursed and whipped off the lead-lined driving glove that covered his right hand. As he put his arm out, the glow from his godforsaken palm's inner core illuminated the tattoos that ran from his fingertips to his wrist on both sides. Staring at the field, V concentrated on the beat of his heart, feeling the pump in his veins and getting into the pulse, the pulse, the pulse¡­

Buffering waves came out of his palm, something like heat waves rising off asphalt. Just as a couple of porch lights came on and front doors were opened and fathers of the household poked their heads out of their castles, the masking of mhis took over: The sights and the sounds of the fighting on the field were replaced with the nothing special illusion that all was well and as it should be.

From the bleachers, V used his night vision to watch the human men look around and wave to each other. When one smiled and shrugged, V could imagine the conversation.

Hey, Bob, you see that too?

Yeah, Gary. Big light. Huge.

Should we call the police?

Everything looks okay.

Yeah. Weird. Hey, you and Marilyn and the kids free this Saturday? We could do a mall crawl, maybe hit pizza afterward?

Great idea. I'll talk to Sue. 'Night.

'Night.

While the doors were shut and those men no doubt shuffled to the refridge for a night bite, Vishous kept up the masking.

The beast didn't take long. And didn't leave much uneaten. When it was finished, the scaled dragon looked around and as the thing spotted V, a growl rippled up to the bleachers, then ended in a snort.

"You finished, big guy?" V called down. "FYI, goalpost over there would work righteous as a toothpick."

Another snort. Then Rhage lay down; the creature appeared to be naked in its place on the black-soaked ground. As soon as the change was complete, V hauled it down the bleachers and jogged across the field.

"My brother?" Rhage groaned as he shivered in the snow.

"Yeah, Hollywood, it's me. I'm gonna get you home to Mary."

"Not as bad as it used to be."

"Good."

V whipped off his leather jacket and stretched it across Rhage's chest; then he snagged his cell phone from a pocket. Two calls had come through from Butch's number and he hit back at the cop, needing a pickup fast. When there was no answer, V called the Pit and got voice mail.

Holy hell¡­ Phury was at Havers's getting his prosthesis adjusted again. Wrath couldn't drive because of his blindness. No one had seen Tohrment for months. That left¡­ Zsadist.

After a hundred years of dealing with that male, it was hard not to curse as the call went out. Z was not lifeboat material, not by a long shot; he was more like the sharks in the water. But what was the other option? Besides, at least the brother had been a little better since he'd gotten mated.

"Yeah," came the sharp answer.

"Hollywood expressed his inner Godzilla again. I need a car."

"Where are you?"

"Weston Road. Caldwell High School football field."

"I'll be there in ten. First aid?"

"No, we're both intact."

"'Got it. Hang tight."

The connection ended and V looked at his phone. The idea that that scary-ass bastard could be relied upon was a surprise. Never would have seen that one coming¡­ not that he saw anything anymore.

V put his good hand on Rhage's shoulder and looked up at the sky. An infinite, unknowable universe loomed above him, above them all, and for the first time, the vastness terrified him. But then, for the first time in his life he was flying without a net.

His visions were gone. Those snapshots of the future, those bullshit, invasive telecasts of what was coming, those pictures without dates that had kept him on edge ever since he could remember, were just gone. And so were the intrusions of other people's thoughts.

He'd always wanted to be alone in his head. How ironic that he found the silence deafening.

"V? We okay?"

He looked down at Rhage. The brother's perfect blond beauty was still blinding, even with all the lesser blood on his face. "Ride's coming soon. We'll get you home to your Mary."

Rhage started to mumble and V just let him go. Poor miserable guy. Curses were never a party.

Ten minutes later, Zsadist pulled right up onto the football field in his twin's BMW, busting through a shrinking, dirty snowbank and mud-tracking it in. As the M5 came through the snow, V knew they were going to trash the leather in the backseat, but then Fritz, butler extraordinaire, could get stains out like you wouldn't believe.

Zsadist got out of the car and came around the hood. After a century of being half-starved by choice, he was now packing a good two hundred eighty-five pounds on his six-foot-six frame. The scar on his face remained obvious, and so did his tattooed slave bands, but thanks to his shellan, Bella, his eyes were no longer black pits of hatred. For the most part.

Without saying anything, the two of them manhandled Rhage over to the car and stuffed his massive body into the backseat.

"You poofing it home?" Z said as he got behind the wheel.

"Yeah, but I need to clear the scene." Which meant using his hand to fry-clean the lesser blood that was splattered everywhere.

"You want me to wait?"

"No, get our boy home. Mary's going to want to see him ASAP."

Zsadist scanned the vicinity with a quick head twist. "I'll wait."

"Z, it's cool. I won't stay here alone long."

That ruined lip lifted into a snarl. "If you're not at the compound by the time I get there, I'm coming for you."

The Beemer took off, back tires kicking up mud and snow.

Jesus, Z really was backup.

Ten minutes later V dematerialized to the compound, just as Zsadist was pulling in with Rhage. As Z took Hollywood inside, Vishous looked around at the cars parked in the courtyard.

Where the hell was the Escalade? Butch should be back by now.

V took out his phone and hit speed dial. When he got voice mail, he said, "Hey, buddy, I'm home. Where are you, cop?"

As the two of them called each other constantly, he knew Butch would check in soon enough. Hell, maybe the guy was getting busy for the first time in recorded history. It was about time the sorry SOB shelved his obsession with Marissa and got a little sexual relief.

And speaking of relief¡­ V measured the light in the sky. He figured he had about an hour and a half of darkness left, and man, he was twitchy as shit. There was something going on tonight, something bad in the air, but with his visions gone, he didn't know what it was. And the blank slate was making him mental.

He fired up his cell again and hit a number. When the ringing stopped, he didn't wait for a hello. "You will get ready for me now. You will wear what I bought for you. Your hair will be bound and off your neck."

He waited to hear the only three words he cared about and they came right away, the female voice saying, "Yes, my lheage."

V hung up and dematerialized.

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