Unforgiven – D. B. Reynolds

CYNTHIA LEIGHTON laced her fingers with Raphael’s as they made their way down the staircase. He squeezed back, his big hand warm and secure. Her beautiful vampire lover. He was dressed as usual in one of his elegant power suits—dark charcoal and custom made to fit his gorgeous physique —tall, muscular, big chest and shoulders. And he was all hers. A thrill of lust shivered its way up her body, making her wish this was one of those nights when they could stay in, just the two of them, alone in their underground lair with its big bed. She sighed quietly. But no. Raphael was off to do his master of the universe thing while she and Elke were heading over to the gym for a bit of torture. Or as Elke called it, a good workout. And then Cyn had work of her own to do. Raphael might not like her going out and spying on wayward spouses anymore, but her private investigations business was still active and thriving on the internet. Juro, the sumo-sized Japanese vampire who was Raphael’s chief of security, walked ahead of them through the double front doors, pausing to get a nod of acknowledgment from his twin brother who already waited by the limousine. This was Raphael’s headquarters, his private estate, with security up the wazoo. But even so, Juro wouldn’t let him cross the threshold to the outside until he was sure it was safe.

He’d always been observant, but times were more hazardous than ever these days with the European vamps agitating at the border and no one knowing exactly what they’d do next. Only one thing was certain—they were coming, and Raphael would be their number one target. If the Europeans could get rid of him, it would go a long way toward softening up the rest of the continent. Or so they thought. Cyn thought the European vamps grossly underestimated the strength and determination of the other North American vampire lords. Sure, if something happened to Raphael, it would be a blow. Not that anything was going to happen to him. Juro wasn’t the only one who would die before letting that happen. But speaking purely hypothetically, if something did happen to Raphael, the other lords wouldn’t just roll over and show their bellies. If anything, Raphael’s death might make some of them fight even harder.

Lucas and Duncan fell into that category for sure. Those two wouldn’t rest until they’d avenged their Sire’s murder. Cyn’s goal, however, was to make sure it didn’t come to that. Whatever it took, whoever else had to die, including herself, she would not permit Raphael to become someone’s dead inspiration to fight harder. “Lubimaya?” She smiled at the familiar endearment, at the warm roll of happiness in her gut at the sound of Raphael’s dark velvet voice. “Yeah, babe,” she said, leaning into his side and looking up at him. His mouth quirked into a smile. “You’ll be here when I return.” Bossy. But then, Raphael didn’t make requests.

He gave orders, even to her. Or he tried. This time he succeeded because she intended to be around anyway. “I’ll be here,” she agreed, then reached distractedly for her cell phone when it rang a recognizable tone. “That’s Luci,” she noted for Raphael’s benefit, then frowned. Luci was her best friend, but today was Thursday, and Luci never called on Thursday night. She ran a group counseling session at the teen runaway shelter for any kids who chose to sit in, whether they were living at the house she managed or not. Raphael waited, pulling them both to a stop as Juro continued around the limo to the open driver’s door. “Luci?” she said, answering. “What’s wrong?” “What makes you think something’s wrong?” Luci snapped, her irritation a sure sign that something was definitely amiss.

“Tonight’s group, Luce.” “Oh. Well, yeah, it starts in a few minutes. That’s why I’m calling.” “Is one of the kids giving you trouble?” “Not the kids, no. But there’s—” Luci paused, her tongue clicking in frustration. “It’s probably nothing.” “Just tell me.” “There’s this new guy. He looks the part, sixteen, maybe seventeen years old, but .

something doesn’t ring true about him. I think he’s a vampire, Cyn. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I’m getting this weird vibe off of him. Plus, he keeps asking a lot of questions about you and Raphael. Stuff like where you live, if you ever come around the house, if I know any of the other guys out there.” “How long’s he been hanging around?” Cyn asked, her gaze lifting to meet Raphael’s, knowing his vampire-enhanced hearing would be picking up both sides of the conversation. “Just over a week, and he’s been here every night. Oh God, I’m probably making way too much —” “No, you’re not. Is he there tonight?” “Yeah, he is. That’s why I called you.

