To those who are searching for their true mate:
Keep your eyes open, your heart ready,
and your blood warm.
Mark of the Balas
Erion landed on the familiar cobblestone street, not giving a shit who saw him flash, who saw him feral. The rage within him was raw, painfully uninhibited, and strangely uncontrollable. Only minutes had passed since Cruen had taken the balas from them-from him-and yet every breath he drew felt heavy and prolonged.
He moved down the street, letting his nose, not his memory, guide him. He needed information, and the male he sought had better be there to give it to him. Evening was dropping down in blankets of shade over the tops of the antiquated buildings and stores in the small French village, but Erion knew the mutore male stayed in his shop well past closing time. In fact, it was possible he lived in the rooms above.
Erion pursued the weak scent at a quicker, irrepressible pace, almost as if an invisible wire were pulling him. Every human he passed was an inconsequential blur. Every storefront the wrong one. The dire need to know if the boy his adopted father-the mad vampire Cruen-had stolen was breathing and well consumed his mind and his focus. It was insane to think that Ladd had been snatched right out from under him, the child's large, liquid eyes wide with fear as he was sucked back into Cruen's flash. Erion growled at the thought, at the vibrant memory. It was more than diabolical anger he felt. It was as though a limb had been ripped from his body. And gods help anyone who got in his way, he would not rest until it was returned.
He came to a halt outside the mutore shifter's shop, his keen sense of smell alerting him to what he had already suspected-to the male inside. Just as he'd hoped, Raine was still at work. He entered the dusty space in a rush of manic testosterone, his gaze taking in every inch. He'd been inside the antique-furnishings shop only once before with his twin, Nicholas. The Roman brother had purchased a home about thirty miles away. Not far from where they had been born-born and thrown away, in Erion's case. Nicholas had wanted to put down some roots. A concept Erion had never considered before, not until the boy he'd never known he had was introduced to him.
His guts ached like an infected fang. He had to find him, get him out of the clutches of that cruel vampire before any permanent damage was done. Dammit, he should've had an inside track, since Cruen had raised him, but that cagey bastard moved from one secret location to the next as often as a pair of rabbits fucked.
He shouldered his way through masses of antique furniture, rolled rugs, and ornately framed landscapes and up to the front of the shop. But before he reached the massive desk and the brass bell atop it, a humorless voice stopped him.
"That's far enough, Beast." In the far-right corner of the store, Raine appeared behind a thick wood table that lay on its side. The reptilian mutore skulked toward Erion, his brown eyes wary, his mouth a thin, grim line. "I hope you're here to purchase something."
"I am," Erion said. He was a good foot taller than the mutore shifter and had no problem using it to his advantage.
As he approached, Raine's gaze moved around the store nervously. "What is it you seek, then? Love seat? Chaise? Whatever it is, make it quick."
"The location of your uncle."
Raine froze halfway to his desk, his eyes blinking rapidly as he stared at Erion. "Get out," he uttered tersely.
Erion forced a cool smile. "Your customer service leaves much to be desired, mutore."
"You are no customer here," Raine said fiercely, "only a pest that wishes to infect and destroy." Eyes down, he made a beeline for his desk, but Erion shot past him and blocked his way.
"Why do you protect a monster?" Erion growled.
Raine's gaze lifted and his eyes narrowed. "I see only one monster, and he stands before me."
"Then you are a fool."
"Perhaps. But I remain alive, and that is all I can hope for now." He started forward again, and this time Erion allowed him to pass. "I'm surprised you came alone," Raine continued, rounding his desk. "Without the added muscle. Where is the other one? Like you, but Pureblood?"
The sting of the male's words found their mark. Erion was as pureblooded as his twin, but, unlike Nicholas, he had been born a mutore-a mutant vampire with strains of other creatures' DNA. Granted, the Romans and the mutore were all children of the Breeding Male, the genetically altered vampire monster, but mistakes like him weren't used, weren't even deemed worthy of breath. Erion and his beast brothers and sister-Phane, Lycos, Helo, and Dillon-had been luckier than most, though only if you call being rescued from the trash bin by a mad vampire and raised in a laboratory lucky. Erion wasn't sure what he called it. Or whether the life he'd led thus far had been worth saving.
Jury was still out, as Alexander said.
"My brother is searching for Cruen as well," Erion told the nervous-eyed male. In fact, now that the moon and stars provided the only light to brighten the sky, all the brothers, mutore and Roman, were spread out searching for the vampire and for Ladd.
Raine clucked his tongue. "A fool's errand. Whatever you want him for, you would be best to forget it. My uncle wouldn't hesitate to kill even the ones he calls family if they get in the way of what he wants."
"I will take that chance," Erion stated flatly.
From behind the counter, the mutore laughed softly. "How brave you are, mutore. I, however, have no interest in baiting a rabid shark with my blood. My death weighs heavily on my mind-and my family's-at all times." He flipped through a file of papers on the table. "Speaking of which, where is my elixir? The one you promised me. The one you believe Cruen may have. The one that may prolong my life."
Erion grunted. "I must get to Cruen to find it."
"Then we are at an impasse," the male said sadly. "I don't know where he is. He has not contacted me in some time."
Erion's eyes narrowed. "You know something. I can feel it, smell it."
The male lifted his head, locked eyes with Erion. For one moment, he looked the true reptile his shifter genes carried. Scales appeared on his face and neck, and between his teeth a forked tongue darted out.
"Yes, you know something," Erion hissed.
The reptile retreated on a gasp, and left the shell of a bereft-looking male with deep fear in his eyes.
The demon inside Erion, the lionlike animal that clawed to get out, growled with possessive ire. "Cruen took something that belonged to me."