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Chapter 2, Book 8 Continued (Part 4)

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“What news?”

Devlin Sinclair, Hunter for the New England vampire hive under the recently established rule of the first-ever Dark King, grimaced slightly before he spoke, loathe to give his liege unpleasant tidings.

“I have his last location, but not enough to ascertain where he is now. Whoever took him knows how to cover their tracks.”

It’d been three nights since the Commander of the Chosen warriors, the elite guard of the vampire king, disappeared without a trace. If it had been the Assassin, Ryu Takamura, or the Phoenix, Anastasia Zima, none of their comrades would have been particularly alarmed.

Ryu, in particular, used to disappear for weeks and sometimes months at a time, when he was deep under cover or on a stealth mission. But now that he was a married man, and to a superhuman wife no less, he never strayed far from Ava’s and their son, Kane’s, side.

Ana, on the other hand, simply liked her solitude, often hiding out in her log cabin in the Catskills when she needed a break. But just because she wanted privacy didn’t mean she was alone. Devlin had to track her down to her cozy hideout in the middle of nowhere once, and he’d gotten quite an eyeful before he turned about face, his naturally pale skin heated with a furious blush.

There were some things you’d prefer not to know about your comrade in arms.

Maximus, however, was thoroughly predictable. His team often wondered whether he was really a Pure One with fangs. He didn’t have a temper that they could observe. Didn’t have vices. Was always in control of his emotions, bloodlust, and other basic needs that vampires tended to indulge in—typically without control. He seldom cracked a smile, always followed protocol…In other words, predictably boring.

For Maximus to have disappeared without a word to anyone for not just a few hours but days, something dire must have happened.

Alend Ramses, the new Dark King, growled low, indicating without words his burgeoning displeasure.

“No trace of Simca, either,” Ana said. “It’s almost as if… as if she’s gone.”

The Chosen and their king silently mulled on that one.

Every one of them knew that Maximus never went anywhere for long without his panther. They ate together, fought together, rested together.

None of the Chosen wanted to contemplate whether they’d also perished together.

As if hearing their unsaid thoughts, Grace Darling, Devlin’s Mate, spoke up, her voice flat as always, betraying none of the worry her friends had come to realize she felt, in addition to a wide range of emotions, despite her unique case of Asperger’s.

“The satellite feeds I hacked showed that Maximus was still in his corporeal form before the unidentified female dragged him out of range. If she wanted to end him, she could have done so immediately. We have to assume that he’s still alive but taken.”

“Which isn’t necessarily a better outcome,” Ryu said in his low, resonant rumble, like thunder rolling across a darkened sky.

“Recall what happened to Sergei Antonov.”

The Chosen took a few seconds to recall.

The Russian mob boss had teamed up with a traitor from within their ranks a few years ago, igniting a string of deadly, illegal fight clubs throughout populous cities around the world that threatened to expose the Dark Ones to the masses. Some months ago, Antonov had brokered unsanctioned international arms deals, which, in of itself wouldn’t have raised the Chosen’s eyebrows as they avoided getting embroiled in human intrigue, except for the fact that the weapons in question were heat-seeking bullets that were designed specifically to kill vampires.

Recently, they’d finally apprehended Antonov, but it was an empty triumph, for the human had already been emptied of all thought, memory and emotion. Maximus had left him like a trussed up Christmas goose for the NYPD, who’d handed him over to the FBI, whereupon he was taken away to serve out multiple life sentences at ADX, the supermax prison in Fremont County, Colorado.

But one day, no one knew how it happened, Antonov simply stopped breathing. He’d had no physical shocks, no medical trauma. It was as if someone had flipped a switch that decided his life and death.

Without warning, he simply stopped breathing. No amount of resuscitation could revive him.

The Chosen had not previously encountered such evidence of their nemesis, Medusa’s, mind-control. But their tentative allies, the Pure Ones under the rule of their newly Awakened queen, Sophia St. James, had shared all the details they’d acquired about the soul-less army their common enemy was amassing, targeting both Pure and Dark Ones of warrior class.

Ramses himself had been selected for “recruitment,” one name on a long list that Devlin and Grace had stolen from Medusa’s archives almost two years ago. Maximus had gotten to Ramses first and warned him. Ultimately, they succeeded in bringing Ramses into the New England vampire hive instead.

If Maximus was still alive, if he had been taken, the most likely and most dangerous outcome was staring them in the face.

“Stop speculating,” Ramses growled low. “Unless I have proof of his end, we will concentrate on finding him and bringing him back.”

He looked to Devlin and Grace.

“Get your hands on more images and digital fingerprints that can be used to triangulate the identity of the female with Maximus. I know you’ve done everything you can in the past seventy-two hours, but do it again.”

The Hunter and his Mate nodded. They’d keep at it until they found a lead, no matter how long it took.

Ramses directed his next orders to Ryu and Ana.

“Tap your networks, Dark, Pure, human alike. Leave no stone unturned.”

Ana blinked her acknowledgment and added, “I reset all of the Cove’s security protocols when we discovered the Commander’s disappearance. Should we also consider relocation? The Pure Ones have cautioned against being too complacent when a member of their own was taken. They’ve learned their lesson twice over by now.”

Strangely, Ramses smiled.

It was a grim, terrible smile.

“Let him come,” the Dark king said, utterly fearless. Almost welcoming.

“Let them come,” he added, his voice lowered to a private pitch, so that only Devlin, who sat the closest, could hear his words.

“I’ve been waiting for a long, long time.”

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