” “Okay, I’m coming over right now. If he leaves, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll see you as soon as I can get there.” “Thanks, Cyn,” Luci said, her breath running out on a long sigh. Cyn disconnected just in time to see Raphael and Juro doing their mind meld thing, staring at each other over the roof of the limo, their identically blank faces concealing the conversation that was no doubt going on inside their heads. “Juro will accompany you,” Raphael said abruptly, pulling Cyn against his side as Juro came back around the limo to stand next to them. “Elke will be with me,” she protested. “And you need Juro with you.” “Juro is more powerful than Elke,” Raphael murmured. “He’ll be able to deal with whoever this is.

” “We don’t even know it’s a vampire,” Cyn persisted. “Cynthia.” Cyn’s protest stopped dead at the sound of Juro’s deep bass voice. He so rarely spoke that when he did, it was worth listening. “I’m concerned about Lucia,” he said quietly. Cyn tried to keep her reaction from showing on her face as she looked up at him, and knew she only partially succeeded. Juro had been dancing around Luci for months, and Cyn had been shoving them at each other for just as long. This was the first time he’d admitted any interest though, and it gave Cyn a little thrill of satisfaction. At the same time … “Do you think Luci’s in danger?” “Not the way you mean,” Raphael assured her. “If this is what I suspect, then Luci’s shelter is simply an avenue of entrance.

” “Are you expecting someone?” “I’m expecting an overture of some sort. This may be it.” Cyn studied Raphael’s handsome face, but his expression gave away nothing, not even to her, and she wondered if he was hiding something. Again. Not so long ago, she’d nearly left him because he’d kept secrets from her. Secrets that almost got him killed. As if reading her thoughts, he reached up and stroked his fingers along her cheek. “I’m holding nothing back, my Cyn. I know nothing more than what I’ve just told you.” Cyn nodded.

She believed him, because no matter what problems had come between them, she had never doubted the strength of his love. And she knew he wouldn’t risk losing her. Not again. “You’ll keep your cell phone on?” she verified. “I will, though Juro won’t need it.” “If Juro’s with me, who’ll protect you? Maybe that’s what they want.” “Juro’s brother will be with me, as will Jared,” he reminded her. As if conjured by the sound of his name, Raphael’s lieutenant, Jared, pulled open the doors and joined them on the wide porch. “A problem, my lord?” “A probe, I believe. Coming in through the program for homeless teens run by Cyn’s friend Lucia.

” Jared glanced at Cyn. The two of them didn’t get along well, but played nice for Raphael’s sake. “Shall I check it out?” he asked Raphael. “No, you’ll stay with me. Juro will accompany Cyn and Elke. Before the night is over, we’ll know if this is a threat or not. It may be a simple misunderstanding.” “But you don’t think so,” Cyn commented, stepping closer and resting her hand on his chest. “No.” Cyn nodded again.

“Okay. Then we’ll handle it.” “Follow Juro’s lead in this, my Cyn.” “Of course,” she assured him, but he knew her too well for her breezy words to be reassuring. “You will humor me in this,” he said darkly. Cyn rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll let the big guy call the shots. If he’s not too busy flirting with Luci,” she couldn’t help adding with a wicked grin. Raphael’s eyes closed briefly.

“Perhaps I should cancel my meeting and go with you myself.” Cyn blew out an exasperated breath. “Relax, fang boy. I promise to behave, okay? Besides, I’m not exactly helpless, you know.” “All too well, my Cyn. Juro?” he said, turning to face the huge Japanese vampire. “You know what to do.” Juro nodded silently, which had Cyn giving him a narrow look. How come he knew what to do and she didn’t? “Juro will brief you on the way over, lubimaya,” Raphael murmured, correctly interpreting her look. “Now kiss me good-bye.

