COAL

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Who Are You?

Ryder

Coal had purposefully drawn the fight with Alpha away from where Brinley lay in the dirt, but now, as the additional wolves pressed in, Coal snaked his way to take up a defensive position in front of her.

Lips curled back, canines dripping with blood, on full display, fierce growl after growl reverberating from his chest, Coal radiated pure hatred toward the wolves that salivated for his blood.

And the Enforcers weren’t just hell-bent on his demise. No. Alpha had been clear…

…they were to take out all of us...me included.

So much for being his son, I thought bitterly.

Aatos and Savannah leaped to their feet as soon as I revealed Alpha’s orders. Now, they flanked either side of Coal, the three presenting a formidable force in front of Brinley and me. Savannah growled to Coal, “We’ve got your back, Wolf. We won’t let them get close to your mate or your brother.”

Coal’s Wolf grunted.

My Wolf quivered with anxiety and the need to fight. Coal was an exceptional fighter, particularly in defense of his mate, nothing motivated him more, and Aatos and Savannah were likely skilled in their own rights.

However, the odds were eleven against three…

I could help, but I was powerless, unable to shift in the handcuffs. I hissed to Aatos, “You need to set me free.”

“No,” he replied evenly without even looking in my direction.

I ground my teeth together, my jaw clicking. “I’m not just going to sit here and let them kill you!”

There was a beat of silence as Aatos’ dark liquid eyes flickered intently back to mine. He searched my gaze for the briefest of seconds, and then refocused on the threat in front of him, not disclosing the thoughts behind his azure orbs. He spoke over his shoulder, “I can’t help Brinley now. You need to do it for me. Keep her alive. Keep pressure on her wound.”

I didn’t like his answer. It was in my Wolf’s nature to fight, to protect. But I couldn’t deny his logic. He was right. Brinley needed me more than he did, more than Coal did. And truth be told, if he removed the handcuffs, I would probably attack Coal again. My free hand curled into a fist. I hated feeling like this, with a burning passion, I hated the way my body wanted to hurt my brother.

Abruptly, the time for discussion ended...

…because the wolves attacked!

A chorus of snarling and snapping teeth and claws surged forward. I was stunned when Aatos exploded into action, taking on several wolves at once. The muscles in his bare chest and arms contracted and released in a barrage of power as wolves came at him from all sides. He struck and spun with lightning speed, making contact each time, keeping them away from a kill bite to his neck, and keeping them away from Brinley and me, but unable to put them down as the wolves worked in tandem, doing what they did best—working as a team, as brothers.

Brothers…

The thought caused an empty pit in my stomach I’d never felt before. The connection I once felt was gone. I wasn’t rogue, not in the truest sense of the word, however, I felt no kinship. As far as my Wolf, and I were concerned they were no longer brothers of mine. My shoulders slumped forward. The loss was overwhelming.

My gaze focused on Coal. Blood trailed from several locations on his body, matting his fur. His Wolf was still going head-to-head with Alpha, but now he had two other wolves to contend with at the same time.

I was disgusted at their lack of honor. Abruptly, one of the wolves yelped, and then the sound cut off into a gurgle as Coal’s powerful jaws snapped his neck. The wolf went limp, all life gone from his body. Coal kept his canines impaled in the dead wolf and violently twisted his head, using the dead wolf’s body as a battering ram, smacking two of them away, before spitting the corpse to the ground, and attacking once again.

Suddenly, all of the hair stood up on the back of my neck and my arms. My nostrils flared, inhaling deeply. I didn’t need to turn around to know a vampire had emerged from the trees behind me!

Still, I swiveled my head around and had to work to keep my jaw from dropping. I thought Aatos was intimidating, but this vampire was...fuck, I wasn’t even sure the right words to use for him.

