Crandall stumbled back, his gaze wildly rolling away from the imposing vampire blocking the doorway. His mind stammered and stuttered, vaguely registering a hand on his arm, pulling him back, steering him along the narrow walkway that circled the practice area. His hand brushed the rough wooden half-wall, and a splinter wedged itself in the meat of his palm, but he felt no more than a faded pinch, less than a mosquito bite, as his feet obeyed the guiding touch that calmed his desire to run.
Crandall blinked without seeing. He stared straight ahead, though the Fang had moved into the room to lean casually on the ledge and stare down into the pit. “Don’t let me interrupt your practice,” Max said.
Crandall’s fingers itched to his waist, but his homemade stake holster hung in his locker. They’d been practicing, the dojo locked with only the four of them inside. He hadn’t expected to need a weapon. They’d not expected a Fang to drop by, break in, and help himself as if he were a part of them. This one was not a Blood Hunter, and this one was not the one that wanted to die. Crandall’s fingers formed fists, and he took a step forward.
“No,” said the voice attached to his hand restraining him.
A dark head stepped in front of him. He tried to tell off Ash, but words wouldn’t form beyond a cloud of anger and anxiety. Crandall took a deep breath and held it, staring at the back of Ash’s head. He had a thin, pale neck with smooth skin and downy black hairs edging his scalp daring Crandall to brush his fingers over them.
With a frown, Crandall focused on his hatred for the man and then slowly released his pent up breath. His lungs deflated and then, without meaning to, he sucked in a sharp inhale and shifted his gaze, and his anger, to their intruder.
Sounds filtered back. Voices. Mike angry. Dragon caution. Ash feisty and challenging.
And then a deep, warm chuckle. The vampire, amused.
“Please,” Max said. He waved to the practice area. “Continue.”
“Get to the point,” Mike said. “What do you want?”
He and Dragon had separated, standing warily on opposite sides of the matted area, bodies tensed and ready to leap into action, or away from an attack.
“Sidney said we were safe.” Blue eyes shifted, pinning Crandall to his spot and sealing his lips against further comment.
“You are.” Max nodded. “From me, and from the others. Of course, should you attack any one of mine, they are permitted to defend themselves.” A half-smile cocked one side of his mouth. “Keep that in mind when wandering the night, little human.”
Crandall snapped out of his silence. “I’m not attacking you. Do I look fucking stupid?”
Max laughed again, and the sound angered Crandall. It ran up his spine as a shiver and descended in a warm, liquid heat. The man had looks, mixed with a rich, deep voice, and a smooth, casual charm – every little bit pissed Crandall off because he didn’t want to notice the beast was attractive.
“How does ignorance look, Mr. Jacobsen?” Max nodded, as if satisfied with his silence. “Please continue. I believe you were about to let the girl…what is the common colloquialism? Kick your ass?”
Ash flinched, and then charged at Max. He approached low, but at the last moment, leapt up, leading with a high kick. Max batted him out of the air easier than any creature Crandall had ever witnessed striking during a hunt on the Discovery Channel. Ash flipped over the ledge and tumbled uncontrolled across the mat. Mike tensed and took a step forward, putting himself between Ash and the vampire. Crandall rushed forward, but yanked the gate open, ignoring Max in favor of Ash.
Scrambling back, Ash stopped, only when his back hitting the padded wall of the pit. Crandall squatted beside him. Sure, the man had the pretty boy thing going, but it was fucking childish to call him a girl for it; Crandall faced the beast to tell him so.
“I got the impression you’re more of a pretentious asshat than a fifth-grade bully, but what-fucking-ever, Maxie. Get fucking bent. Is that colloquial enough for you?”
Max’s quirky smirk widened into a grin, and not one of amusement, but of barely tempered irritation, as if Crandall pissed on the floor like a puppy who only just learned better. The fangs — it had to be the fangs that darkened the expression. Crandall snarled to hide a shudder, and tore his gaze off Max’s full lips framing sharp teeth.
Standing and crossing his arms, Crandall purposely angled his body to avoid Max’s gaze. He’d leave if he thought he could get past the vampire. His anxiety returned as his anger dissipated. His lips fell open, and his breath escaped in small not-quite-silent sounds.
“I don’t perform on demand,” he said quietly… to test the vampire’s hearing, he told himself, and not because he needed every last drop of his energy to beat back the unwieldy and unpredictable panic attack. “And you don’t belong here.” He lifted his chin, defiance setting his jaw, and stared past Max toward the exit.
Up Next: False Recovery