There were a handful of humans enjoying the warm evening breeze and the sparkling view of the city from the balcony. A glare from King sent them scurrying back inside the suite, leaving him alone. Good.
King slipped the joint out of his cigarette pack and lit it up. He’d started smoking heavily in the past few months, something to do with his hands instead of snapping necks. King had no patience for anyone anymore, and he hadn’t had much to begin with.
Bracing his forearms on the heavy iron railing, King stared out at the outline of the mountains under the star-spangled sky. He should be feeling triumphant right now. The future King Jade, Colorado Springs would be the fourth hotel-slash-casino in their portfolio, but the first King and Huang were building from scratch.
Their newest endeavour would make Lucifer King a fortune, money he would funnel into the Rogue King’s militias south of the US border and building his network to the North. Bringing King closer to the goals he’d been single-mindedly pursuing in the sixty years since he’d abandoned the constraints of his birthright.
But all King could think about was her. Serafina. Where was she right now? What was she doing? Was she happy? Sad? Afraid? Was she safe?
As furious as King was with him, he knew her Guardian would lay his life down to protect her. But he was only one shifter, and a young, inexperienced one at that. King couldn’t help but be worried.
He could still see Serafina now, waving at him from her bedroom window, the golden crown King had made for her sparkling in the sunlight. The crown he still carried with him, tucked in his bags wherever they travelled, just in case. The crown King would put back on her head where it belonged as soon as he found her.
And find her he would.
King inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with smoke and watching it float away as he exhaled. Serafina’s beautiful face had lit up when she saw him that day and her voice when she called his name had been full of joy. Full of love.
Who had ever felt anything like that for him? Even before King made his name as someone to be feared and obeyed. His sad, unstable mother? His childhood friends in Ainu? His battle-tested comrades in the High Council Guard?
Certainly King’s father had never felt anything so pure and wholesome for his weak, late-blooming son. The uncle that raised King had shown him respect and something bordering on affection, ambience from the love he felt for his sister.
Nothing like the emotion in Serafina’s eyes as she waited on the curb, dancing with excitement for King to climb out of the SUV when he arrived for a visit. Or the happiness and trust emanating from her tiny, fragile form as she threw her arms around him or curled up in his lap.
King knew Serafina loved him. He knew it. He knew her...her hopes, her dreams. So how could she choose a life on the run with Ian Jones, over living at Garnet Range with him? The place she was born and destined to live out her days by his side? Something King never got a chance to explain to her.
The burning paper crinkled as King took a deep drag from the joint. He hated to admit even privately how shocked, then hurt he’d been in the sunroom that day before the anger took over.
Those emotions, that weakness, was the reason they’d gotten away. They’d slowed King down. Made him second-guess himself, something he had never done before. Over the years, weeks and sometimes months would go by between his visits but now that Serafina was out of his reach, King missed her with an ache that he couldn’t describe.
It got in the way. Eroded King’s pleasure in the things he’d once enjoyed. It pissed him off, frankly. And Boone wasn’t too happy about it either. Boone had called it, no question about that, even if King had no intention of acknowledging it to his face.
Boone had never approved of the direction King took their plans. Nothing against Serafina personally—Boone was as susceptible to her magnetism as anyone else. What Boone didn’t like was the effect Serafina had on King. The effect she was having on him still.
Deep down King knew Boone was right. From a purely strategic standpoint, it made sense to cut his losses. Get his focus back on the main prize. Stop pouring time, money, and manpower into a plan he’d made twelve years ago on the fly. A plan that had blown up in his fucking face.
King should give up the search for Serafina. Let her go.
That’s what Boone had advised, and King nearly killed him for it.
Just the idea, existing in a verbally actualized state, infuriated King. The instinctive response of an Alpha wolf, separated from his mate.
King had long since convinced himself Serafina was his true mate. It was the only explanation for his loss of control, for the amount of time he still spent thinking about her, and for the hollow feeling that had taken up permanent residency in his chest.
Letting her go was a non-option. For King’s wolf, and for his long-term plans. His mate was more powerful than King and Boone—and likely, Serafina herself—ever expected. Power that King already thought of as his.
That power had been stolen from him when Serafina disappeared. And King had every intention of getting both of them back.
He squinted up at the stars, feeling the mellow effects of the high-potency marijuana taking effect. King felt her presence sometimes, shimmering around him like a spirit, and he knew Serafina was having a vision. A vision of him, like the one she’d had when she’d sketched him and Boone in the car.
Those visions were King’s hope. Wherever she was, at those moments they were together. Consciously or not, Serafina was still drawn to him. Still seeking him out.
King flicked the finished joint over the balcony rail and reached for a cigarette. Stalling another few minutes before he went back inside. Turning to lean back against the railing, King gazed through the glass doors to the suite as he smoked.
The blonde who’d sucked him off was chatting with another human female now, Don Lucietti nowhere in sight. Fortunately for him. A pale filip of King’s earlier anger fluttered in his chest before dying out.
