“Like yours is the first gun I’ve had pointed my way. You want me scared, do something original. You want answers, let the girl go.”
“No,” Mary Ann said, and he reached back to squeeze her arm, a silent command to shut the hell up. “I’m staying.”
Oh, hell, no. They weren’t playing that game. “You’ll regret that decision.” Riley put his hands up, palms out, as if he were submitting.
Moving swiftly, Riley grabbed the gun and pushed down, hard. Joe fired off a shot, but the bullet slammed into the floor.
Riley didn’t release him but held him like that and punched him once, twice, with his other hand. Then, while Joe was dazed, he used both hands to twist the gun, breaking Joe’s trigger finger in the process. He could have fired off a shot himself, but he didn’t. He just pulled the weapon from the now-loosened grip and aimed.
Cursing under his breath, grimacing, Joe held up his hands, palms out. Unlike Riley, he meant it. His broken finger lay at an odd angle, the rest of the appendage useless.
Riley kept the gun trained on him, certain he had other weapons stashed in other places. “Move, and it’ll be the last thing you do. Mary Ann, call Aden.”
“He needs to be here.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw her withdraw her cell and scroll through her address book. A few seconds later, she was whispering into the receiver. All the while, he kept the bulk of his attention on Joe, on the lookout for a reaction. Besides a slight hitch of breath and a truckload of trembling, the guy gave no reaction.
“If you’re not Joe Stone,” he said, determined to uncover the truth before Aden got here, “who are you?”
A gulp. “All right. I’ll play. Let’s say I am this Joe Stone. What would you want with me?”
Okay. So. He was Joe, no doubt about it. Why else would he have asked that question? But why the subterfuge? “An apology for starters.”
A twitch underneath his eye. From irritation? Or guilt?
She was at his side a second later. “Aden’s on his way.”
“That’s good. Now hold the gun,” he said, still not taking his eyes off Joe.
Fear once again pulsed from her.
“Hold the gun, keep your finger on the trigger and squeeze if he moves.”
“Okay. Sure. Yes. Okay.” With trembling hands, she reached out and did as he instructed. The gun was heavy, and he doubted she would be able to hold it for long, so he moved quickly, stalking to Joe and patting him down, but always staying out of Mary Ann’s line of fire. Riley found three blades, a syringe of something and a Taser. What he didn’t find was ID.
Through it all, Joe stood completely still. Smart of him.
“You’re doing good, sweetheart.” He shoved Joe to the bed, away from the discarded blades, Mary Ann following with the barrel of the gun. “Sit down and stay down.”
Joe sat, and Riley returned to Mary Ann’s side. When he reclaimed the gun, she let out a relieved breath.
“Grab the blades and stand beside the door. Anyone besides Aden or Victoria walk into this room, stab them.”
“No one else is here,” Joe said. “And no one will be coming to my rescue.”
Dude’s default tone was emotionless, and he’d gone back to it. Riley arched a brow at him. “Paula, your wife, isn’t going to come busting in to save you, then?”
Bronzed skin paled to a sickly gray. “No, she’s not. And don’t think to go looking for her. She’s safe.”
Oh, yes. This was Joe Stone.
Silence reigned, until an hour later, Aden arrived, Victoria behind him. Both wore wrinkled clothing, and both had total bed head. Victoria’s cheeks were flushed, and there were two perfect punctures in her neck. Hell, there were even puncture marks in Aden’s neck, though his were jagged, clearly torn, as if he’d fended off a human.
Victoria was getting sloppy. If only that were the least of Aden’s worries. They weren’t just feeding off each other now, which was dangerous, considering what they’d just been through, they were sleeping together. As Riley could attest, nothing productive happened when you mixed business with pleasure.
And if Aden’s beast got free…if Victoria lost herself to blood lust…well, no one would survive. But both were steady on their feet, neither was trembling, and neither was salivating and staring at thumping pulses.
Good thing. Those vampire beasts reacted to aggression and testosterone, and there was a lot of that in the air right now, practically thickening into a fog.