Huge, his thick chest bare, sinuous veins prominent against his bulging muscles, each one cut to perfection. He wore leather pants low on his hips, so low, he was in danger of popping right out of them. Black hair pulled back in dreadlocks that hung down his back. A tribal design tattooed on the left side of his face, extending from his cheek, above his eye, onto his forehead. But it was his eyes that caused a cold shiver to run down my spine. Pale silver, so light they almost looked white.

How was it possible? How was it possible this feral and deadly creature was Brinley’s father?

He radiated danger, a predator of unequaled magnitude—a beautiful destroyer. Shit, he made my father look like an alleycat in comparison.

The deadly vampire only gave me a cursory glance before dropping to his knees next to me, his eyes intent on Brinley’s limp and unconscious form. Without looking up, he spoke to Aatos, his tone dry, “You forgot to mention the wolf lynch mob when you called earlier.”

Aatos was still fighting off several wolves, his body moving fluidly, deadly and beautiful, but he replied as if he didn’t have a care in the world, ”Details, Sire. None of them will reach you.”

“Of that, I have no doubt.” The feral vampire next to me tilted his ear toward Brinley as if listening and then cursed, “Fuck!”

My anxiety overrode my intimidation, propelling me to speak, “What’s wrong? Can you save her?”

He shook his head, his jaw clenched.

No? I sat back stunned.

He didn’t think he could save her?

My brain refused to accept those words. For some reason, it never occurred to me that whoever he was, he wasn’t going to be able to save Brinley. The knot in my stomach grew. If Brinley died, it would destroy Coal. There was no way he’d survive that.

The vampire king shifted his position. His gleaming fangs extended—the sight of them causing me to hold my breath—as he bit into his wrist, opening the vein.

Pressing his arm tightly to Brinley’s mouth, he wrapped his other hand around her head to keep her in place. In her unconscious state, Brinley didn’t fight him. She appeared to be swallowing slowly.

I stared in confusion. If the vampire didn’t think he could save Brinley, then what was he doing giving her his blood?

He answered my unspoken question, his tone hard. ”She’s lost too much blood. Her heart has slowed past the point of saving her. Her only option left is for me to turn her.”

Turn her?

My heart felt like helicopter blades beating in my chest.

Surely, he couldn’t mean…

Never stopping his deadly dance with the attacking wolves, Aatos cursed, “Fuck! We don’t have a human.”

Trepidation crashed over me. “What do you need a human for?”

“Their blood,” the vampire answered evenly.

I couldn’t hold back my gasp. “All of it?”

He shook his head. “No, we’re not looking for a human sacrifice, just enough to complete her transition.”

I looked at Brinley, eyes closed, lips still pressed against the vampire’s wrist, periodically swallowing.

The vampire king’s words seemed to confirm my worst fear.

Turn her.

Transition…

I couldn’t ignore the obvious truth in front of me. He was giving her his blood, more than Aatos had given me...

I tried to keep my voice from shaking, “Are you turning her into a...a vamp—”

“If a human works to change a human,” Aatos interrupted my tumultuous thoughts. He spoke without looking in our direction, still focused on the fight all around him, “could we use a wolf to change another wolf?”

The vampire king ignored Aatos question. Instead, he met my gaze for the first time and answered evenly, “If there were another way, I wouldn’t take this choice from her. However, her only two options now are to die or become a vampire.”

His words tumbled over and over in my head.

There really was no other decision for me to make.

I blurted out, “Use me. Use my blood.” I had no idea exactly how the process worked, but it didn’t sound fatal to the blood donor.

Abruptly, Aatos growled, “Not him!”

One of the vampire king’s eyebrows went up. His piercing gaze traveled from my eyes down to the mark on my neck, lingering there. His nostrils flared, tasting the scents in the air.

Embarrassment flushed through me. No doubt he could smell Aatos’ remaining traces of release on me. But I didn’t look away. My Wolf wouldn’t allow it.

The vampire’s lips curled into a small smirk. He held my gaze, but spoke to Aatos, “Something you want to tell me, Aatos? Do you have a new pet?”

