COAL

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Madman

Coal

I walked away from Brinley in the woods. There wasn’t anything else I could say. Shoulders hunched forward and footsteps heavy, I trudged back to the house.

My thoughts tumbled over and over with the story of her assault. I’d demanded details, and she’d given them to me, not holding back. It was what I’d asked for, but now the images of what that bastard did to her, rolled through my mind on repeat.

I entered my room and slammed the door shut, the hinges shuddering with force. I needed to take a shower, and then I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. My Wolf was equally on edge, pacing back and forth in my mind, growling his desire to hunt. We both wanted to taste the coward’s blood.

Making my way into the bathroom, I stepped into the shower and let the liquid rain down on my flesh. The water was cold. There was no other option. I scowled.

My horndog of a wolf just hadn’t been able to contain himself, licking the heat between her legs. Between the scent of her arousal and tasting her delectable flesh, a riot of explosive emotions and desires had gone off in my head.

Those were two things I should never have known. The scent of Brinley’s desire and the taste of her sweetness on my tongue was going to turn me into a madman.

The beast smirked and strutted around in my head, chest puffed out, completely unapologetic, pleased that our mate had responded to him.

I let out a growl of frustration, which he ignored.

When I finished, I stepped out of the shower and dried off quickly.

Sitting still was not an option. The walls felt too close. I was suffocating. Jerking on a t-shirt, pants, and boots, I stomped down the stairs.

Ryder was in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a bowl of cereal, wolfing it down. The box of cereal and carton of milk remained next to him so that he could refill the dish faster than having to get up again. I wondered how many servings he was going on.

Walking past him, I jerked open the refrigerator door and yanked out a beer. With a quick flick of my rest, the cap popped free. I turned it up and emptied half of it.

Ryder interrupted my angry silence, speaking around the cereal in his mouth. “The hell’s up with you?”

There was no suitable answer to his question, so I just growled and tipped the beer back again.

He stopped eating and sat back. “Dude,” his voice deepened forcefully. “It wasn’t a bullshit question. I really want to know what’s going on.”

What could I tell him? Nothing.

“Don’t worry about it,” I snarled.

He ignored my lousy attitude. “I do worry about it.”

I walked back to the fridge and shuffled some items around, grumbling, “Don’t we have anything stronger in here?”

Sadly, the answer was no. I couldn’t find any alcohol stronger than beer, and it would take a hell of a lot of beer to get me to where I wanted to go tonight. I slammed the door shut.

Ryder studied me silently, his eyes way more knowledgeable for an eighteen-year-old. After a moment, he stood up and put away his cereal and milk. He pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, twirled them on his finger and said, “Let’s go.”

My head snapped up to look at him.

His mouth was tight, his muscles tense. “Obviously, something is going on. Now, let’s get the fuck out of here.”

I didn’t argue. I needed to get away from this place. I followed Ryder out silently and almost cracked a smile when he decided to get into the driver’s side of my truck instead of his own. At this point, I didn’t care and slid into the passenger seat, letting him drive. I would need a sober driver by the time the night was over if everything went according to plan.

The night was dense, clouds blocking out the light of the moon and stars. He didn’t speak, just continued to drive for forty-five minutes until we pulled up to a rundown human bar.

Once again, I didn’t argue. Ryder’s choice of location was exactly what I wanted. He followed next to me as we walked into the smoke-filled establishment, making our way to the bar. I ordered whiskey after he ordered a beer.

The bartender didn’t even glance twice at him before he moved to fill our orders. Ryder was only eighteen but looked older, solidly built with a broad chest and thick forearms, our years of training to thank for his mature physique.

Once we received our drinks, we made our way to a small booth in the corner. It wasn’t until we sat down and I’d taken a very liberal swig of mine that he started, “Now, what’s going on with you?”

I shook my head, my face twisted into a grimace. I still didn’t have an answer for him, not one that I could share anyway. He tapped his fingers against the side of his bottle and murmured thoughtfully, “It’s about Brinley, isn’t it?”

My back went rigid, and my Wolf came to the forefront, glaring at him, the promise of violence in our eyes.

“Easy,” Ryder soothed, slightly raising his hands in the air. “You don’t have anything to fear from me. You can talk to me, you know. I wouldn’t tell dad.”

Still, I remained silent, my lips set in a thin hard line.

He continued quietly, “You want her, don’t you?” His expression was kind, concerned, not a trace of judgment.

“Is it that obvious?” I bit out through clenched teeth. I was going to have to do a better job of concealing my thoughts.

He shook his head. “Not to anyone else. But I know you, better than you think I do. I’ve suspected something wasn’t right for a while now. What are you going to do?”

“There’s nothing I can do!” I growled, my voice raising, catching the attention of a few other patrons. I lowered my tone. “I can’t beat him. You know that. And I fucking hate that my love is a death sentence for her.”

He sucked in a sharp breath at my choice of words. He waited and watched me. When I remained silent, he took another drink. “It’s that strong? The bond?”

