C1 Chapter One
Flashing lights and the pounding beat of music drove the humans in unusual rhythms called dancing. At least, Master Sven had told Malachi that that was what the humans called it. Malachi would call it strange and rather perplexing, if he were to ever really think about it. More often than not, Malachi ignored any human he might come into contact with, unless it was Master Sven, or someone who threatened the man he worked for. If that happened, he dealt with them swiftly and in deadly fashion.
He turned to see Master Andor approaching him. The way Andor moved through the crowd belied the fact that he was pretty much blind, and could only see the faintest differences between black and grey. Bowing slightly, he waited until Andor stood next to him before he straightened and spoke.
“Everything appears fine, Master. There are far more people than I would like, but I believe my men can deal with any trouble, should it become necessary.”
Andor, the most powerful master vampire on the West Coast, nodded. “I wouldn’t expect Wilton to try anything. He knows I could crush him with a thought.”
Malachi kept his gaze moving. His demon senses gave him abilities even vampires didn’t have—like sensing evil intent and thoughts—but just because he had them didn’t mean he could relax. Having a master like Andor, who didn’t forgive mistakes easily, meant that Malachi had learnt to never make any. It was easier on his body, because Andor believed in corporal punishment, which usually meant flaying strips of skin from Malachi. Being a demon made it impossible for him to die, but he could still feel pain.
“Andor, can I go dance?”
Malachi hid his wince when Sven, Andor’s munr , spoke up. Sven was the only being in the world that the master vampire cared about, and being Andor’s munr, or heart, Sven tended to get what he wanted—usually. But something about the club and the meeting was putting Malachi on edge.
“Master, I would suggest keeping your munr close tonight. Master Wilton might not harm him, but I don’t trust the humans in this place.” Malachi’s instincts told him something was wrong and he didn’t have time to check out what it was.
Andor seemed to study him for a moment, and though it was hard to tell when Andor wore darkly tinted sunglasses, Malachi knew he was reading his mood through the mental connection they had. The master vampire nodded.
“Not tonight, Sven. Once we are back on my territory, you can go out dancing whenever you wish.”
The human pouted for a second before shrugging. “Okay. I know both you and Malachi have your reasons.”
“The reason is you are my munr , and without you, I’d go back to the darkness I was falling into. I don’t want to go back there again. You are the centre of my world, Sven, and that makes you the most precious thing I own.”
Sven narrowed his eyes, and Malachi knew Andor would pay for the ‘own’ comment. Yet, in vampire society, Andor did own Sven, and all the other humans in his herd. Outside Andor’s compound, no one knew that Andor didn’t drink from anyone except Sven. Over the year they’d been together, Andor had discovered he only had to drink once a month from Sven to survive. It kept Sven from being jealous, since Andor no longer drank from any of the herd. Maybe it showed a weakness in Andor, to settle for only one donor, but Malachi thought it had actually made Andor stronger. It had certainly helped him regain his strength, but his eyesight remained damaged beyond repair.
The club manager came up to them. “Master Andor, it’s a pleasure to see you. Master Wilton wishes for you to join him in his private rooms.”
Malachi shifted his weight slightly, putting his body between his master and the manager. There wasn’t much that could kill Andor, but it was Malachi’s job to take a bullet, figuratively or even literally speaking, as Andor’s bodyguard.
The manager paled. It wasn’t often demons walked among humans, and the mortal probably hadn’t seen one quite so up close and personal. Malachi didn’t even curl his lip to show his fangs. The human wasn’t going to cause any problems.
“Take me to Wilton. I don’t like spending any more time than I need to away from my compound,” Andor ordered the man, before offering his arm to Sven.
Malachi gestured for the other four bodyguards to surround Andor and Sven while he took point. If an assassination attempt was going to happen, they would have to go through Malachi first, and since he couldn’t die, it was idiotic to try it.
Their group cut a swathe through the crowd, pushing people aside like a tsunami wave. No one would dream of approaching a master vampire without his permission. To be honest, Andor was so powerful and old, he didn’t need Malachi around to keep him safe. Malachi was there to protect Sven, and to keep an eye on things while Andor slept each day.
