Max straightened, and everyone in the room flinched, tensing for retribution. Instead of attacking any one of them, Max nodded his head at Crandall. “You have the fire,” Max said. His gaze skipped to each in turn. “If I believed in foretelling, I’d believe the time drew near.” He shrugged, and it looked like a well-practice, but wholly unnatural movement on his graceful shoulders. “I don’t,” he added. “But Judas does, and now I see what he likes about you.” He met each set of wary eyes in turn. “You are safe from me and mine as long as you don’t pick a fight. I will personally ensure it, and while that may mean little to you, I am… as you might say, the head of the New England Immortale.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Crandall muttered.
Max cocked his head, his expression returning to amusement. “Nor would you say the word we use. It would mean even less to you than the explanation I provided.”
Without another word, Max strolled out, leaving the door open behind him.
Dragon walked to the door. Mike grabbed his arm and gave him a questioning look.
“Locking the front door,” Dragon said gruffly.
“It was locked.” Mike relaxed his grip.
“I don’t expect a vampire to bother to lock the door behind him when he broke in in the first place.”
“If it’s broken, come get me.”
Dragon nodded and left the room.
Crandall listened to the exchange not caring if the door was open or closed or shattered all over the floor of the lobby. He stared at Ash who remained huddled on the floor where the Fang had thrown him. Crandall had witnessed rougher moves when Ash sparred with Dragon, and yet the Karate Kid appeared shaken and scared.
“What’s with you?” Crandall asked. He moved closer, his introverted nature at war with the concern he felt for the man he tried so hard to hate.
Ash ignored him, or maybe didn’t hear him. He hugged his knees to his chest, his black hair hanging over his face like a shield.
“Hey,fucker.” Crandall bit his lip and crouched down in front of Ash. “Do I need to call an ambulance?”
Crandall heard Mike’s feet shuffling in behind him, but his friend said nothing. Ash lifted his head. His eyes were dry but red rimmed and filled with shame and sorrow. Crandall frowned, instinctively reaching for Ash. He hesitated a moment before resting his hand on Ash’s forearm. At a rare loss for words, he met Ash’s gaze, searching his eyes for an explanation.
“I’m not hurt,” Ash said, his voice cracking.
“I don’t believe you,” Crandall said.
“Crank…Leave him be.” The warning tone in Mike’s voice behind and above him set his nerves on edge and left him grinding his teeth.
“You’re going to let that jackass get to you?” Crandall didn’t disguise the surprise and disgust in his voice. He let his hand fall away, but remained crouched at eye level with Ash. “We’ll stake that fucker along with his batshit crazy boss or sire or whatever the fuck Judas is.”
Ash smiled weakly. “I doubt that. He’s quick, and his anticipation is perfect.”
“No one’s perfect.” Crandall sneered. “So don’t let him get under your skin. What would Karate Kid do?”
Ash laughed, and while it sounded hollow to Crandall, Ash’s shoulders shifted, squaring off, and he lifted his chin to meet Crandall’s unwavering glare. “I somehow doubt I can trick a vampire with that move,” Ash said. His lips twitched into a crooked half grin. “He’s right, you know.”
“Probably about something.” Crandall shrugged and started to rise.
Ash caught his wrist and held him until his gaze shifted from Ash’s hand restraining him to his eyes. “The girl thing,” he said. The pain returned to his expression, and Crandall narrowed his eyes, shifting his gaze to the mats beside Ash’s foot.
“I’m sure he’s not,” Crandall said, as if Ash hadn’t said a word.
Mike moved forward, his bare feet sliding into Crandall’s view. “You want me to take him home and tell him?”
From the corner of his eyes, Crandall saw Ash shake his head. He lifted his gaze, but couldn’t meet the man’s eyes. While curious, his anxiety won out and he fought an urge to step back, walk away, or even simply curl up with his against the curved wall of the pit and ignore them both. The feeling intensified with Dragon returned and announced the door and its lock had not been broken, nor could he tell how the vampire got in.
“No,” Ash said. “I will.” Mike drifted away to another part of the pit. His voice low, Crandall couldn’t hear what he said to Dragon, and Dragon only replied with a brief grunt.
Crandall forced himself to look up, meeting Ash’s eyes for a full second before looking over his shoulder at the shine of the lights reflecting off the cushioned wall. The brief glance was enough. Whatever Ash hid could stay hidden; Crandall had no interest in bearing another secret.
Up Next: A Man’s Kiss