Fletcher was quiet for a minute, and I could tell his little mind was working away. “Maybe you should at least wait until after the announcement has been made. There’s a possibility that it’s something that could cause a little dispute between you, and you don’t want to be at odds with him at a time like this.”

That was a good point. “I just don’t like that something’s playing on his mind. And, yeah, it’s irritating me that I don’t know what it is. But mostly, I’m worried about him. He’s been through enough these past few weeks.” How he hadn’t snapped, considering his total lack of patience, I wasn’t sure.

“Then be here for him now. Don’t push him at a time when he needs you. You know you’re the only person he lets himself need; the only person who he wholeheartedly trusts. This is a time when you should be at each other’s side, presenting a united front and facing all these changes together and all that stuff.”

Why did he have to be right?

“You can spare the poor sod a little more time, can’t you?”

“Fine,” I grumbled.

Fletcher smiled, reaching over to pat my hand. “That’s my girl.”

At that moment, Jared appeared beside me. Speak of the randy devil…

As usual, Fletcher melted at the sight of him. With a dreamy sigh, he got to his feet. “Don’t mind me. I’ll let myself out.” He gave me a look that said Remember what I told you. “See you later.” In vampire speed, he was gone from the apartment.

Jared held out his hand. “Ready?”

Smiling, I took his hand. “Yep.” In a blink, we were at the arena. The squad was filing inside, talking loudly and laughing.

When Max glanced around the spectator area and found it empty, he turned to me. “They’ve seriously gone?”

“They left last night,” I confirmed. The entire squad whooped at that. I felt like whooping along with them. I’d missed being able to work without having someone hovering over me, noting every itty bitty thing that I did and criticising my every move. Knowing that my shadow was gone and that the bitch of the century was no longer around to flirt with Jared, I couldn’t help smiling. Life was good.

“I heard that they’d left,” began Denny, “but I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t think of anything that would make them up and go like that.”

When Jared and I exchanged a smile, Reuben narrowed his eyes. “What did you do, Coach?”

“Are they still alive?” asked David.

Affronted, I huffed. It would take more than annoying behaviour to make me lose my cool enough to kill someone. “Yes, they’re still alive.”

“Damn,” muttered Damien. The others looked equally disappointed.

“Tell me you at least maimed them or something,” pleaded Stuart. Beside him, Harvey seemed hopeful.

Jared chuckled. “It was tempting, but no, they’re both still in one piece.”

Chico stroked his goatee. “Then how did you get them to leave?”

I joined my hands behind my back. “Let’s just say that since the case will undoubtedly be dropped, there was no reason for them to stick around and observe us any longer.”

“Which means we can work you as hard as we need to,” said Jared, grinning impishly. “So let’s move on quickly from the subject of those ass**les because they’ve wasted enough of our time as it is.” The squad nodded, their expressions now determined. “Sam and I expect you to give your all tonight. Anything less is unacceptable, because there is absolutely no excuse in the world why you can’t give it to us after how average your recent training sessions have been.”

To their credit, they appeared to welcome the challenge as opposed to feel disheartened by it. But then, no doubt holding back for so long had been frustrating – a little like driving a Porsche but only being able to travel at thirty miles per hour.

From the very first minute of the training session, Jared and I worked the squad hard. We had to. It was imperative that they were at their best, because the worry that lay in the back of my mind was that if something happened to me, Jared would instantly die too, and then the squad would be alone. As such, smack bam in the middle of a particular training exercise, I interrupted with, “Did you hear that outside?” The false panic that I’d injected into my voice had them all tensing, instantly alert. “It sounded like…an explosion.” Wide-eyed, they listened intently.

Jared frowned. Baby, what are you doing?

Trust me. When the squad heard nothing and their unease melted into confusion, they glanced at each other questioningly.

“Coach, I didn’t hear anything,” said Butch.

“That’s because there was no explosion. But imagine if there was. Imagine if, while you lot are training or lounging around or playing basketball, you suddenly hear that The Hollow’s defences have been breached. Worse, a battle is now ensuing. Furthermore, Jared and I have been captured and quite possibly killed. What do you do?”

Shocked by my abrupt change in exercise, they didn’t move or speak. Interrupting their exercises for any reason wasn’t something that I usually did. But I was doing it to make a point.

“The last time the walls were attacked, we knew in advance thanks to a vision from Luther, and we were well prepared. But Luther doesn’t foresee everything. And if you think that the next vampires who attack – and vampires will eventually attack this place again one day – will do so while you’re alert and ready, you’ve got another thing coming. They’ll want to use the element of surprise and catch you off-guard. They’ll try to remove Antonio, Jared, and me from the equation first – not only because we’re powerful, but because it would affect everyone’s morale in a huge way and instil utter fear in you all. So, I’ll say it again: let’s imagine this place has been infiltrated, that you don’t have commanders now, that you need to rely on each other…what do you do?”

As I’d expected, they each cast glances at Chico, naturally looking to him for leadership. Noticing that, he straightened to his full height, accepting the responsibility. “That’s where I come in.”

Jared folded his arms across his chest. “And what is it that you’ll do, Chico?” Understanding how my mind worked, Jared now knew exactly what the purpose of all this was. “You’re now responsible for your squad’s safety and you have to lead them into battle, it’s now down to you to guide them.”

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires
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