The reference to me as Aatos’ pet caused my Wolf to lurch into my eyes, growls furiously releasing from my chest.

Aatos ground out, “Oh, fuck. Please don’t use that term. He’s not particularly fond of the idea.”

My Wolf radiated aggression. King or not, I didn’t give a fuck who he was, I was nobody’s damn pet!

The vampire’s smirk grew. “I can see that.”

The bastard was enjoying this nonsense.

Aatos growled from the thick of the fight, “You see the mark. You know I don’t consider him a pet.”

The vampire king’s gaze traveled down even lower, resting on my handcuffed hands. He chuckled, deep and low, “Dare I ask why you have him handcuffed? Not that I don’t already have a good idea, but I must say this particular environment is a bit surprising.”

Oh, fuck, no. He did not just say that!

A deeper growl emerged from my chest. My lips curled back, flashing him my canines.

He didn’t react in the least. If anything, he appeared even more amused by my aggressive posturing.

“Son of a bitch,” Aatos cursed in annoyance under his breath. “Stop riling him the fuck up! He’s handcuffed to keep him from jumping on the big grey motherfucker again, who almost killed him earlier.”

Aatos words were punctuated as he thrust his fist straight into the chest cavity of one of the wolves, and jerked out his bloody heart. The wolf fell dead at his feet.

The moment was beginning to feel very surreal. Unconscious, Brinley still drank from the vampire king’s wrist while a battle of wolves surrounded us. The king’s expression was determined but relaxed in the midst of the chaos. Whatever he was doing to Brinley, he obviously felt confident it would work.

The vampire king’s eyes cut to the crowd, locating Coal, and then opened just slightly wider as they came back and reassessed me. I continued to hold his gaze defiantly.

The vampire nodded, almost in approval, and murmured, “He has fire in his belly. Not so easy to tame, eh?”

"Motherfucker,” Aatos again cursed under his breath. “Could we please focus on the task at han—?”

He didn’t get the words out before Brinley suddenly arched her back. Her eyes flew open, and she began to fight the vampire’s hold on her.

I stared in shock as Brinley writhed and bucked, muffled screams of agony ripping from her throat.

“What are you doing to her?!” I hissed and shifted my weight, trying to decide the best way to get her free from his grip without committing suicide in the process.

The dangerous vampire noticed my change in positioning. His eyes flashed glowing crimson, an unspoken, but hella clear warning for me not to follow through on whatever plan floated through my head.

I froze and stared at him with wide eyes. Sweat beaded on my neck and rolled down my back.

But I wasn’t the only one who’d heard her cry of pain...

Coal’s Wolf let out a thunderous roar, loud enough to shake the ground beneath us, and barreled in our direction, intent on taking out the vampire king at my side, who was causing his mate pain.

“Oh, fuck. He’s her mate!” Aatos called out in warning.

Aatos swerved to try to head Coal off, but the move wasn’t enough to stop Coal. In a shocking display of power and speed, Coal swiped one big paw across Aatos’ right shoulder, spinning him in the other direction.

I jumped to my feet, held out my handcuffed hands and yelled urgently, “Coal...No!”

But I could see from the expression in his eyes he wasn’t listening.

It didn’t help that Brinley’s cries increased. Now she was wailing and jerking against the vampire’s hold on her, tears streaming down her face, making paths through the dirt on her cheeks.

What the fuck was he doing to her?

Coal’s Wolf’s obsidian eyes flashed even blacker, his muscles coiled tight and ready to spring.

“STOP!” the vampire king’s voice dropped an octave, causing the air around us to vibrate with authority at his command.

It felt shockingly close to an Alpha command.

Coal stopped dead in his tracks, his massive body quivering with aggression, but he didn’t back down. It was as if he was waiting for an explanation before he decided whether or not to continue his attack.

The vampire gave it to him, fast and compelling, “She’s my daughter. I’m saving her, not hurting her!”