The stench of human sweat filled Malachi’s nose and he resisted the need to sneeze. He hated how humans smelt as if their flesh was rotting slowly away, and how they didn’t realise they were dying second by second. He shot a quick glance at Sven, who walked quietly next to Andor, his eyes focused ahead of him.
Sven’s scent had been changing subtly over the year since he’d bonded with Andor. Maybe the stories of a munr living as long as their vampire were true. Malachi made a mental note to do some more research when he had a free moment. Being a demon didn’t mean that Malachi was stupid, or that he was only a killing machine. He’d just never had much use for humans, and demons didn’t spend time with others of their kind—they tended to be solitary beings.
The manager led them upstairs, and halfway down a hall to a red door. Malachi had already taken notice of the exits, and where he’d move Andor and Sven if he needed to get them out quickly. The human knocked on the door, and nervously cleared his throat.
“Master Andor is here, Master Wilton.”
“Let the bastard come in then, Lester,” a voice called from the other side of the door.
“Yes, sir.” Lester opened the door, then bowed, gesturing for Andor to step in.
Andor never entered a room unless Malachi had checked it out first. From the moment Malachi stepped in, his blood started to burn. Nothing about the situation felt good. He didn’t want Andor to come in there, and he especially didn’t want Sven in the room.
“Looks like Andor doesn’t trust me, boys,” Wilton quipped.
Malachi pinned the other vampire with his gaze. “Master Andor has no reason to trust a scumbag vampire like you.”
Wilton shot to his feet and flew at Malachi. Without even really thinking about it, Malachi grabbed Wilton by the throat and tossed him back onto the couch he’d been sitting on.
“Show your betters more respect than that, Wilton,” Andor commented as he strolled into the room. “My bodyguards trust no one, and I even less than they do.”
Wilton coughed, clearing his throat and glaring at Malachi. The demon wasn’t worried about Wilton. He might be a master vampire, but he was young compared to Andor, and if all of Andor’s punishments couldn’t hurt Malachi, he was certain no fledgeling would.
Andor took a seat in the room—commanding everyone’s attention—and Sven sat down next to him. Malachi stood to Andor’s right, hands behind his back and feet slightly spread, ready for anything Wilton might throw at him. The other guards formed a half circle around them, creating a wall to ensure that if there was an attack, it would come from the front.
Wilton glared at Malachi, who made sure contempt for the vampire showed in his eyes. Foolish creature , Malachi thought. Doesn’t he know what a demon looks like? Hasn’t anyone told him not to mess with a creature forged from the darkest bowels of Hell?
“What sort of business offer do you have for me, Wilton? I don’t want to spend more time here than I have to, and if you continue to antagonise the head of my security detail, I’ll allow him to kill you.”
Sven breathed in deep, and Malachi sensed something had caught the munr’s attention. Malachi turned his face away from Wilton, knowing Andor could take care of the younger vampire. He looked at Sven, and followed the human’s gaze to see what he was looking at. Whatever it was had horrified Sven to the extent he couldn’t hide his feelings.
Anger and disgust mingled in Sven’s eyes, and Malachi wondered what could bother him that much. Tilting his head slightly, Malachi spied—through a gap in the crowd of humans gathered around Wilton—a cage set in the corner of the room. Being a demon, Malachi’s eyesight was a hundred times better than any human’s.
His nostrils flared as the creature inside stirred, and when it lifted its head to meet his gaze, Malachi understood what had upset Sven. It was a human, not an animal, and it was male. What hair the male had hung in greasy curtains over his shoulders, though it looked like someone had ripped chunks of hair out in spots, for the human’s scalp showed, pink under the dim lights.
While the human in the cage looked filthy—and probably there was a layer of dirt covering him—most of the marks on his body were bruises, bites, and whip scars. The man was someone’s pet, whether he belonged to Wilton or one of Wilton’s human herd, Malachi didn’t know, and really didn’t care. It wasn’t any of his business what other creatures did to each other. He existed merely to keep Andor alive.
Yet the man lifted his head a few inches. He peered through the cascade of matted hair to meet Malachi’s gaze. His eyes were cornflower blue, shot through with gold streaks, and Malachi blinked, never having thought of anyone’s eyes in those colourful terms. Wildness played over the male’s face, and Malachi realised the man in the cage might not even be human any more.
