When Mike didn’t immediately jump back up, Crandall forgot about his conversation with Ash and hurried to Mike’s side. “What’s wrong?” Crandall asked as he dropped to one knee beside Mike.
Mike grimaced and covered Crandall’s hand on his chest. “Knocked the wind out of me,” he wheezed.
Crandall snorted. “You fell for that three times in a row, asshat.”
“Your support is appreciated.” Mike pushed himself up to a sitting position, and then Crandall stood and pulled Mike to his feet.
“I’ll support you when you don’t fall for that move again.”
Crandall squeezed Mike’s hand and then stepped away. He watched Mike for a moment, before returning to Ash’s side.
“What were we bitching about?” Crandall said as he slid down the wall.
“Nothing.” Ash flashed a grin. “I’d rather talk about my girlfriend.”
“Fuck. Me.” Crandall groaned, but he didn’t object.
Mike walked to the far wall where he’d left a bottle of water. As he sipped, he watched his lover. Crandall rolled his eyes and made disgusted faces at Ash, but didn’t interrupt Ash with more than the occasional smart-ass comment. Mike was glad Ash changed the subject; he hadn’t liked what he’d been hearing.
He had expected Crandall to start objecting sooner. Crandall didn’t like lies, and he didn’t understand why people pretended one thing while doing another. He never cared about what others thought about him and would never understand why Mike did. Mike had his reasons, but lately, he’d been doubting them. The longer he and Crandall were together, the more he wanted to shout it from the rooftops. He knew there were times that he couldn’t keep the happy, satisfied, so much in love look off his face. He would out himself if he didn’t get some control. Would it be all that bad? It would be. Mike was certain. He’d love to give Crandall the openness back that he valued, but Mike feared the haters, the derogatory comments, the off-color questions about why he didn’t like girls and worse. He could imagine so much worse.
“He’s right,” Dragan said.
Mike startled, dripping water down his shirt. Dragan didn’t know what was on Mike’s mind, but his words still hit home as if Mike had spoken out loud.
“About letting down your guard. As soon as you think you see an opening, you drop your right shoulder and you step off balance.”
With a frown, Mike replayed the last couple of moves in his head. He didn’t see it.
“Let’s do it again,” Dragan said. “Slowly.”
Mike nodded and set his water aside, grateful for a distraction to his previous train of thoughts. He’d worry about Crandall when Crandall demanded he do so. It was inevitable, sooner or later.
“There’s more than one way to get off.”
“Sure, I know that, but–”
“Shh!” Crandall sat up straight, his chin dipped to his chest, a fierce look of concentration on his face.
Ash listened for a moment, but the only sounds he heard were Mike and Dragan stepping through a combo in the center of the Pit. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Neither do I, but that bitch is here.” Crandall stood up. When Ash moved to stand as well, Crandall held out a hand. “Wait here.”
Ash looked ready to object but seemed to think better of it. He leaned back against the wall.
Crandall hurried through the building, impatience and fury coloring his strides. He’d had enough of these vampire diversions. If they thought he’d deal with their crazy-ass old fucker through all these mind games, then they had another think coming. He was done. He’d already told that obnoxious short one exactly that. Now she was back. He could feel her close. Probably the parking lot, pretending like she wasn’t contemplated breaking his door to deliver whatever pathetic message she had this time. She’d been no help, and he no longer wanted to play along. Never did. Maybe the other guys would enjoy the hunt, but Crandall was done.
He flipped the lock and pushed through the door. He shouted into the darkened parking lot. “Go the fuck away before I come back out here with a fucking stake.”
Nica stepped from the shadows at the corner of the building. She hung back, watching him warily. “You’ve been invited to play Friday night. You’re opening for Dead Inside again. Try not to start another fight.”
She put a fist on her hip and glared at him as best as she could. Crandall wasn’t intimidated; he was exasperated. He flipped her the finger and said, “Consider this my rejection of you invitation. I’m not going back there.”
“You’ll get your information after the show.”
“What’s wrong with your hearing? I’m done. I’m not doing this. I’m not playing your games, or your club.”
Nica licked her lips and her confident expression wavered. “You like to perform. I can tell.” Crandall started to speak but Nica talked over him. “Play your set and I’ll give you what I’ve pieced together from Judas’s schedule.”
“Get lost, fang.”
She said something else but the words were lost to the darkness as Crandall ducked back inside and threw the lock. He was ready to spar again, and hoped he didn’t hurt one of his friends as he vented his anger at his stupid luck with vampires.