His declaration caused almost all of the wolves’ heads to snap in our direction. New anxiety fell over the group. It made me wonder how many of them knew who Brinley’s father was. And if they did, how incredibly stupid did they have to be to have treated her the way they did? My father had to be insane.

The vampire continued in a soothing tone, “Her pain is temporary. It will be gone in just another minute.”

As if to prove his point, instead of fighting, Brinley abruptly grabbed the vampire king’s arm with both hands, her claws digging into his flesh and greedily sucked his blood.

My stomach churned as I watched. I remember the taste of Aatos’ blood. It hadn’t been pleasant. However, Brinley’s expression left no doubt. She clearly enjoyed every drop.

Coal’s Wolf hesitated for just a blink, before turning back into the fray, swiping a big paw to free himself from another wolf who’d just jumped on his back. The wolf rolled off balance and Coal went in for the kill, his canines sinking into the wolf’s vulnerable underside and slashing out his intestines.

The vampire king smoothed Brinley’s hair from her face with his free hand and cooed, “That’s it, little wolf, take what you need.”

Brinley stared back at him in confusion, eyes wide, but didn’t let go.

He looked up at me. “In another moment, I’m going to take my arm away, and you will need to offer her yours. Do you understand?”

I gave a hard nod, butterflies exploding in my belly. I’d never willingly let a vampire feed on me before. From the crowd, Aatos growled his discontent, still not wanting me to be the blood donor. But at this point, I’d rather have her take blood from me than any of these disloyal wolves. I didn’t know if made any difference in her transition, but I wanted her to have the best shot possible, and there was no way Coal could stop and offer his own blood. Not to mention, he’d already lost a significant amount in the fight.

Time seemed to stand still as I waited. I wanted to understand all that I could. “Why was she screaming earlier?”

“Initially, my blood feels like fire going down her throat. But once it takes hold, there’s no more pain,” the vampire explained. He then repositioned himself, wrapping one leg around her bottom half. “It’s time. Are you ready?”

Tension rolled through me, but I forced my arm not to shake as I held it out. “Yeah.”

In one smooth move, he pulled her head away from his arm, her fangs slicing through his flesh. Instantly, Brinley fought him again, furious at the loss of his blood. The male kept her lower half contained with his legs and repositioned her head onto my arm.

Brinley bit down...hard. The pain was shocking but didn’t last long.

Once in place and contentedly suckling, the vampire king barked out, “Savannah, time to switch, my dear.”

Savannah’s head snapped around, her piercing gaze taking in the situation, and then she snaked to my side as he stood to his feet.

The big vampire’s lips curled into a broad smile, full of cruel anticipation...

…and then he leaped into the fray, landing close to Aatos.

He purred, “Let’s even these odds."


Coal

As soon as the massive vampire landed in the mix, tension rolled through all of the wolves. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that he was Brinley’s father. I didn’t trust him, but he’d healed her, so for now, I withheld judgment.

My Wolf was weary from the constant battle, every part of our body hurt. We’d held our own, but the numbers hadn’t been in our favor. We’d fought no less than two wolves, including Alpha, at a time, and usually, three, making it impossible to gain an edge. I never thought I would say it, but I was thankful Aatos and Savannah had joined in. There was no way I could’ve taken on eleven wolves including my father.

Now with the big vampire in play, I felt a discernible shift in the atmosphere. He was intimidating as fuck, to be sure. His body moved with incredible speed and grace, his power shocking.

He also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

The wolves gathered closer to Alpha, making him more difficult to get to. I wondered what orders he was giving them via mindlink. Frustration rolled through me.

But sooner than I expected, the tide began to turn. I still couldn’t get close to Alpha, but it was the strangest thing, the longer we fought side-by-side, the stronger connection I felt to vampire king and Aatos.

Even without a mindlink, the three of us moved in tandem, isolating targets, and picking them off one by one.

We’d already put down three wolves. That just left four and Alpha.

Two attacked the big vampire.

