COAL

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Not Conducive

***Earlier in the day***

Ryder

It hadn’t been a surprise. The only way Aatos agreed to discuss our request was if we met in person and if I accompanied Coal. Coal didn’t like the terms. He didn’t want me anywhere near Aatos, but I’d agreed. Now was not the time for a power-play. Not when Brinley’s life was at stake. And at this point, I worried the vampires would be her only chance of survival if Coal failed to kill our father.

It had taken us three hours to reach the vampire’s location. And now, here we were, back at the hotel. I shivered at the memory of what occurred earlier. We made our way silently up to room 311. We didn’t even have to knock before the door swung open. The female vamp’s blue eyes glittered mischievously. “We didn’t expect to see you back again so quickly.”

Neither Coal nor I responded.

“Savvy,” a deep male voice chastised her, a touch of annoyance in his tone, but also his signature smirk. “Get the hell out of the way and let them in.”

Savannah swiveled her head, raven curls bouncing, as she turned to look at him. With a snort, she faced us again, extending her hand into the room with an exaggerated welcome. “Please do come in.”

I purposefully did not sit in the same location as I had earlier, instead, preferring to settle into one of the armchairs. If Aatos noticed, he didn’t say anything; however, I saw his lip twitch so suspected he knew exactly what I was doing. Oh well, I wouldn’t worry about it now. We weren’t here to relive the moments from earlier.

When we were both seated, Aatos looked at Coal. “So tell me about this little shewolf of yours. I’m highly intrigued to hear how she may need our help.”

Coal’s expression was hard, the veins protruding from his neck as he ground out, “Alpha is not…fond of her.”

Well, that was the understatement of the century. Aatos seemed to recognize it as well because he remained silent and waited for Coal to continue.

“There may be a time…coming soon…when Alpha decides to either try to kill her…or turn her rogue. She’ll have to run and will need protection.”

Aatos raised an eyebrow. “Surely you know of someone of your own kind she could seek shelter with?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I offered.

Aatos’ dark, penetrating gaze turned to me again. For a moment, I was lost in their swirling azure depths, a startling contrast to his nearly black hair and tanned complexion. I blinked and then coughed, trying to cover my moment of silence and get myself back on track. Again, Aatos’ lip twitched.

I explained quietly, “When an Alpha turns a wolf rogue—cutting their tie to the pack—every other wolf, regardless of relation, will feel compelled to kill the rogue. It doesn’t matter if it is a mate or a mother or a brother, the compulsion is too strong to resist. Brinley would be a target for everyone our kind.”

“I see,” Aatos spoke slowly, all traces of humor gone from his face. He rubbed a hand over the neatly trimmed stubble on his chin and glanced back to Coal. “Why now? Why do you feel this conflict is imminent? Is there no way for you to protect her? I gathered from our short conversation she was your mate.”

“The details are not relevant,” Coal replied coolly. “If you are willing to do this, in return, I will personally ensure you’re safe meeting with Alpha.”

“Provided, he’s still alive by that point, I gather?” Aatos remarked intuitively. “It’s rather counterproductive to my task if you kill him first.”

Coal didn’t deny the truth of his words. A muscle twitched in his jaw. “Your meeting will need to be within the next day or two.”

Aatos was silent for a moment or two as he contemplated and then spoke carefully, “My kingdom is not conducive for human…let alone a Wolf.”

I was utterly taken aback by his words.

“What do you mean by that?” Coal growled.

“Our laws are different…than what you may be used to,” Aatos hedged.

I was starting to get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Why is it not conducive to humans and wolves?”

Aatos maintained eye contact with me. “Humans are considered pets…with no rights. They require a master or mistress for protection.”

“Pets,” I repeated under my breath, remembering he’d called me pet a few times. “Do you own pets?”

“Several.” His gaze was unapologetic, unflinching.

“And what exactly do these pets do for you?”

His answer became evasive for the first time. “Many things.”

What did he not want to tell me? What did he not want me to know?

