SoHo 11:45 p.m.
Their breath visible in the frigid air, their shadows massive against the jagged stone walls, Nicholas and Lucian Roman moved through the tunnels beneath the quiet Manhattan neighborhood, determined to save their brother's soul, yet severely opposed on how to accomplish it.
"He's not ready," Lucian growled.
Nicholas's strides lengthened as he stalked past the tunnel guards--male vampires, Impurebloods--who kept their eyes on their boots and away from the one so beautifully pale, and the other with eyes and hair as black as his unbeating heart. "I will see for myself."
"What you will see, Brother," Lucian said, his fangs twitching, "is an animal. The hunger rules him again. This time it is nearly uncontrollable."
"No. Alexander has control. He has judgment. Look where he keeps himself."
Nicholas frowned. The six-by-nine-foot cage that dwelled far beneath the New York City streets had been built long ago to quell his eldest brother's rage, starve his body, and fuck with his mind, but in the past two days it had kept him from killing anything that crossed his path.
Lucian fell into step beside him as the tunnel widened. "He nearly butchered that human woman, Nicky."
"She is fine. She breathes."
"Only because you intervened."
Nicholas said nothing, his jaw tight as a fist.
Lucian continued. "He must stay in the cage until he feels . . . whole again. Until his craving for blood eases." His voice dropped. "If it ever eases ..."
"You want to keep him locked up like an animal indefinitely?" Nicholas accused fiercely. "Like he was forced to do as a balas." The ancient word for "vampire child"
exited Nicholas's mouth as a bitter hiss.
"It is as he wants it," Lucian argued. "Alexander built that cage because he was addicted to the pain of his past--now he keeps himself in it to protect his future. I'm not the bastard who fucked up his early years, but I know what needs to be done now, and so does Alexander. He understands the danger he's in--that we're all in now."
They rounded the corner and Nicholas eyeballed a second set of guards as they passed by. The Impure-bloods, the powerless sons of both human and vampire, had escaped their respective credentis--their vampire communities--long ago, after having had their sexual appetites bled out of them by the Order, the rulers of their breed. Now they worked for the Pureblood Roman brothers, and were treated with decency and respect.
"I believe your reaction," Nicholas said to Lucian as they reached the end of the tunnel and the door that led to their brother's prison, "your need to keep Alexander contained--is based in fear."
Lucian stepped in front of the heavy iron door, blocking Nicholas's way, his almond eyes burning with aggression. "Listen to me. If he kills, the Eternal Order will be able to track him--they'll be up our asses before we have a chance to cover them."
Nicholas sniffed. "Since when have you ever cared about the laws of the Order?"
"Hey, if you want to bring a war here--because you know that's what will happen if the Order finds us and attempts to take us back to the credenti--I'm game. I'd have to be dead to return to my vampire community, so they'll get a good fight from me. But we must acknowledge that if they find us, everything we've created since escaping will be over." He lifted his pale brows. "This is not fear, but reality."
Nicholas stared at his brother--the terrifying angel with the shock of white hair hanging past his ears. Granted, Lucian could be a hotheaded shit who acted too quickly and apologized never, but his point, his reasoning for keeping Alexander away from the public, had merit. And Nicholas was never one to ignore reality. As a balas it had kept him and his mother clothed, fed, and breathing. And more vitally, it had kept them away from the credenti and, later, the Eternal Order--the ten Pureblood vampires who had passed on to the middle world, yet made the laws, punished the lawbreakers, and governed every vampire credenti on Earth.
Nicholas nodded. "All right. He stays. But I want to see him and speak to him first."
"Are you going to give him a hug?" Lucian drawled, "Tell him everything's going to be all right? Share some feelings perhaps?"
Nicholas didn't bite back. He was nothing if not controlled. It was how he survived within his own head, within the memories that lurked there. "Enough now. Open the door, Little Brother."
With a sniff of derision, Lucian turned and punched in the alarm code. When he saw "green for go," he gripped the massive door handle and pulled. The brothers entered, quickly filling the small space with their massive frames. Nicholas looked around. First thing he saw was Alexander's ancient servant, Evans, a bald, rat-eyed Impure, who had escaped a credenti in Maine just ten years ago, and had been found in Central Park by Alexander.
Evans paced the floor in front of the cage, which was cut into the rock wall and had no windows, except for the three twelve-inch iron bars soldered into a steel door that took three keys, an alarm code, and a retinal scan to unlock.
"Open the door, Evans," Lucian ordered brusquely.
The old Impure stopped directly in front of Alexander's self-imposed prison. Like most males who came before the Roman brothers, he refused to make eye contact. It was the fear of their father, the Breeding Male, who and what he was--it remained strong, even in those who had escaped the credenti. "I'm sorry, sir. He wishes not to be disturbed."
Lucian cocked his head to one side. "I really don't give a shit."
"Easy, Lucian," Nicholas said in a calm voice, well aware that the old vampire was just protecting his master, the one who had taken him in and given him a new life.
"Step aside now, Evans."
"I'm a gentleman, Evans," Nicholas continued easily, "and would drain your vein quickly and relatively painlessly, but Lucian, as you know, has little self-control."
Evans paled. "Yes, sir."
"Do it," Lucian said. "Quickly."
His hands shaking, the servant did as he was told, disarming the alarm, performing the retinal scan, and fumbling around with the key as he unlocked the door.
Then, without looking at either brother, he stood back and watched as the door rolled to one side.
It was pitch-black inside the cage, freezing, and smelled of disinfectant--just as Alexander liked it. Lucian was the first to enter, but was barely five seconds inside before he let loose a string of curses.