Deflecting one with his fist, the vampire tossed the other in the air toward us. My Wolf was ready. Leaping, he snatched the animal in midair, our powerful jaws clamping down as we landed. My Wolf shook his big head, reveling in the crack of bone that signaled the end of his prey’s life. The wolf dropped limp and dead at our feet.

My Wolf’s head came up, blood dripping from his jaws. His eyes locked with the big vampire. The vampire was covered in deep claw marks, blood rolling down his chest, and had a very large gash in his shoulder, but he grinned widely.

Laughter rumbled through my Wolf’s chest. He enjoyed the predator’s antics and his thirst for blood.

Abruptly, Alpha tried to capitalize on my Wolf’s distraction, his canines sinking into our flank. My Wolf roared angrily and jerked his body around.

Aatos was there in a heartbeat. He slammed into Alpha, wrapping both arms around him. The force of the impact knocked both of them down. They rolled in the dirt, a mass of fur and skin, Alpha gaining the upper hand when his canines tore into Aatos’ shoulder, dangerously close to his carotid artery. A few more inches and he would have been close enough to remove Aatos’ head from his shoulders.

An unending stream of snarls released from my Wolf’s throat as he worked to dislodge Alpha from Aatos, while at the same time, fighting off another wolf trying to roll him.

Aatos punched Alpha in the snout with his free hand, forcing Alpha to let go, but Alpha hadn’t opened his jaw. Instead, his canines ripped through Aatos shoulder, filleting open his flesh, revealing muscle and bone. Aatos growled loudly in pain.

My Wolf kept his eye trained on Alpha, still calculating how he could get to him, while he snatched the wolf currently trying to roll us, by the scruff of the neck and tossed him to the big vampire.

The vampire king caught him, slammed him to the ground, wrapped his big hands around the animal’s neck and with one hard twist, snapped his neck. The wolf’s body went slack.

Again our eyes met for a second of connection and agreement.

I looked around. There were only two wolves left in addition to Alpha. Aatos shoulder had almost healed. He was a little unsteady, but back on his feet. My Wolf’s attention zeroed in on Alpha.

I was stunned when he turned and ran into the forest!

Motherfucker! Now we were going to have to chase down the pussy before killing him. My Wolf took off, hot on his heels. We were done....it was time to end this.

Alpha made it about five hundred feet, before my Wolf’s entire body coiled and exploded, leaping forward, claws out and landed on Alpha’s back.

Alpha roared and spun around, his sharp teeth snapping and snarling.

We broke apart, but only for a second, before my Wolf struck fast and struck hard, his claws slicing along Alpha’s unprotected underbelly. Blood gushed to the forest floor. Alpha’s steps faltered. He swayed on his paws. His Wolf snapping viciously, trying to make contact, but the wound slowed down his response time. His neck was vulnerable.

My Wolf didn’t hesitate.

With a burst of energy, he roared as his jaws clamped down on Alpha’s neck, piercing through fur and muscle.

Alpha fell with my Wolf on top of him, our paws wrapped tightly around his shoulders, our claws impaled in his flesh. With one snap of his head, my Wolf tore out Alpha’s throat.

The fight was over...

Alpha was dead.

Finally!

My Wolf stood to his feet, trembling, as hundreds of living threads suddenly connected to him!

He felt them. All of them—the pack!

My heart stuttered painfully as searing warmth filled our chest. The surge of life within us was enough to cause my Wolf to stumble under the emotion of it.

For a moment, we were too overwhelmed to move, just panting heavily. But after another minute, there was only one place we wanted to be—Brinley!


Brinley

I couldn’t stop shaking.

A single phrase repeated in my head over and over…

I was a vampire now!!

Not just me, but my Wolf as well! Very much present and just as confused as I was.

What did this mean?

Savannah had gently removed Ryder’s arm from my teeth, and I stared, frozen, as the fight whirled in front of me.

Wolf after wolf fell as Coal, Aatos and another vampire, I didn’t recognize, fought viciously. Abruptly, Alpha took off into the woods with Coal hot on his heels. My heart raced in my chest as they disappeared.