Joe stiffened, suddenly on alert. And surprise, surprise, he wouldn’t look in Aden’s direction. He looked everywhere but at Aden.
“Rest of the house is clean,” Victoria said. “And no one suspicious is watching from the other houses.”
They’d been together a long time. She knew how Riley operated, and what information he desired without being told.
Aden looked Joe over, his expression remaining blank. “This is him?” But oh, he couldn’t hide the anger in his tone. He was also intrigued.
Riley gave him a moment to gather his thoughts.
“I’m not who you think I am,” Joe said, still unwilling to glance at Aden, who spent the next few seconds guiding Victoria beside Mary Ann and blocking both females from Joe’s line of vision.
“Not a very good liar, Joey. I’d stop trying to sell that story. You already admitted to knowing Paula.”
“Whatever.” Riley lowered the gun, pointing the tip at the carpet. “Oh, and if you don’t think I can aim and fire faster than you can grab one of my friends, test me. I dare you.”
“Who do we think you are?” Aden asked, jumping back into the conversation.
“Your…father.” He nearly choked on that.
Silence. Then, “Why are you looking for him?”
“That’s something I’ll discuss only with him.”
Again, silence. Silence so tense Riley could have cut through it with a knife. He was shocked when Aden walked forward, slow and deliberate, and crouched in front of Joe.
Joe flinched but otherwise made no motion to dodge his attention.
“Tell me who you are,” Aden said.
Mother of—Aden had just used Voice Voodoo, as Mary Ann called it, and he’d leaked enough power to force even a wolf to do what he wanted. Most times, wolves were immune.
And apparently, so was Joe. “No,” he said, at last looking Aden in the eye. “So you’re one of them.” Emotion now, and a lot of it. Disappointment, incredulity, anger.
The muscles in Aden’s back rippled under his T-shirt. “One of who?”
Those two words—the vampires—were a revelation. Joe knew what was out there. Joe knew about the otherworld.
“So you know they exist?” Aden choked out.
“At least you don’t try to deny it,” Joe said flatly. But his anger was draining, along with the rest of the emotions, and fear was taking over.
“Why do you want to know?”
“This again.” Another pause, this one longer. Then Aden gave Joe the answers he wanted. “I have three souls trapped inside my head. I can do things, weird things, like travel to past versions of my life, wake the dead, possess other people’s bodies and predict the future.”
Aden laughed bitterly. “And, you say, as if all of that isn’t enough. And. I want to know if anyone else in my family was—is—like me. I want to know why I’m like I am. I want to know why my own parents were unwilling to help me.”
The slightest narrowing of his eyes, Joe’s lashes the same chocolate color as Aden’s. “And you think answers will help you understand?”
“Do you hope your parents will apologize? Tell you they were wrong? Welcome you back into their arms?” Now Joe was the one to laugh bitterly. “I can tell you right now, you’re gonna be severely disappointed if so.”
Riley didn’t have to see his king’s face to know he’d just been cut to the bone. Aden might never have admitted it, but he would have loved those things. Probably craved them in secret. A secret buried so deep he’d kept it from himself. But being rejected like that, no matter what lies he’d told himself about wanting nothing to do with his birth parents, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from caring now.
“Believe me,” Aden said, reverting to his own emotionless state, “I want nothing to do with the people who left me to rot in mental institutions. The monsters who placed me in the care of doctors who hurt me and foster families who tried to beat the normal into me.”
“That wasn’t what was supposed to—” Joe pressed his lips together, but he’d already said enough. Riley had already figured it out, and now Aden knew without a doubt.
“That wasn’t supposed to be what happened to me?” Aden spat. “Was I supposed to die? Or did you think leaving me in the care of the state when I was so young was going to work out for me?”
Breath hissed through Joe’s flaring nostrils. “That’s right. Am I your father? Yes. Was there someone else like you? Yes. My father. I was dragged all over the world as a child because of the things he drew our way. And you call me a monster? You have no idea what a true monster is! I watched huge, ugly beasts kill my mother, my brother.”