King didn’t know why the sight of Lucietti’s hand on the human slut had made him so angry, and had no intention of analyzing it. All he knew was he’d been ready to shed blood. Boone had done the right thing by intervening. Killing the Don of the powerful Lucietti family would have caused more problems than it was worth.
King’s eyes moved to his second in command, sitting right where King left him. Boone’s button-down shirt was untucked and his expression euphoric as the female kneeling in front of him struggled to take his load.
At least one of them was having fun. Maybe Boone would stop sulking now over missing the goddamn fight. He’d been banging on about the Slater-Cross match since it was announced. King finally had to threaten to go back and kill Slater just to shut Boone up.
Slater and his many USFC fans owed Boone his life. King hadn’t cared there was no evidence that Slater was involved in Serafina and her Guardian’s escape. King had been furious that the young wolf’s trainer—who worked for him, not the Church or the Elders or anyone else—hadn’t somehow foreseen and prevented it.
Later, King would concede that Serafina and Ian’s escape was very obviously implusive and unplanned. But King had been wild with anger that night. By the time he got around to Slater, King had already killed the male Elder whose name he could never remember and the old broad, Vera, and sent Macklin into cardiac arrest. The look on Macklin’s face when he shifted and ripped Vera’s head right off! King smiled grimly in spite of himself. He’d been wanting to do that for years.
Luckily for Slater, King had only gotten in one good hit before Boone intervened and Slater was able to get away from compound under his own power before it went up in flames. Slater went back to his pack in Wyoming. King kept a close eye on him, hoping the runaways would reach out.
But they never did. King exhaled on a frustrated sigh. For all his dominance, he couldn’t get control of the one situation that mattered.
Inside the brightly-lit suite, a pair of human females tottered towards the balcony on their high heels, oblivious to King’s brooding presence as they fumbled tipsily with the sliding glass door.
“...Told you it would be amazing—Brittany!” one of them squealed as the other female grabbed on to her, almost tripping them both as they stepped outside.
“Sorry! Sorry!” The second female dissolved into high-pitched giggles that made King wince. She was attractive—they both were—but very young. College girls, if he had to guess. Huang’s preferred demographic for their youth, sense of adventure, and chronic lack of funds.
“I think your boyfriend broke you,” the first female tittered.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” the female named Brittany said. ”Yet.”
King puffed on his cigarette idly as the girls began giggling again.
“Meanwhile...” The first female sent her a wicked glance. “That guy you were just talking to owns Bougie Boutique.”
"All of them.”
Brittany’s bright red mouth fell open as her friend bobbed her head drunkenly. King watched the first female lift her chin and sniff before zeroing in on him.
“Hi!” She flashed him a friendly smile. “I don’t suppose you have an extra cigarette you can spare...?” She didn’t wait for King to answer before strutting across the balcony towards him.
Brittany stayed back, watching her friend’s progress uncertainly. King could smell her fear. She wasn’t as drunk as her friend, or maybe she was just smarter.
King let his cigarette dangle from his lips as he took out his cigarette pack and held it out to the first female, now standing directly in front of him. Her head barely reached the middle of his chest and King had a passing urge to wrap his hand around her neck and toss her over the rail. He could almost hear her screams as she fell to the ground below.
Brittany shook her head, wide-eyed, when King extended the pack in her direction. Her fear spiked pleasantly. For King, that is. His smirk widened to a smile.
“She doesn’t smoke,” the first female said, leaning forward as King held out his lighter. She cupped her hands around the flame, giving him a generous—and without a doubt, deliberate—view down her dress.
Brittany looked relieved and the first female, disappointed when the door from the suite slid open again. King fell somewhere in between as he watched his partner approach him.
“Lucifer!” Huang cheerfully called over the burst of music and voices from inside. “Hello, girls.”
“Hi, Jeff,” they chimed discordantly, Brittany’s voice shy and her friend’s voice, bold and friendly. King ignored the lingering look over her shoulder as she returned to her friend.
Huang leaned against the rail next to King. “Did I interrupt something?” he asked, holding out one of the highball glasses in his hands.
“No. This better not be Jägermeister,” King added, peering down at the clear liquor.
“Mine is. Yours is Spirytus.” Huang’s smiled widened at the flash of pleasure in King’s eyes. “Only the best for you, my friend.”
King didn’t bother correcting him. It served his purpose for his partner to think they were friends. Similar to his relationship with Don Lucietti, the Governor of Montana and a handful of other high-profile humans. But unlike them, Huang was one of the very few humans King actually liked. Or at least came as close as he was capable.
Huang raised his glass. “To the newest jewel in the King Jade crown.”
The jewelled crown in his luggage flashed through King’s mind before he pushed it aside. “The King Jade,” King echoed, clinking his glass against Huang’s.