The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll return from our separate ventures.” Cyn rose up on her toes to give him a lingering kiss, not caring that half of his security team was watching, and knowing that he wouldn’t care either. One of the many things she loved about Raphael was how open and obvious he was in his love for her, as if sensing she needed that kind of reassurance. And it worked. “Come home soon, babe,” she whispered against his mouth. He cupped her jaw in his big hand and touched his lips to hers in a sensuous caress. “Stay safe, lubimaya.” And then he was gone, sliding into the dark interior of the waiting limousine. Cyn waited until the limo was out of sight then rattled her keys in Juro’s direction. “Are we taking mine, or do you want something bigger?” she asked him.

Her regular ride was a good-sized Range Rover, but she knew Juro preferred the bigger SUVs that Raphael sometimes traveled in. They had been modified with security in mind, their black-tinted windows bullet-proofed and every inch of the exterior armored, including the undercarriage. Juro flashed his own set of keys with a droll look on his face that passed for amusement. “We’ll take mine,” he told her predictably. “Are we going somewhere?” Elke asked, joining them on the steps. She was dressed in her usual workout gear and looked distinctly unhappy at the apparent change of plans. “Luci’s,” Cyn provided. “She may have a vamp spy on her hands.” Elke gave her a narrow look. “Is this just your way of getting out of a workout?” “Not this time,” Cyn said somberly.

“The threat is real enough that Raphael’s sending Juro along with us.” Elke’s pale eyes widened in surprise as she stared at Juro, a questioning look on her face. After all, as Raphael’s security chief, Juro was her direct superior in the pecking order. “What happened?” she asked. “We can discuss it in the car,” Juro rumbled. “Lucia is alone with a strange vampire.” A warm glow sparked in Cyn’s heart at this evidence of Juro’s feelings for Luci. She loved them both and especially loved the idea of her two friends finding happiness with each other. “We’re taking the Expedition,” Juro said, as if there’d ever been any doubt. Not that Cyn cared.

In fact, if there really was an enemy vamp waiting for them at Luci’s, she’d rather have the more secure vehicle at hand. Not to mention the giant vampire. “Let’s go then, big guy. Luci’s waiting,” she added, giving him a wink. He didn’t react to her teasing. Not a blush, not a twitch. “You’re no fun,” Cyn growled. He gave her a Mona Lisa smile then turned to walk toward the SUV with an athletic grace that belied the sheer size of him. Cyn and Elke followed, the latter, grumbling about going off to confront an enemy vamp while wearing workout clothes. Cyn tuned her out.

Elke was just pissed because she thought her uniform suit made her look more intimidating. With her short, white blond hair and relatively small stature, Elke was too often dismissed as a threat. But that could be handy sometimes. Still, Elke felt it interfered with her ability to do her job as Cyn’s bodyguard effectively. Cyn could have told her that wasn’t true. Elke gave off such a strong don’t-fuck-with-me vibe that she didn’t need a mannish charcoal suit to make her point. Juro was in a less charitable mood than Cyn, however. He gave Elke a single quelling glance and she shut up. Because that same don’t-fuck-with-me vibe of Elke’s was amped up about a thousand times coming from Juro. Cyn bit back a smile as she settled in for the trip to Luci’s.

The drive from Raphael’s Malibu estate to Luci’s place in West L.A. took longer than it should have. But then, any time you climbed into a car in L.A., you entered the great lottery of traffic jams. One day a ten mile trip could take ten minutes. The next, the same journey could take an hour. Today was in between, but by the time they finally arrived at Jessica’s House, the shelter for runaway teens that Luci and Cyn had founded several years ago, Cyn’s anxiety had skyrocketed. Luci was a very competent woman.