He’d seen situations like this one before. People who got carried away, and thought they could treat other creatures liked they owned them. They’d beat and abuse them until all the humanity was removed, and only an animal was left to serve its master. Vampires tended to do it with their herds, seeing the mortals as cattle, living only to feed them blood and be a warm body to fuck if they needed.
Malachi understood how a sight such as that would upset Sven, yet it meant nothing to him. Over the centuries he’d been alive, he’d seen all the terrible things humans could do to each other, and the truly horrific things vampires could inflict on those they hated. None of it touched him.
He started to move his gaze away from the cage, but with a small tilt of the blond’s head, Malachi saw the crazed look ease from his eyes. Wounded pride and fierce strength filled the man’s face for a second, before it slipped away as a human kicked the cage, rattling it and managing to hit the man’s fingers. The caged creature yelped, drawing his fingers close to his body.
“I see my friend’s pet has caught your pet’s attention, Master Andor,” Wilton spoke up.
Malachi dragged his gaze away from the cage to notice Wilton was staring at Sven. The predatory look on the vampire’s face caused Malachi’s protective instincts to fire. He took one step, but Andor shook his head.
“Sven doesn’t mean any disrespect, Wilton. I’m sure he is merely intrigued. We don’t keep humans in cages in my territory.”
Malachi didn’t relax, but he eased back into his spot. He was faster than anyone else in the room, so if Andor gave him the order, he could kill all of the people and vampires before they knew it had happened.
“Harrison, bring Doll out. Show Master Andor what your pet can do.” Wilton waved his hand at the human who had kicked the cage.
Sven started to say something, but Andor put his hand on Sven’s arm and shook his head. Malachi couldn’t stop his lip lifting into a snarl as Harrison clipped a lead to the choke collar the caged creature wore, then dragged him out of the cage. Every inch the man was forced to crawl was painful, if the way he barely rested his hands and knees on the floor had anything to say about it. Blood painted the carpet as Harrison brought Doll to the clear spot between them.
“Sit,” Harrison ordered Doll, who promptly sat like a dog.
“Harrison is a very good trainer. He knows just how to get the animals to listen, and they accept their place in the world. You should consider sending your pet to Harrison for training, Master Andor. It looks like he hasn’t had much discipline.”
Malachi fought the urge to roll his eyes. Master Andor didn’t need to beat his humans to get them to obey him. They did so because his personality demanded their respect—and they knew he would destroy them without blinking. Andor had never cared about any of his herd, except for Sven, who was the only one to see any kindness from Andor.
“I’ll deal with my pets, and you deal with yours, Wilton.” Andor didn’t even look at Doll. His gaze was focused on Wilton, not willing to show one shred of interest in anything else.
“Harrison is willing to show us some of Doll’s tricks. I bet you’d enjoy them, Master Andor.”
Wilton waved his hand, and Harrison jerked on Doll’s leash. Malachi watched as Doll almost fell face first into the floor, but caught himself at the last moment. Harrison forced the beaten man towards Andor.
“Go show Master Andor what you can do, Doll. Make him happy and you might get to eat tonight.”
As Doll crawled closer to Andor, Malachi stepped in front of his master. Doll stopped inches away from Malachi’s shoes. He didn’t look up at Malachi, just kept his gaze on the floor.
“Get out of the way, demon. Doll isn’t going to hurt Andor, just make him feel good. Doll isn’t good for much, but he gives good blow jobs,” Wilton snarled at Malachi.
Malachi didn’t say anything. He wasn’t there to trade insults with the vampire or his herd. He was there to protect Master Andor and Master Sven. He folded his arms over his chest and glared at Wilton, ignoring the human at his feet.
“I don’t need a blow job, Wilton. I need you to get to the point. Humans hold no interest for me, except to feed from.” Andor flashed a hint of his fangs. “I have other business needing my attention.”
Wilton narrowed his eyes at Andor, but waved his hand at Harrison. “Take Doll out and give him some exercise. I want him ready for later. I’m sure we’ll be celebrating a new deal.”
Harrison tugged on Doll’s leash, hard enough to cause the human to choke. Malachi met Doll’s blue eyes. Again the wildness cleared and intelligence shone through. The look on Doll’s face was much the same as the look of an eagle, Malachi had encountered while escorting Sven to the zoo in San Diego. The eagle had been injured and held captive for others to stare at. It was scarred, unable to fly, yet its spirit shone through in its yellow eyes and in the way it held its head.