I grimaced. “You have no idea.”

He shocked me with his next words when he mused, “Maybe with the two of us together...”

I gripped my glass harder, trying to remember not to shatter it, and ground out, “You’d fight—to the death—so that I could have my mate?” I swallowed down the rest of the drink, growling slightly at the burn. “Because that’s what it would be, you know. He’d pick you off first, just to prove a point, before he came after me full force.”

“Maybe,” he acknowledged quietly. “But it’s going to come down to that at some point. He may be blood, but I’m not blind. I see some of the shit he does. It’s not right.”

I eyed him carefully. “When did you start feeling like this?” I loved my brother, but for the most part, he was happy to fill his time partying and sharing lewd jokes with our youngest sibling.

He took a swig of his drink. “It’s been more recently. I think I didn’t want to believe the rumors of what he’s capable of, what he’s done.” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “But I’m older now. And I’d be a fool to ignore the proof right in front of my face. Including how he’s treating you.”

I stared at him dumbfounded.

A waitress interrupted my confusion. She sidled up to the booth, looking us both over like something she’d like to eat. Older, probably in her thirties, or maybe a hard life had aged her prematurely. Her blonde hair was swept up in a ponytail. She pushed a stray strand out of her eyes as she purred, “Can I get you another?”

Hell yes, I wanted to scream. Instead, I just gave her a stiff nod without taking my eyes off of Ryder. He shook his head, “No, I’m good.”

But she couldn’t seem to take a hint and persisted in a wheedling tone, “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you want?”

I didn’t have the time or patience to let her down easy and growled, “Not interested.”

Her lips curled down into a frown, and she huffed away. Great, now she was probably going to spit in my drink. Maybe I should have just ordered the entire bottle of whiskey. But I had to admit, that was a bit excessive, even for me.

Before I could say anything else, the front door opened and four more people walked in. Every hair on my body stood up as I caught their scent—vampires!

My Wolf pushed to the front, sharing my eyes. He was on full alert, agitated by this unknown threat. I hadn’t come across a vampire in more than four years. Our territory was too dense with wolves that most vamps steered clear. But not these, apparently.

Ryder was equally shocked, his head automatically swiveling toward the door, eyes wide. He’d never encountered a vampire before.

Maybe they wouldn’t want trouble. There was always that possibility, I hoped in the back of my brain. But hell no, I couldn’t be that lucky.

The vampires walked directly toward our booth. The only female of the group sat down next to me, and one of the males eyed Ryder with a sly grin and a wink, before joining him on his side of the booth.

Ryder paled and repositioned his body further away from the vamp.

Four against two. I didn’t like those odds, especially when I didn’t know who I was dealing with. And we were too far away from the pack to mind link for help. Shit. This was gonna be bad.

The female cocked her head at me, raven curls bouncing at the movement. Full red lips turned up in amusement. Her eyes danced, blue orbs glittering mischievously. “What a lucky surprise. Here we were, just looking to satisfy our thirst, when we stumble upon two furry friends.”

“Yeah, lucky,” I replied scornfully. “What the fuck are you doing? You know you can’t be in this territory. ”

The glint in her eyes turned hard. “I can be wherever I want.”

The vamp sitting next to Ryder took the opportunity to eye him up and down. He purred to the female next to me, “I want this one. Can we keep him, Savvy?”

Ryder froze, genuine fear in his eyes. He may never have encountered a vamp before personally, but he was well aware of their strength and power. I tried to calm him down. “Ryder, just ignore the fucker,”

I turned back to the female and glared. “Look, bitch, you’re playing a dangerous game. And I don’t have the time or patience to deal with your sniveling demands. So just say what you need to say and let’s move on.”

Her eyes bled crimson. Shit.

Her pouting tone did not match the lethal intent in her eyes. “Aw, we just wanted to talk, get to know you better.”

I raised an eyebrow. My Wolf was thinking of all of the many ways we could tear her apart, while we got to know her better.

“But since it seems you’re not interested, guess we’ll just have to get to know him better.” She glanced over to Ryder. The male vamp let out a growl of anticipation.

Ryder recoiled away.

I let out a low growl of my own. “If you touch one hair on his head, I’ll fucking kill you.”

The male laughed, “Oh, it isn’t his hair I plan to touch.”

Ryder lurched to his feet in the confined space, causing the table to wobble and get shoved in my direction, pinning me to the seat. Before I could even react, the male seemed to move almost instantaneously.

One second he was seated, and in less than a blink, he had somehow maneuvered himself behind Ryder, forcing him to bend over the table.

Ryder growled angrily, but I could hear the panic in his voice as he fought to get the vampire off of his back. In the same split second of time, the vamp sank his fangs deep into Ryder’s neck, causing his Wolf to howl.

I erupted from the seat, only to be thrown across the room as if I weighed nothing. Tables and chairs crashed in disarray as my body came down hard. Humans shouted and scurried out of the diner, not wanting to be in the line of fire.

