“Why don’t you sit down,” Antonio suggested with a smile, his eyes warm.

Having exchanged greetings with him, Sebastian, Luther and the guards, Jared and I took seats opposite the two Sventés. Jared draped a possessive arm over the back of my chair, staring hard at Cristiano. Every muscle in Jared’s body seemed coiled to strike. Not wanting him so tense, I patted his thigh. It didn’t seem to help. He briefly massaged my nape, but didn’t otherwise react.

Cristiano gave Jared a respectful nod. “My name’s Cristiano Sanchez. Ava is my younger sister. We shared the same Sire as Sam, and we were once all part of the same nest. I took Victor’s place as leader of the nest after Sam killed the bastard here at The Hollow.” And Victor really had been an absolute bastard.

“Why didn’t you attend the Binding?” asked Jared. Most of the vampire community had attended the ceremony, particularly any leaders, Masters, and High Masters.

“It wasn’t out of any disrespect. Two other vampires had wanted the position of leader. A voting was held and I was eventually pronounced leader, but there were still some who were sour about it. I knew that if I left the nest before my position had been properly established, one of them would have taken it while I was gone.”

“And your position has now been accepted and established?” Jared began gently playing with my hair in a very possessive move.

“Yes.” Cristiano’s gaze slid back to me and his smirk returned. He probably got a kick out of the fact that he’d once drunk from the Heir’s mate.

That was when Jared spoke to him very matter-of-factly. “If you don’t stop staring at Sam like that, I’ll gut you open right here and I’ll truly enjoy it.”

Cristiano lost his smirk, and I didn’t blame him. Jared had a well-earned reputation as someone who wasn’t to be f**ked with. Although he could be playful, loyal, and respectful, Jared could also be ruthless, pitiless, and kill without blinking. I’d seen him in battle-mode, watched him destroy other vampires without a lick of conscience. Just his presence alone was enough to intimidate those around him; he exuded confidence, power, and authority.

“Cris, could you please refrain from antagonising these people?” groaned Ava, shooting apologetic glances at everyone. “We need their help, remember.”

I arched a brow. “Our help?”

“Cristiano,” began Antonio, “tell Jared and Sam why it is that you and your sister are here.”

Cristiano straightened, suddenly solemn. “Although I didn’t go to your Binding, three of my vampires did. Afterwards, they called me to say that they were going to spend a couple of weeks in New Zealand with some vampires they had met here and befriended from Quentin Foy’s line.”

Quentin Foy had been recently appointed High Master vampire over New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and all the little surrounding islands after the previous High Master had betrayed Antonio and tried to take over The Hollow.

“The problem is I’ve heard nothing from them since then.” Cristiano shrugged helplessly. “Their mobile phones are all switched off and my psychic connection with them has turned…fuzzy.” All Sires have links with their vampires, though they weren’t anywhere near as strong as the type of bond that came from Binding with another vampire.

I frowned. “Fuzzy?”

“It’s like I’m picking up static. Occasionally I sense their thirst, but that’s as good as it gets. All I know for sure is that they’re not dead. Something’s not right. As you know, Quentin’s extremely territorial and rarely grants permission for anyone to step foot on his territory. But getting in touch with him to ask for that permission would be difficult since it’s not as if someone like me would ever have a High Master’s personal number.”

“From what I know about him,” began Jared, “Quentin’s a luddite. He hates most forms of technology and doesn’t use phones.”

“That is why they need an escort,” Antonio said. “They need someone to take them there, make sure Quentin doesn’t feel threatened, and help them find their vampires.”

“And you want those escorts to be us.” Jared didn’t veil his irritation. “With all due respect, Antonio, I think it would be easier to send Sebastian to investigate the matter and find the vampires.”

When Sebastian didn’t object, I cast a glance at him. Although his peppery black hair was slightly obscuring his expression, I could see that the Keja’s penetrating eyes were eager and willing.

“You are right. Sebastian could indeed find them. But I have a bad feeling about this, Jared.” Antonio’s usual calm expression was anxious. “It could be nothing, but something about it feels wrong. Luther is also uneasy. My instincts have always served me well, and I have learned not to ignore them.”

I was curious enough about the situation to want to agree to Antonio’s request, despite that Cristiano, who was again smirking at me, would undoubtedly be a pain in my arse. Though he was like this with everyone other than Ava, he’d always taken extreme delight in irritating me for some reason. It wouldn’t take much to push me into conjuring my energy whip and slashing his face with it.

As if he sensed my reservations, he said, “You might not like me, Sam, but let’s not forget that I saved your life. And I looked out for you during your time with Victor.”

Jared looked at me. “Is that true?”

Yes, but I wasn’t about to go into the specifics of the situation until Jared and I were alone. I simply nodded.

Jared’s gaze drilled into Cristiano. “If you saved Sam’s life, then I’m grateful to you for it. So we’ll escort you to Quentin’s territory and ensure your protection. But you need to understand one thing: whether you helped her or not, if you keep staring and smirking at her, I will kill you and I won’t f**king care.”

Cristiano nodded, again dropping his smirk. Very wise of him.

Antonio relaxed into his chair. “In that case, prepare the squad. You should all leave in an hour.”

Ava gave me a small but genuine smile. “Thanks so much. We appreciate it.” She really was sweet. I had to wonder how she and Cristiano could possibly be related.

After debriefing the squad, Jared and I made a pit-stop at our apartment to top up on NSTs, wanting to be at full strength. Otherwise known as Nutritive Supplemental Tonics, NSTs were a mix of blood and other vitamins.

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires
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