Minutes ticked by…

Coal had still not returned. I wanted to reach out to him with my mind, but I was scared, not just for his life, but I honestly didn’t know...would he want me now? Now that I was a creature he hated. Tears pricked my eyes at the thought of his rejection.

Two other wolves remained, but they didn’t stand a chance against the two vampires. One fell, and then the other.

Abruptly, a powerful and strange new sensation filled my chest!

I had already felt connected to Coal as his mate, but now...this overwhelming feeling of belonging surged through me, tugging at my very heart.

He had done it!

Coal was Alpha!

Ryder gasped next to me and clutched a hand to his chest. His fingers trembled as he blinked back tears of happiness and profound relief.

Aatos and the strange vampire came to our side and crouched down, but I couldn’t focus on them. Anxiety rose up in me again, twice as strong. Would Coal’s new status as Alpha make it impossible for him to love a vampire mate? I didn’t have long to wait for the answer because suddenly his Wolf appeared from the trees.

Silence fell as the Wolf walked across the clearing, head and tail held high, his step regal and proud. I held my breath as he approached, my eyes wide, locked on his. My voice broke as I whispered, “Coal.”

He glanced at the group of people around me, a deep warning growl releasing from his chest. Apparently, they all understood his nonverbal communication, because each of them took a calculated step away from me, still silent.

When he reached my side, Coal’s Wolf’s nostrils flared, taking in my new scent—the vampire side of me.

I couldn’t stop trembling as his head came down to sniff along my flesh, starting at my shoulders and moving down to my hips before back up again, pausing to inhale deeply into my neck. I bit my lip as tears crested my eyelashes.

His voice, sweet as honey, murmured through our mindlink, “Shh, love...don’t cry. I’m here now.”

“Coal!” I couldn’t help the sob of relief and love for him that slipped from my lips. My fingers greedily wound through the fur on his neck.

He moved forward, nudging me with his big head until I lay back on the ground. And then he scooted forward, positioning his body right on top of mine, covering my naked form entirely with his fur, until only my head and arms were left sticking out.

I held on to him tightly as he nuzzled into my neck. I whispered my fears through our mindlink, “I’m a vampire now.”

“I know,” he communicated back, still keeping a tight hold on me.

“Do...do you still love me?” I tried not to cry.

A low rumble came through his chest, vibrating against my skin. His thoughts were fierce and absolute, “Always. Nothing will ever stop me from loving you.”

Warmth filled my belly to the point of bursting. For the first time ever, my Wolf and I were perfectly content, no longer afraid.

Coal felt the shift in my emotion. A hum of approval released from his throat. We stayed that way for several minutes...until I remembered we had an audience. I turned my head to the side. All three vampires and Ryder watched us intently.

“Um, Coal...” I spoke out loud and tried to sit up. “Maybe we should, um...”

But the big Wolf on top of me refused to move, objecting, “You’re not dressed.”

Oh! I had forgotten that little detail. I met Ryder’s gaze and muttered, “Do you have a shirt or something I can put on?”

“Oh, shit. Of course...no, wait, I don’t.” His brow furrowed.

Savannah interjected, “Hold tight...I’ll be right back.”

Less than a minute later, she returned and inched forward, keeping a wary eye on Coal’s Wolf, and held out a blanket to me.

Before he moved, Coal’s Wolf pointedly met the gazes of the three males, all of whom discreetly turned their heads while Coal lifted away from me, and Savannah wrapped the blanket around my shoulders. I pulled it tightly closed, feeling much better now that I was covered, as I sat up.

Coal’s Wolf sat right behind me, my back against his chest, both big paws on either side of my hips. My eyes met the piercing gaze of the unknown vampire.

He smiled and stepped forward, crouching down right in front of me.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

He grinned, flashing pearly white teeth.

“I am Marku, King of the Northern Territories...your father.”

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