Grappling to my feet, I spun around to face them, my gaze locking on my Ryder, calculating how I could get past the three demons currently protecting their companion.

But shock and confusion crashed through me. Ryder wasn’t fighting him anymore. Instead, he rolled his hips, pushing back against the vamp’s obvious excitement, and let out a low groan, “What are you doing to me?”

What the fuck was happening?

The vamp withdrew his fangs from Ryder’s neck and chuckled low and deep. Another moan. The scent of Ryder’s mating pheromones released into the air. The vampire inhaled deeply. His voice was a low guttural growl, “Good boy. You don’t even need my arousal anymore, do you? You’re hard for me all on your own.”

Furious growls erupted from my chest.

It didn’t matter what this madness was, I was going to put an end to it. My skin shifted to fur, and my Wolf charged forward, his sharp teeth snapping, trying to find purchase in their flesh. We clamped down on one of the male’s arms, tearing muscle from bone. He howled in pain.

I twisted and bucked.

If I could just get my canines into his neck…

But, once again, I was tossed across the room by the dark-haired beauty. I cursed and scrambled to get back on my feet, my attention searching for my brother.

Ryder’s head dropped to his chest, his breath coming in heavy pants. His hands clenched the edge of the table. The vamp, behind him, continued to rock his hips against Ryder’s ass. At the same time, I noticed he had released Ryder’s rock hard erection from his pants and was aggressively stroking him up and down his shaft.

Ryder’s moans filled the air. His hips jerked forward, eagerly pushing himself into the vamp’s hand. It was as if the world around them ceased to exist. I wasn’t sure he even knew where he was anymore, and certainly not that they had an audience.

I pushed forward again.

I had to end this.

The female punched my Wolf in the snout causing blinding pain between my eyes and my head. But I didn’t back off. Instead, I jerked my body hard to the right and landed exactly where I wanted to be, close to the same vamp, whose arm I had shredded, so close, in fact, now his neck was within my reach. I didn’t hesitate for even a second before latching onto the vulnerable skin…

…and ripping his head off his shoulders.

The female and the other male were on me in an instant, but I bucked them off and repositioned myself so they couldn’t get behind me. My entire frame shook with animosity and a lust to kill. I paced from side to side, looking for an opening, a weakness in defense.

They moved together fluidly, maintaining protection of their companion, keeping me away from him and Ryder.

In the background, the vamp continued his verbal assault in Ryder’s ear, speaking softly, but every supernatural creature in the room could easily hear him. “I want to see you on your knees, and when you’re done swallowing down everything I have to give you, I’m going to bend you over until you’re screaming my name. Do you want that, little one? Do you want me to show you all of the pleasure and pain I can bring to your body?”

Ryder didn’t answer. He just panted harder. Fuck, I needed to get him free. I couldn’t tell what the vamp did, but suddenly Ryder growled loudly and released all over the table.

The vampire pulled away with a smile, leaving him shaking and still clutching the table for support.

The vamp looked down at their dead companion on the floor as he stepped away from the booth, and then up at me. I smirked, blood still dripping from my jaws. I planned to wipe that smug grin right off of his face.

He turned back to Ryder. “You can go now, pet, but make no mistake, you belong to me. I will find you and make you mine…in every sense of the word.”

Ryder shuddered hard, his expression filled with dismay and confusion.

Abruptly, the vamps disappeared out of the door.

Immediately shifting back to my skin, I tugged on Ryder’s arm to propel him into motion. “We need to get out of here!”

He was silent as he let me drag him along. I pushed him into the passenger seat, slammed the door, and then snatched a pair of shorts from the backseat, slipped them on and jumped in the driver’s side.

I’d been drinking, but still capable of driving in comparison to Ryder who stared off into space, lost. He was in no condition to navigate a six thousand pound vehicle.

“Keys!” I ordered with my hand out.

Thankfully, he seemed to be recovering his senses and dug the keys from his pocket. He slapped them into my hand and let his head fall back as I put the truck in gear, and slammed on the gas. The tires squealed, and dust billowed up from the ground in our wake.

The agony in Ryder’s voice was palpable. His voice hitched, “He made me want him...and then he stopped forcing me...but I still wanted him.”

I glanced over.

His eyes glistened. “What the fuck does that mean?”

I wished I had an answer, but I didn’t. I didn’t understand what happened any more than he did. I grabbed his shoulder and spoke adamantly, “Listen to me, little brother, you did nothing wrong. I don’t know what happened, but I know you’re not at fault, no matter what it was.”

He didn’t look like he believed me, his features contorted in pain. He rubbed his neck where the vampire had bitten him.

Moonlight illuminated the truck from a break in the clouds. I glanced over again and inhaled sharply. I jerked the steering wheel and forced the vehicle to a screeching halt on the side of the road.

“What’s wrong?” Ryder gasped, startled by our abrupt stop.

I stared at the bite mark. I’d seen plenty of wolves bitten.

This wasn’t a normal bite…

Shock reverberated through my entire body.

I could barely get the words out, “He marked you!”
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