She dealt every day and night with a bunch of rowdy, unhappy and maladjusted teenagers, and she did it without blinking. If this new guy was worrying her, then there was a reason to worry. Juro pulled up in front of the house, his eyes on the entrance as he drew to a stop. Cyn followed his gaze but saw nothing other than a few teens slipping out the front door with wary glances in the direction of the big, black vehicle at the curb. There didn’t seem to be anything about the house that warranted the kind of intense scrutiny Juro was giving it, but then he was a difficult guy to read. His default facial expression was a carefully cultivated blank. He and Cyn got along fairly well, and she’d known him to crack a tiny smile on occasion, but that wasn’t what she was seeing there now. “Juro?” she asked. “Lucia is right,” he murmured, his voice so deep that it was little more than a rumble of sound. Cyn opened her mouth to ask what he meant, but he was already out of the vehicle and striding up the walkway, taking the four steps to the front porch in a single, graceful bound and pulling the screen door open.

“Who the fuck put a burr up his ass?” Elke muttered as she slid out of the truck, but her feet no sooner hit the grass than she was snapping out an arm to stop Cyn from following Juro into the house. Or at least she tried to. “Fuck that, Elke,” Cyn said, slipping around her bodyguard. “I’m going in there.” “Of course you are,” Elke agreed, rolling her eyes. “Why do I even bother?” “Enough with the long-suffering bullshit,” Cyn said as she climbed to the porch and yanked the door open. “You live for this stuff. Before I showed up, you were bored to tears guarding Raphael’s front door from all those threatening bimbos.” “Yeah—” Elke snorted, “—now I only need to worry about the one.” Cyn gasped in feigned outrage.

“Are you calling me a bimbo?” “If the shoe fits, sugar. Everything here looks—” Elke’s words cut off as she put on a burst of vampire speed to get ahead of Cyn, then stopped so suddenly that Cyn nearly ran into her. Any shred of playfulness disappeared as Elke blocked Cyn from moving any farther into the house, her entire body stiffening into readiness like an immoveable stone statue, her fangs emerging from her gums in an unmistakable display of aggression. Cyn didn’t try to get past her, but she did take a step to one side so that the weapon she drew would hit the bad guy and not Elke. Her eyes were on Juro as he moved purposefully down the short hallway to the back of the house where Luci was engaged in earnest conversation with a teenaged boy. He was taller than she was, slender, with dark scruffy hair, and wore battered jeans and a Tshirt, along with a pair of athletic shoes that stood out not only because they looked too new, but because they were a recent and highly coveted design. On runaway kids, it was a red flag that the shoes had probably been stolen. He was also standing too close to Luci, looming over her and invading her space with clear intent, if not to intimidate, then at least to establish dominance in the conversation. But Luci dealt with young men like him all the time, treating them with compassion and a real affection that the teens inevitably warmed to. For all this kid’s aggressive posturing, he was just another unhappy teenager, and Cyn didn’t understand Elke’s extreme reaction.

At least not until she saw Juro insert himself between Luci and the boy. Without a word, Juro reached one huge arm behind him and tucked Luci into a protective curl against his back. Normally, that proof of the big guy’s affection would have been enough to catch Cyn’s attention, but not today. She was too focused on the threatening glare that Juro was directing at the teenager, who Cyn abruptly realized wasn’t a teenager at all. He was a vampire, and he was the reason they were all here. “Elke?” Cyn whispered. “Do you know him?” Elke shook her head sharply. “But Juro doesn’t like him, and that’s good enough for me.” “Who are you?” Juro’s deep voice rumbled. “And why are you here?” “My lord,” the newcomer said smoothly, “forgive me.

It was not my intention to disturb anyone as exalted as yourself.” When Juro didn’t react to the blatant flattery, the strange vamp gave a longsuffering sigh. “My name is Pascal, and I’ve come from Chicago,” he offered grudgingly. “Nothing against Aden, but he does carry a grudge, and he’s none too welcoming for those of us who worked for Klemens. I thought I’d try my luck out here. I’ve nothing but respect for Raphael.” Cyn frowned. Aden was the new Lord of the Midwest. He’d defeated, aka killed, all other challengers after the former lord Klemens’s unlamented death. Klemens had been an asshole of the worst sort, so she could understand why Aden wouldn’t want any of Klemens’s old henchmen working for him.

