Crandall stopped dead in his tracks as if the slam of the door locked his muscles in place. It wasn’t the noise that froze him, however; it was the vampire sprawled lazily on the cheap green sofa of the dressing room. With his golden curls, unnaturally blue eyes, and a chiseled never-aging face, the vampire appeared to fit in with the musicians that flocked to the club while the power he exuded belied those youthful, carefree looks.
“Go away, Max,” Crandall said. He spat out the words. His body trembled with the attempt to resist the unease Max inspired by simply being in the same room. Crandall relied on the dressing room for sanctuary from the crowd. Panic darkened the edges of his vision, but not enough to hide the immortal grinning at him.
“What’s up?” Jon asked from the edge of the cloud closing in on Crandall. “You’ve met Max already?”
“Let me buy you that drink.”
Crandall gritted his teeth and turned to glare at Angelo. The vampire nodded at him as he put an arm around Jon’s shoulders. Angelo steered the musician toward the door, but Jon hesitated as they passed Crandall.
“Are you okay?” Jon asked.
Crandall pushed his tongue against the back of his teeth and drew in a deep breath through his nose. It did little to control the anxiety, but gave him enough of a pause to answer his friend. “Yeah, go get your drink. That bastard doesn’t give them away often.” His gaze darted between Angelo and Jon, and when Jon didn’t move to leave, Crandall added, “Max and I have business to discuss. Get out of here. It’ll be fucking boring.”
Jon clapped his shoulder and then left with the man he only knew as the owner of Blood Moon. As Jon left with a vampire, Crandall heard Mike’s voice behind him as he spoke briefly to Jon. Crandall remained still, his gaze focused on the remaining vampire, a Fang with strength that seemed to fill and overflow the room. A small quieted part of his mind questioned how Mike could be near the Immortale without feeling that oozing, murky molasses of their inner power. Cloying and vile, the air in the room hung heavily with the poison of Max’s presence.
“Hey, Crank,” Mike said, “good show.” Mike brushed a hand down Crandall’s spine. His touch evaporated the tension and budding panic in Crandall’s body and mind.
“Yeah,” Crank whispered. He sucked in another quick breath and smiled at Mike. “Thanks. I’d like this place if we could get rid of the fucking Fangs.”
With Mike’s fingers dancing along his back, Crandall’s thoughts turned toward what he’d like to do to blow off post-gig steam. He didn’t care what Max wanted, even if it meant getting rid of the mess called Judas. All he wanted was Mike, still sweaty, skin warmed with the workout of performing.
And then Max had to go and ruin the peace and carnal thoughts. One second he lounged on the sofa, arms spread wide across its back, and the next he stood beside them, a fang-bearing and none too friendly grin on his eternal face.
“Close the door,” Max said.
The words were quiet, but the weight of his authority nearly had Crandall turning to obey the order. Instead, Crandall wrapped his fingers around the head of the stake he wore on his belt whenever they performed at the club.
“Fuck you,” Crandall said. He jumped at the sound of the door closing behind him. As he spun around, Nica smiled, but her expression seemed subdued.
“Nicoletta has informed me of your ultimatum.”
Crandall spun back around to glare at Max. The vampire continued, either ignoring or unbothered by Crandall’s petulant mood.
“Normally, I’d tell you to stop making pointless demands, but your request intrigues me.” Max paused and opened an inviting arm. Nica’s smile returned, back to its normal brightness as she stepped into Max’s arm. He pulled her to his side, his tall, solid frame making her look even smaller than usual.
“Nicoletta is under my personal protection.” Max no longer smiled, but his stern expression more than made up for not showing his fangs behind a casual smile. “This means, if you’re stupid enough to cause her any harm, even Judas’s obsession with this prophecy will not protect you.”
“Max has a very bad temper,” Nica said solemnly. She slipped an arm around his waist and leaned her head against his chest, looking all the while like a smug child seeking protection from a bully in her father’s shadow.
Up Next: After the Show