Doll had the same wild spirit, unwilling to bend, no matter how broken his body was. Malachi saw it and felt it. Then Harrison kicked Doll in the side, and Doll dropped his gaze back to the floor.
“He might be a demon, but he’s still better than you’ll ever be,” Harrison taunted Doll.
Malachi bit back his growl. It didn’t matter what happened to the human. His job was to take care of Andor and Sven.
“Would your pet like a drink? He’s welcome to go down to the bar. Drinks are on the house.” Wilton didn’t watch as Harrison, Doll, and several others left the suite.
“Malachi, go with Sven down to the bar. Let him get a drink or dance or whatever. You can leave the other guards with me. They’re enough to take care of any of Wilton’s people.” Andor didn’t even look at Sven, but he stared at Wilton. “Master Wilton knows I’ll kill him if he tries anything.”
“I don’t want to go,” Sven protested.
“Go!” Andor ordered.
Malachi shot over to Sven’s side, then touched the back of his elbow. Sven stiffened, but left with him. As soon as they were on the ground floor and in a booth, Sven swung to look at Malachi.
“I don’t want a drink, and I don’t want to leave Andor alone with that jackass.”
“I know.” Malachi flagged down a waitress and ordered a bottle of water for Sven. “I want it unopened. If it’s been opened when you get here, I’ll force you to drink it.”
Her eyes grew wide, and she scurried away.
“Was that really necessary?” Sven asked.
“Yes. I don’t trust anyone here. They’re all afraid of Wilton, and they’d do anything to get on his good side.” Malachi sat on the outside of the booth, keeping Sven inside and away from danger. “One way to do that would be to get a hold of you, to give him leverage over Andor. Yet I don’t think Wilton is crazy enough to risk Andor killing him for putting a finger on you.”
Whimpers of pain filtered through the noise of the crowd and music. Malachi tracked the sound. Where exactly was it coming from? He spotted Doll kneeling in front of another human while Harrison stood behind him, swinging a whip. Harrison struck him, causing bright red welts to rise along Doll’s back.
“That’s terrible,” Sven whispered, inching closer to Malachi as they both watched Doll being hurt, and Harrison enjoying it.
“He’s Harrison’s property, apparently. When a person owns you, they can do what they want with you.” Malachi took the bottle from the waitress, checked the seal, and nodded at her.
“But he’s not an animal or an inanimate object. He’s a person. A human being, and he has the right not to be abused like that.” Sven accepted the water from Malachi and twisted off the cap.
“As far as they’re concerned, he isn’t.” And as far as Malachi was concerned, it wasn’t his business what happened to Doll, or any other human.
“We need to do something to help him,” Sven said under his breath.
Malachi shrugged. “It’s not my job to care about any humans, except for you.”
“No one deserves to be treated like that.” Sven tried to push past Malachi.
He stared at Sven, surprised he would even begin to think he could get past. He didn’t budge, because he wouldn’t risk his skin by letting Sven get injured.
Tears welled in Sven’s eyes, and Malachi couldn’t understand why Sven was so upset over a stranger he’d never talked with. A scream ripped through the air, and Sven looked sick. Malachi shot a glance over his own shoulder.
Doll was curled into a foetal position, cradling his arm to his body. Malachi wrinkled his nose at the smells—blood, fear, and pain. Someone must have broken the guy’s arm or wrist. Harrison stood over the beaten man, and laughed as another human kicked Doll in the back.
“I want to leave,” Sven pleaded, tugging on Malachi’s sleeve and hiding his face against his chest.
He hoped Andor didn’t know Sven was in Malachi’s arms. Protecting Sven was one thing, but touching him in any way could be tempting fate. While Andor couldn’t kill him, the vampire could make Malachi’s life painful.
Doll was still being beaten without relief, making Malachi wonder what the human had done to deserve it. Seeing the look of sheer delight on Harrison’s face, Malachi had the feeling Doll didn’t have to do anything except breathe for Harrison to hurt him.
Malachi’s phone rang, and he answered while studying the humans a few feet away. “Yes, Master Andor?”
“Sven is upset. Why?”
