"And I'm someone with a gun containing silver bullets right here in my purse," Kira went on. "If you come with me, Jennifer, I'll try to get you away from this. I - I know someone who might be able to help."

From how hopeless Jennifer had sounded before, she probably hadn't tried to escape in years. With luck, Flare wasn't here tonight, and any others who were supposed to keep an eye on Jennifer had grown lax. If she and Jennifer quietly snuck out a back entrance, they could be away before any of the bouncers or staff noticed . . .

The curtains snapped open, and a stocky male appeared. Both Kira and Jennifer jumped. A sinking feeling coursed through her as the young man's eyes changed from whatever color they had been to glowing, bright green.

"Why hello there," the vampire said. "And just who might you be?" Kira's hand went immediately into her purse for her gun, but the vampire had her wrist seized before she'd even grasped the handle. Jennifer bleated in fear and jumped back, cringing against the curtained wall. The vampire hauled Kira up with her wrist still held in that painful grip.

Shit! ran through her mind over and over. She should have had the gun in her hand before she began talking to Jennifer. Maybe then she could've squeezed off a shot that would've disabled the vampire enough for her and Jennifer to get away.

The vampire grabbed her purse in a flash, yanking on Kira's wrist hard enough for her to feel like her arm was about to be ripped out of its socket.

"Don't move," he said, his eyes flashing green.

She didn't, but not because she had a sudden mesmerizing compulsion to stand still. If the vampire thought mind-control tricks worked on her, she might stand a better chance of escaping.

The vampire freed her wrist, making a band of hope arc through Kira. He was buying it! Now just walk away and leave me alone while you rifle through my purse . . .

He didn't, but Kira kept her face from showing her disappointment as he pulled out her gun and checked the clip.

"You really do have silver bullets in this," the vampire said musingly. "And you were trying to steal Jenny away. Who put you up to this?"

"No one," Kira replied, attempting to fix a glazed expression on her face even though her heart hammered with fear. Those ghouls had gutted her in a second. This vampire could do the same. Any moment, she might be looking down at a horrible lethal wound before she'd even realized the vampire moved.

The vampire frowned, grasping her chin in a grip hard enough to make her jaw creak.

"I said, who put you up to this? Only another vampire would know to send you here packing silver bullets. Whose pet are you, hmmm? Give me a name."

"No vampire sent me. I'm a private investigator. Jennifer's parents hired my firm," Kira replied in as much of a monotone as she could manage. If she was very, very lucky, the vampire would flash more green in her eyes, tell her she'd seen nothing, assume that erased her memory, and send her on her way. She could redouble her efforts to find Mencheres and come back later with him to help Jennifer . . .

"You're really hot," the vampire said, looking her over. Fangs flashed when he grinned.

"Too old for a job here, though. My customers like 'em young, real wet behind the ears stillĀ  - and wet in other places."

He laughed at his crude joke. Kira didn't blink. That's right, I'm too old to force into nude dancing, so just send me on my way.

"But you sure are a sexy thing," the vampire continued. He grasped her wrist again, this time hard enough to make her bones grind together. "And you're lying your pretty little ass off," he whispered as he yanked Kira closer.

His breath smelled like alcohol fumes when he blew it out after a deep inhalation. "No scent of vampire on you, but you could've washed that off easy enough, and someone sure sent you here," he went on. "Someone who told you about silver and who fed you enough of their blood to make you immune to my gaze, or you'd have spilled who they were by now. Who is it, sweetie? And why did that person want you to steal my property from me? Tell Papa Flare all about it."

Despite the fear and adrenaline coursing through her, Kira thought of her promise to Mencheres not to tell anyone about him. She swallowed hard while her instincts warned her that she walked a razor's edge between life and death right now.

"I came on my own - "

Pain exploded in her face, so quick it stunned her. Her eyes teared, her head rang, and blood filled her mouth. As suspected, she hadn't even seen Flare move before feeling the effects of his striking her.

Flare smiled as Kira regrouped from the blow. It reminded her of the smile that ghoul had given her a couple weeks ago. Right before he'd torn her stomach open.

"So you need a little persuading before you tell me who it is, huh?" Flare asked. He sounded almost elated. "Well, we'll need a more private place to talk then, won't we?" Chapter 12

Mencheres snapped his suitcase shut, taking a final look around the bedroom. It was the last time he'd see this tiny space with its unappealing decor. He wouldn't spare a thought about leaving under normal circumstances, but it was symbolic of his decision. He wasn't coming back. Not to this room, or this house, or this city. He'd lingered here too long already, loath to severe that final connection to the human who still haunted his thoughts even though he'd kept his vow not to follow Kira again.

Gorgon came into the room, his blue eyes somber. The Nordic vampire could sense his sire's moods, especially now with the normal shielding Mencheres maintained slipping as he looked around again. Selene, Kurt, and Sam had already left the day before. It was time for him and Gorgon to go. He could delay no longer.

"The plane is fueling?" Mencheres asked.

"Yes."

Mencheres gave Gorgon a dry smile. "You need not go with me, my friend. I have told you many times that you should occupy yourself with other things aside from my domestic duties."

Gorgon smiled back, stretching the scar that ran down the length of his cheek. "And I have told you that what I choose to do with my time is my concern." Gorgon's loyalty was required as a member of Mencheres's line. His friendship was not. Neither was his genuine affection and concern. Some things simply could not be commanded by fear, respect, or power.

Mencheres didn't say it, but he was grateful to have Gorgon by his side, knowing the vampire cared for him beyond the bounds of obligation. If he told Gorgon how much of a comfort he'd been during the past several harsh centuries, it would add to Gorgon's determination to stay - which held Gorgon back from what he should become.

"Why do you refuse to ask me for freedom from my line? You know I would grant it to you. You are past the time when you should be your own Master."

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