I could just imagine…

“And wolves?” I asked evenly.

“As you can imagine, they are rare and highly sought after, particularly female.”

Coal was nearly vibrating with aggression. “Why?”

“It’s not so much their human side but the Wolf that is considered the trophy to have,” Aatos stated, watching my expression carefully.

“Trophy to have,” I repeated flatly. Well, that just about explained everything. Aatos’ interest in me was much clearer now, I thought bitterly. How foolish, I was, to even consider anything more.

Coal was on his feet and headed toward the door. “We’re done here.”

“Wait!” Aatos called to him.

I was shocked that Coal even slowed down, let alone stopped and spun around. The black orbs of his Wolf glowed in his eyes.

Aatos said calmly, “I said my kingdom wasn’t conducive, however, there is another. Queen Raine. Her kingdom is different than mine. She has different laws governing their pets. I don’t know her regulation on wolves. However, I do know her. She’s kind-hearted and fair. Your female would be safe in her kingdom.”

I stared at him with cold eyes. Apparently, not every vampire kingdom was consumed with bastard vampires such as himself.

Whether or not he could read the anger radiating off of me, Aatos spoke even more smoothly, “I am certain my king could convince Queen Raine to take your little Wolf…on the condition that you agree to return with me.”

Fierce growls reverberated from Coal’s chest. His body shimmered as he fought the shift. Now I was on my feet and spat, “Fuck that…and fuck you!”

Instantly, Aatos was right in front of me, moving so fast I didn’t even see him get up and cross the room. He held tightly to one of my biceps, his tone low and urgent, “Listen to me! I know it would be an adjustment for you. All I’m asking is that you return with me to see for yourself…and then make a decision whether or not you wanted to stay.”

I had no idea what to say. I didn’t want to see his kingdom. I didn’t want to know what he did to his pets…or what he planned to do to his trophy Wolf.

His other hand came up to my neck. When his fingers stroked the flesh of his mark, fire shot through me, leaving me breathless. My chest heaved with the sudden adrenaline. I stared at him with wide eyes, shocked at my own physical response. What had he done to me when he marked me?

He said softly, “You’re different. You know you are.”

I pulled out of his grip and snarled, “I’m not going to be anyone’s fucking trophy Wolf!”

“It wouldn’t be like that,” Aatos said even more firmly. “You asked me questions. I gave you honest answers. I won’t lie to you. That’s why I’m asking for you to come and see for yourself.”

“Do you have sex with these pets?” I hissed.

A muscle in his jaw twitched. His eyes never left mine. “Yes.”

“You said they have no rights…is that correct?”

He just nodded.

“So, they don’t have the right to tell you no…do they?”

His eyes were hard. “No, they do not…however they are quite docile now. Pleasing me is not a bad existence for them. It could be much worse.”

Fuck!

This was all too much!

I spun around and paced five feet away before turning back, and advancing on him and spat, “They are quite docile…now? That’s what you said, right? So, that implies they were not docile before…they didn’t agree until you made them docile…is that right?”

His mouth was set in a hard line. “I told you our laws are different. My actions were quite within my legal rights.”

“Your legal rights,” I repeated incredulously. Did he even hear himself?

“And what exactly is your position in your kingdom?”

“I am the Head of the King’s Elite Forces.”

“Who’s above you?” I pressed, wanting to fully understand exactly who I was dealing with. “How does your hierarchy work?”

Aatos’ eyes flashed a warning. “No one is above me. There are councilmembers, but I report directly to the king.”

Oh, fuck.

Coal’s voice came in my head, “I’ll kill him. I’ll end his miserable existence…right now, brother!”

I turned toward Coal. Aatos followed my line of sight. Coal’s intent to kill was written all over his face. Hair sprang up on his arms, his shape trembling as he held mid-shift.

Aatos’ eyes opened just a little bit wider, his only tell that revealed he was concerned about the threat Coal presented. Posturing lowering, Aatos’ eyes flashing crimson to meet Coal head on.

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