Malachi looked down at where Sven had his face buried in Malachi’s shirt, obviously not wanting to watch Doll’s punishment. The munr must be crying, because the fabric was sticking to Malachi’s chest.
“Doll is being beaten by some humans,” Malachi informed Andor.
“Wilton needs to get control of his herd, or cull the ones who are out of control. Once they’ve been violent like that, they wouldn’t have any problem turning on him.” Andor’s disgust was thick in his voice. “Get Sven out of here. Take him back to the condo. I’m almost finished, so we won’t be far behind you.”
“Yes, sir.” Malachi hung up and tucked his phone into his pocket. He stood and held out his hand. “We’re leaving.”
“We can’t leave Andor here.” Sven kept his eyes averted from Doll’s bloody form.
“Master Andor told me to take you back to the condo. He’ll be done soon, and Wilton doesn’t have anyone here who is strong enough to get through the guards I left with him. If something like that were to happen, Master Andor is far more powerful than Wilton. The master will be fine.”
Malachi helped Sven to his feet. He didn’t argue or shove Sven away when the small human cuddled closer to him. He ignored everyone as they wound their way through the crowd. When they passed where Doll lay, Harrison stepped in front of them.
Malachi moved Sven behind him, and he felt Sven grip his jacket. Sven knew not to get in Malachi’s way in case something happened, but he wasn’t to let go either.
“I think your master should leave his pet with me, and I’ll break him in the right way.”
“What is the right way? Beating him until he can’t fight back?” Malachi gestured to Doll, who was covered in blood and semen.
“Hey, he does whatever I tell him to do.” Harrison nudged Doll with the toe of his boot. “Get up.”
Doll shuddered and struggled to sit up. Malachi shook his head and must have growled low in his throat because both Harrison and Doll looked at him. A flash of hatred chased through Doll’s blue eyes, and Malachi couldn’t help but feel a hint of respect for a man who could take a beating like Doll had, and still get to his feet. He held his entire body stiffly, like every inch of his flesh and bone hurt. His arm hung limply, and Malachi could tell it was broken.
“See, he’s well trained. I’m sure your master would love to have a pet like him.” Harrison folded his arms over his chest and glared at Malachi.
Malachi snorted. “Master Andor is powerful enough that he doesn’t need a broken human as a pet. If your master is so weak that he can’t deal with a small human such as this without needing him beaten to a pulp and bones broken, then you should find a different herd to be a part of.”
Harrison puffed his chest out. “I’m not weak and neither is Master Wilton.”
“Of course not. It isn’t weakness to hurt someone smaller than you. It isn’t weakness to beat and rape them until they can’t fight back.” Malachi shook his head. “I’m not impressed, human. Now let us leave, and I won’t break your wrist like you did this pathetic creature.”
Something that sounded suspiciously like a soft snarl drifted to Malachi’s ears, and he glanced at Doll. He didn’t doubt that it was Doll who had made the sound, but the human stared at the floor without any acknowledgement of their conversation.
Sven tugged on the back of Malachi’s jacket, and the demon had enough of talking and waiting for Harrison to stop bragging. He reached out and shoved Harrison out of the way. The human started to grab Sven as they went past him, but before he could touch Sven, Malachi had his arm grasped in his hands.
Harrison screamed as Malachi tightened his grip and brought the human to his knees. Harrison’s bones ground together as Malachi leaned over him.
“I suggest you never try to touch Master Andor’s munr again, or I will tear your arm off and beat you with it. Then I’ll suck your soul from your body and eat your heart from your chest.”
“I want to go now, Malachi,” Sven demanded.
Malachi clenched his hand and Harrison screamed as his wrist was crushed. After Malachi let go, Harrison cried and begged for help. Malachi glanced over at Doll to see the human sneer at his abuser. Doll looked up and Malachi caught the quick lift of the corner of Doll’s mouth as Malachi and Sven went past.
They stepped from the club, and Malachi flagged down a cab. It wasn’t something he’d usually do, because he couldn’t trust there wouldn’t be an attack, but he didn’t want Andor stranded without his own vehicle.
Malachi got Sven into the car and settled in beside him. They were on their way back to the condo Andor owned for when they had to come to the city for business. Malachi hoped that when they got to the condo the munr would calm down. He didn’t want Andor pissed at him because Sven was still crying.