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COAL

By EmelineRousselot All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Romance

Call Me Crazy

Ryder

The impressive architecture of Avondale Hotel loomed ahead of me. Renovated a decade ago, the 100-year-old farmhouse still maintained its country charm while delivering all of the luxury comforts and amenities its high-paying guests demanded. Inhaling deeply, I released the breath on a slow exhale.

It was official. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.

Call me crazy, but there was just something about the vampire that got under my skin.

Forcing one foot after the other, I eliminated the remaining distance to the double door grand entrance and grasped one of the intricate iron handles, giving it a turn. A burst of crisp air conditioning hit my flushed and overheated skin as I stepped inside, causing me to mutter a prayer of thanks for small reliefs. The last thing I wanted was to have telltale pit stains revealing my anxiety, when I met Aatos. Particularly when the cocky bastard always appeared cool as a cucumber.

The young lobby attendant glanced up from her station, and pushed her unruly brunette curls away from her face to get a better look at me. She made no comment as I passed by, but the scent of her arousal wafted into the air. Several weeks ago, I would have preened and gotten a kick out of her obvious admiration. Now, I ignored her intense scrutiny and continued toward the winding staircase.

I preferred the stairs. I was way too jittery to be comfortable inside the confined space of the elevator. Maintaining a deliberate pace so that I didn’t work up any more of a sweat then I already had, I treaded up the three flights. Unfortunately, the monotony of my ascent made room in my head for recurring anxieties to flare.

Had Aatos forced his way under my skin? Had he inflicted me with this churning emotion in my gut? During that chance meeting at the diner, when his fangs sank into my neck, had he redirected my life to take a path it never intended? The possibility existed. I’d never even considered a male before. I was perfectly happy with female attention. And even now, I hadn’t lost my affinity toward shewolves. They still struck me as curvy and warm and inviting. I still saw the appeal—the dominance and pleasure—of taking one for my own, but the idea of being dominated by him had taken hold in my brain and wouldn’t let go.

He claimed there was more to it than just his preference, his choice. He claimed he knew immediately we had an undeniable connection at that first bite. But he also had human male and female pets he indulged in sexually. They were his slaves. He’d taken their choices away, forcibly bent them to his will, and ensured their obedience. I wasn’t so naïve to believe he hadn’t used torturous means to mold them into what he wanted. He’d so much as admitted it himself.

I wasn’t okay with that.

And if his position on human pets wasn’t enough of a deterrent, I certainly didn’t belong in a world where werewolves were considered trophies, a goal to be achieved, and a prize to be won.

Reaching the top of the stairs, I turned off the freight train of unsettling thoughts. I didn’t have any answers and maybe that was why I was there—closure. A significant part of me felt undone, unfinished.

Maybe, that was why I was recklessly headed into very dangerous territory. Because that much was sure, Aatos was extremely dangerous—to others and to me. He’d left his mark on my body. It made me vulnerable to him. His touch drove me insane with desire. His bite was even worse.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t ignore the feeling. The compulsion to be near him—just one more time—was too great. As much as I wanted to make a clean break and walk away without looking back, I just couldn’t.

Not yet.

Yep, I was definitely crazy.

I made my way down the familiar hall toward a Room 311. When I reached the door, I stopped and inhaled deeply.

I could do this.

I didn’t need to run away with my tail between my legs. I could face him.

Just as I lifted my hand to knock, the door opened. The petite female vampire with raven-colored curls stood in the doorway. Crystal blue eyes assessed me with a knowing smirk. I fought back the blush that wanted to creep up my neck, and instead kept my head high, and my posture straight, hoping she would fall for my illusion of nonchalant confidence.

Her grin widened, revealing pearly white teeth—and visible fangs. I repressed a shudder.

She made a sweeping motion with her hand gesturing into the room. “Please do come in. I’m sure he’ll be pleasantly surprised to see you.” There was an unmistakable undertone of humor present in her melodic voice. Clearly, she was entertained by the situation.

Had I not been so anxious, I would have rolled my eyes.

Stepping inside, I found Aatos reclined in one of the chairs. As always, he looked perfectly delicious. Legs spread in a comfortable V, relaxed. He was in all leather, black military style pants and a black shirt that looked two sizes too small as it pulled tight across the wide expanse of his chest. It must have been a uniform of sorts as there were designation patches on the sleeve of his right arm. I wondered what they stood for.

Across from him sat Brinley’s father, the vampire King, Marku.

Instantly, my Wolf was on high alert, ears flat, and the hair along his spine rigid. There was just something about that vampire that screamed danger. It was tangible and oppressive in the air.

“Father, I’ll meet you in a few hours,” Savannah said, still standing in the open doorway.

I didn’t risk a glance back, and I ignored Aatos completely. All of my focus stayed locked on the vampire King.

When the door clicked shut, the ominous sound caused a disturbing image to flash through my brain—me, locked up, captive.

My heart raced. This was a mistake. I should never have come. I took a step back, wishing the door was still open. If I could just make it out the door, then...

“Stay,” Aatos said, halting my progress. His instruction was spoken softly, but there was undeniable authority in his tone.

I froze. But still didn’t look at him. My attention remained locked on the much more dangerous predator in the room. I fought the adrenaline riddled fight-or-flight response that warred inside of me.

Marku’s lips curled up. No doubt he understood my body language for what it was. But I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed to be so wary. It was just sensible. Anyone would have to be insane not to keep their eyes on a predator of his caliber.

“I don’t think your pet likes me very much,” he said, his tone a casual drawl.

Aatos’ teeth ground together. “Don’t call him that.”