Huang turned to brace his forearms on the railing. “You don’t get skies like this in L.A.,” he murmured, gazing out.
“No,” King agreed, dropping what was left of his cigarette and grinding it under his heel. He sent his partner a sidelong look. “You come out here just to look at the stars?”
Huang pulled a face. “I might be avoiding the Don,” he admitted. “He’s been extra...persistent tonight.”
King raised a brow. “This about the restaurants, again?” Lucietti wanted to expand his family’s chain of fine-dining restaurants outside the state. He’d been pressuring Huang to open locations inside their hotels.
Huang nodded sheepishly. “I told him I would speak to you about it.”
King shook his head with a smirk. Restaurants, service providers, and retail vendors inside their hotels were exclusively Huang’s province, along with interior design, marketing, and anything else that required an understanding of the human mind. “Pussy.”
“Meow, meow,” Huang said promptly, holding up his hands. “I don’t want to find the head of a horse in my bed one morning.”
“What?” King frowned.
Huang’s eyes widened. “Don’t say you’ve never seen The Godfather.”
King lit up another cigarette and held out the pack. “Is that a movie?”
“Yes, it’s a movie.” Huang accepted a cigarette, shaking his head.
King shrugged. He didn’t watch movies. He’d watched a couple with Serafina over the years, one fairy tale-type romance featuring a human giant and another one about twins that tricked their parents. Both ridiculous. King had preferred the cartoon about the fish who got lost.
....And there he was thinking about her again. King clamped down on the memories that threatened to crowd his mind.
“I’m going to assume you don’t want his restaurants in our hotels?” he asked Huang, going back to their original discussion.
“Have you been to one of their restaurants? Half the menu’s frozen and the decor is right out of nineteen-eighty three.” Huang gestured loosely with his cigarette. “Besides, the only person who should be laundering money through our hotels is you,” he was drunk enough to joke.
King chose to be amused. “Don’t worry about the Don. I’ll speak to him. You won’t be finding any...animal heads in your bedroom.” He rolled his eyes. Whatever that meant.
“...He’s a senior in high school!” The first female’s voice rose, carrying across the balcony. ” He’s not even old enough to drink yet.”
“Neither am I,” came Brittany’s reply.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Huang called over in a humorous tone.
Brittany flushed but her friend giggled and turned towards the men. “Help me convince her not to get hung up on her hometown boyfriend right before she goes to college.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Brittany protested.
“Exactly!” The first female threw up her hands. “Tell her being nice to his sister and maybe, possibly going pro someday isn’t enough to wait around for him for.”
“Pro what?” Huang asked. King couldn’t tell if he was being polite or if he was actually interested.
“Football. He’s really good. And he’s not just nice to his sister,” Brittany told her friend stubbornly. “They’re orphans. He takes care of her.”
Like Serafina and her Guardian. King took a sharp drag from his cigarette as the thought floated through his mind.
“You said it was annoying having a twelve year-old around all the time,” the first female shot back.
Serafina’s twelve. King grit his teeth. This had to stop. Not everything could be about her.
“It is,” Brittany admitted. “I just mean he’s more responsible than most seventeen year-old guys.”
Ian Jones is seventeen. This was getting out of control. King took a sip from the forgotten glass in his hand. He wasn’t sure why he was even listening to this, other than knowing it would reek like human sweat and pheremones when he went back in.
“I actually think they mind have been on their own for a while,” Brittany continued. “He’d never even been to a party until they moved to Mountain View with their grandparents.”
On their own for a while. Orphans. Takes care of her. She’s twelve. He’s seventeen. King felt his heart thump in time to the words revolving in his mind.
“Mountain View is the trailer park where Brittany lives,” the first female clarified for King and Huang’s benefit. “Please don’t tell me he was a virgin!” she exclaimed, turning back to her friend.
“No, no.” Brittany flushed pink. “Definitely not. But I don’t think he socialized a lot. He probably didn’t want to leave his sister alone that much. It’s like, his mission in life to protect her.”
His mission in life to protect her. King’s heart began to beat stupidly faster. On their own for a while. Orphans. Takes care of his younger sister. She’s twelve. He’s seventeen. It’s his mission in life to protect her.
Could it be? King frowned, trying and failing to calm the tiny ball of excitement growing inside his chest. That’s ridiculous, he told himself next. You’re grasping at straws.
King swallowed a mouthful of vodka, relishing the burn as it went down. “What are their names?” he heard himself asking her.
Brittany looked at him in surprise. Luckily, she was too afraid of him to ask him why he was asking. “Ian and Sarah.”
King had to close his eyes briefly against a wave of mingled hope, relief, and triumph. There were no coincidences that big. It was them. He was sure of it. “Where did you say your hometown was again?”
Brittany shrank under his stare, her fear rising as he smiled, the smile of a hunter who finally had his prey in sight. Boone wouldn’t be happy about the detour, but too fucking bad.
This was it. He’d finally found them.
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