“You’ve a strange way of showing your respect—lurking among teenagers, threatening friends,” Juro said, not making any attempt to conceal his distrust. The intruder shrugged, the simple gesture demonstrating an otherworldly grace that Cyn had only seen with vampires. She chastised herself for missing the obvious. She shouldn’t need Juro or anyone else to identify a vampire for her. Cyn lived with vampires. She knew the little things to look for, the unmistakable signs. That she’d missed this guy told her she was getting too complacent, too reliant on her vampire bodyguards. And that was never a good thing. “I meant no harm to anyone,” the vamp was saying. “But I wasn’t certain of my welcome.

I’d heard on the street that vampires hung around this house, so I did what we’ve always done to survive. I blended, hiding in plain sight until I could figure out a way to contact Raphael without getting summarily executed.” His words practically reeked of sincerity, but there was something not quite right about it, about him. He was a little too sincere, a little too intense, as if he was trying a little too hard. “If you want to live beyond the next two minutes, you’ll stop that,” Juro growled. The other vampire laughed skittishly. “Can’t blame a vamp for trying.” Juro didn’t respond, but the exchange caught Cyn’s attention. Had this guy tried to use his vampire-given abilities to manipulate Juro? What an idiot. “I’m a little thrown by the four-alarm response is all,” the vamp continued, twitching nervously and unwisely in Cyn’s opinion.

“Rumor has it that Miss Luci there is a friend of Raphael’s mate.” He gave Cyn a sly glance that told her he knew who she was, even though no one seemed to know him. “But all of this fuss over … Oh,” he said, his eyes widening in exaggerated surprise as he took in Juro’s protective posture. “It’s the lovely Luci herself, isn’t it? Is she yours?” Juro regarded the smaller vampire through half-lidded eyes that had taken on the golden glow of his power, even as he tightened his arm around Luci. Cyn couldn’t help noticing that her friend appeared quite comfortable cuddled up against the Japanese vampire’s broad back, and she decided that she and Luci were definitely going have a talk later . after they swept up the dust of this interloper who was clearly too stupid to live. “Don’t worry about Lucia,” Juro rumbled, his voice filled with more menace that Cyn could remember ever having heard from him before. “No offense intended,” the vampire muttered, his gaze shifting to take in Cyn and Elke. “Ms. Leighton?” he asked, staring at Cyn.

Elke immediately shifted to place herself more directly in front of Cyn. Cyn studied the new guy briefly then deliberately slid her weapon back into its shoulder holster. “I’m Cynthia Leighton,” she confirmed. “Who’re you?” She permitted nothing but polite curiosity to shade her words. The first rule of dealing with vamps was never to let them know, or even think, that you were intimidated by them. “Raphael’s mate,” the vampire whispered. “I’m honored, my lady.” “Don’t be,” Cyn cautioned him dryly. “I’m here for Luci, not you.” He gave a delighted laugh and started toward her, only to be thwarted by both Juro and Elke.

The vamp blew out an exasperated breath. “All right, all right,” he muttered, raising both hands in surrender. “How do I petition Lord Raphael, then?” “You can ride with us,” Cyn offered on a whim. Most vampires went out of their way to avoid meeting Raphael, preferring to deal with intermediaries like Juro. But not this guy. He clearly had a hidden agenda, and she figured the best way to blow it into the open was to call his bluff. See what scuttled out. It wasn’t like he was any kind of a threat, not to Raphael anyway. And sure as hell not by the time he got through all of the screening Juro would subject him to first. Elke and Juro obviously didn’t agree with her thinking, however, as both of them shot her deadly glares.