The vampire King was completely unfazed by Aatos’ irritation. He appeared even more entertained then his daughter had been.

“Please...” Aatos interrupted the visual standoff between me and his King, and motioned toward the available couch. “Sit down.”

My glance cut back to him, but I still kept my eye on Marku from my peripheral vision. My Wolf was equally unsettled, and studied them, making the final decision whether we would stay or go.

Aatos and Marku were both silent, waiting for my next move.

After a long moment, my Wolf agreed to stay. I walked stiffly over to the couch and sat down. The bizarre reality of the situation washed over me. A few months ago, I never would have imagined purposefully walking into a room and hanging out with two vampires, let alone one of them being a vampire King. Maybe I wasn’t just crazy, maybe I had a death wish.

“I trust your brother and my daughter made it back safely?” Marku asked. His lips held amusement, but his eyes bore into me.

Spine straight, I nodded. “Yes, they informed the pack of the meeting this evening before taking some time for themselves.”

Tonight was going to be a hell of a meeting. Everyone in the packhouse was still stunned by the turn of events. I hadn’t stuck around to answer any questions, preferring instead to get dressed and leave as soon as possible.

The vampire King shifted forward.

Great. As if he wasn’t already intimidating enough.

“Tell me about her.”

I hadn’t expected his inquiry. Maybe I should have. My hand curled around the arm of the couch. My glance flickered to Aatos. He gave an almost imperceptible nod, encouraging me to answer. I wasn’t sure what Marku was looking for, but I had no intention of just spouting off at the mouth. I replied carefully, “What would you like to know?”

Marku gave me a slow nod, continuing to assess me with those crystal ice eyes. I’d never seen such pale eyes before. I shifted uncomfortably, feeling like I needed to say something just to eliminate the awkward silence, but I resisted the urge.

His features darkened and his humor fell away completely. “Tell me why your brother was searching for an escape outlet for her.”

Oh, shit. Apparently, he was done beating around the bush. Aatos must have told him about our earlier request. I considered the best way to respond. I didn’t want to share the full graphic truth without having Coal and Brinley by my side. I had no idea how much Brinley planned to share, and Marku was a wildcard. I didn’t know what to expect and worried about his reaction. I’d seen the vampire fight. He tore through the wolves like they were just nuisance pups in his way—grinning wickedly the entire time. He was a bloodthirsty motherfucker.

But I had to tell him something. I wasn’t going to be able to get away with declining to answer, that much was clear. I drew in a breath and spoke slowly, “She was at risk...from Alpha.”

His features darkened even more. A muscle in his jaw twitched. “Why was she at risk?”

“I don’t know...what his reasoning was,” I answered honestly. I’d never known what my father’s problem with Brinley was. “Coal needed an exit strategy for her if Alpha turned her rogue and we couldn’t protect her.”

The big vampire didn’t move as he processed my words. Another slow minute went by.

Unexpectedly, he stood to his feet. On instinct, I stood to mine as well. I wouldn’t be caught sitting down if there was going to be a physical confrontation. My heart raced, my Wolf close to forcing me to shift. Aatos was also on his feet in an instant. He made his way to my side just as Marku stepped in the opposite direction. He murmured softly, ”Easy...he’s just leaving.”

I didn’t relax until Marku opened the door and left. Then, my shoulders dropped as the tension fell away. I looked down to find Aatos’ hand wrapped around my forearm, his fingers squeezing in reassurance. I brought my gaze up, startled by the glowing intensity in his deep blue eyes. His voice was low and gruff, “You’re here. After our last conversation, I didn’t think I would see you before tonight.”

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. His closeness messed with my head. I swallowed. “Yeah, it was a...last-minute decision.”

“I’m glad.” He smiled, his hand rubbing my arm gently before stepping away.

I watched him walk across the room, surprised to find I missed his closeness. Reaching a small kitchenette, he called over his shoulder, “Would you like some wine? Or we have beer.”

“Um...a beer would be great, thanks.”

He opened a pint-sized refrigerator and pulled out two beers, the sound of glass clinking together as he held them both in one hand. Walking back to me, a quick flick of his wrist had the first bottle open. He held it out. I accepted it gratefully, and sank back down to the couch, turning the bottle up. The cool liquid felt good as it trailed down my throat helping to soothe my frazzled nerves.

Aatos resumed sitting as well, opened his beer and took a swig. Arm resting on the edge of the chair, he eyed me as he gently rotated his wrist, swirling the drink absentmindedly. His eyes danced. “We didn’t know the exact timing your brother wanted us to return...given that the hour seemed to fluctuate frequently between him and his mate.” Guess he caught on to Coal’s afternoon plans for Brinley as well.

My heartbeat increased. The topic of sex, even though not explicitly spoken, charged the air with electricity. Aatos let the silence expand, content to throw the ball in my court has he waited for my response, his smirk growing wider as the seconds ticked by. He knew what he was doing. He had thrown out an unspoken challenge.

He was teasing me, bringing up the subject of sex. He wanted to see if I was brave enough to engage directly in the topic with him, or would I back down and move the conversation in a ‘safer’ direction. Frankly, he won no matter which option I chose. If I engaged, he’d undoubtedly enjoy any conversation about sex, and I could be entering dangerous territory, potentially putting us on the fast-track toward something I wasn’t sure I was ready for. But if I backed down, it would only reaffirm his dominance in the room. His dominance over me. Fucker.

I took another drink, trying to cool my increasingly heated skin.

I had no intention of letting him get the best of me. Two could play this game.

I pulled my shit together.

If he wanted to play...we’d play...

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