“What?” she demanded. “He’s got to talk to Raphael and we’re going there.” Elke only glared harder, but Juro studied her briefly and then let the bare curl of a knowing smile move his lips. Then, being a man of few words, he simply nodded once in assent. “Thank you, my lady!” the newcomer enthused, then turned to face Luci, leaning sideways to see her behind Juro. “Miss Luci, your hospitality has been unparalleled,” he said and reached for her hand, stopping abruptly when Juro growled a wordless warning. The vamp settled instead for a short bow, then headed for the front door, giving Cyn a cheerful wink when Elke backed her out of the way. The vamp exited first, with Cyn and Elke following. Cyn glanced back for Juro just in time to see him run a big hand down the length of Luci’s long hair then bend over and drop a soft kiss on her lips. Cyn smiled.

These were two of her favorite people; how could she not enjoy seeing them together? She was still smiling when Juro joined them, his dark gaze narrowing at her in an unspoken warning. Cyn swallowed her laugh, her eyes going wide with the effort. Which only made Juro glare even harder. “Elke—” he growled, without looking away from Cyn, “—you and Cynthia sit in back. Our visitor will ride up front with me.” Elke nodded once then turned to Cyn. “You’re behind Juro,” she ordered. She was in full bodyguard mode, so Cyn obeyed without question, sliding across the seat. She was grateful for the size of the big SUV, because Juro had the seat pushed all the way back to accommodate his considerable length. And at six feet tall herself, Cyn needed the leg room too.

Elke climbed into the back seat next to her, pulling the door closed as Cyn fastened her seatbelt securely. She was the only one to do so. She’d never seen a vampire who bothered with it. The trip back to Malibu was thankfully short. Juro wove in and out of traffic like an Indy race car driver and didn’t say a word. Their visitor, on the other hand, never shut up. He kept up a continuous stream of chatter, half of it meaningless observations about Malibu, its houses, the ocean, and the other half sly digs at Juro, as if he wanted the big vampire to snap and attack him. Cyn watched all of this curiously, taking in not only what the vamp was saying, but what he wasn’t. For a guy who claimed to be seeking a new home in Raphael’s territory, he didn’t ask a single question about life under Raphael’s rule, or even about Raphael himself. He also didn’t show the slightest nervousness about going before Raphael to petition for residence in the West, even though earlier he’d claimed to be afraid Raphael would execute him before he could plead his case.

Cyn was also getting a creeping sense that, despite every word he spoke being aimed at Juro, she was the true target. It was almost as if his words were a cover for what he was really doing: that while he chattered away, he was working some other magic aimed at Cyn. Maybe it was because she was the only human, because he’d tried something on Juro earlier and had been shut down. Or maybe he was specifically targeting her for some reason. But whatever his game was, it was constant and unrelenting. Her fingers itched with the urge to grab her weapon and shoot the asshole just to stop whatever the hell he was doing. It was only the certain knowledge that Raphael would want to talk to him that stopped her. But frankly, Raphael or not, if this fucker didn’t shut up soon, she was going to shoot him anyway. PASCAL SAT IN the front seat of the giant SUV, his mouth spewing a free flow of inane chatter while his brain worked on the problem at hand. Fucking Juro.

That had been unexpected. Pascal had been thorough in his research for this assignment, reading everything he could find on the vampires who constituted Raphael’s inner circle. There wasn’t that much out there because first, Raphael’s vamps were loyal to a fault and refused to gossip about him. But also because, for the most part, the vamps closest to Raphael had all been sired by him and had remained at his side from the moment of their rebirth. Raphael’s lieutenant, Jared, was the only exception. Although he, too, had been sired by Raphael, he’d become Raphael’s man on the scene, traveling all over the West, wherever he was needed. And because of that, Pascal had been able to learn a little bit more about Jared. But Juro . Juro had been at Raphael’s side since he’d been turned, and no one was even sure when that was. He was one seriously badass motherfucker, almost as famous as Raphael, and known for his unflinching loyalty, as well as his power and skill as a warrior.

He was also the very last vampire Pascal would have chosen to tangle with.

.

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