The Council Ch. 01byJazCullen©
Here were go again, back into my crazy world of vamps and weres :-)
Hope you like the opening instalment of the final part of this world. (And I'm stressing final here otherwise I'll still be sitting here in five year's time writing yet another sequel LOL!)
Many thanks to WorldHistoryBuff for sticking with me as editor as I tame these naughty twins :-)
And my thanks to the Guild for all their support and encouragement.
Loretta fluffed her shoulder length brown hair and sighed as she sat in her car watching the vampires go in and out of the seedy looking club. She really needed to get her hair cut. She couldn't remember the last time she'd worn it so long, usually preferring to have it a lot shorter. It made life a little easier when she shifted to wolf form, her fur more sleek and figure hugging.
She wasn't usually a girly girl, preferring to be more of a warrior; a hunter and protector. Her sleek, well-honed body was testament to that as was her position as Beta in the Hanlon pack. But ever since the night of the war last year she felt a little part of herself changing inside. She was letting her hair grow, paying more attention to how she dressed and moved. Christ, she'd even caught herself considering trying on some nail polish the other week.
She shuddered at the memory. Thankfully she had managed to restrain that girly impulse. She could just imagine the taunts she would have gotten from the other Betas if she'd shown up with bright red painted nails. Still, they probably would have looked pretty spectacular, almost as if she had talons which were dripping with blood. The image made her think of 'him' and her insides suddenly got all warm and tingly.
If there was a hard way or an easy way to do something, she always managed to select the hard way. She had been so close to death that night that it had taken her days to realise what meeting him signified. Only when she was back on her feet and getting around unaided did she finally realise just what had happened and just how screwed she really was.
Loretta sighed again and opened the car door, well toned, shapely legs rippling as her feet hit the sidewalk and she climbed out. She was here to see an asshole and it didn't look like he was coming out of the dive in front of her anytime soon. Which meant she had to go inside.
Her wolf stirred deep inside her, excitement warring with trepidation at the thought of walking into the nest of vampires on her own. They could kill her in a heartbeat and there was a good chance they would. Her only hope was that the man she was here to see would be present and would stop anything bad happening to her. Or at least she hoped he would.
She slid her hands down the sides of her deep crimson mini dress, her lips quirking in a little smile at the brevity of it. Cedar said to go in with all guns blazing and then had taken her shopping to buy the item that was now clinging to her like a second skin. She might as well be walking in completely naked, the dress showed off her body so much. Now that would have been amusing, watching the shock on the vampires' faces as a naked Were walked into their territory.
Squaring her shoulders, Loretta leaned into the car and grabbed her matching purse before straightening and locking the door. She couldn't put it off. Jared needed to know what was going on and the only way they could find out was by asking the man she was here to see. Heels tapping loudly on the tarmac, she crossed the road quickly and entered the aptly named club The Dive.
Sharp eyes quickly took in the large open room, the dark secluded areas which would afford humans with little or no view but were easy to penetrate for a Were. There was a medium sized dance floor with a few swaying bodies on it but mostly the room was full of private leather clad booths. A quick scent told her there were maybe a handful of humans present in the room but the rest were vampires, who were suddenly turning to look at her as she strode quickly across the room towards the bar against the right wall. She knew they could instantly scent she was a Were and that they would not be happy with her presence in their domain.
The brief, fragile acceptance which had begun between their species almost two year ago had broken down pretty quickly after almost a hundred vampires died in the abortive attack on the Hanlon compound. Now they were back to where they started, the majority of vampires detesting all Weres and the pack ready to kill any vampire who was not a personal friend of theirs.
Loretta reached the bar and stared intently at the man behind it. The music had died and a silence hung over the room as she felt close to a hundred and fifty pairs of eyes boring into her back and one pair staring at her face as intently as she was staring at him. The bartender's beautiful face twisted into a grimace of disgust as his hazel eyes swept her with contempt. He hissed loudly into the silent, tense room.
"No dogs allowed," he growled loudly, hissing again when she hopped up onto one of the bar stools and rested her hands on top of the bar.
"Andrei hired you," Loretta countered, forcing an amused drawl into her husky voice. It was better to let the entire room know as quickly as possible that she knew their boss. It would halt any action on their part for a moment. She knew he was their boss even though vampires didn't run in packs and have Alphas the way Weres did.
One meeting with the vampire all those months ago told her all she needed to know about him. He was a cold, ruthless killer with the most amazing smile and laughing brown eyes which he used as his best weapon to fool others into thinking he was harmless. Andrei Romanov was anything but harmless. He ruled these people in the room and he set Loretta's wolf on edge and her heart thumping with excitement. She'd always liked to live dangerously but Andrei was a step too far on the wild side even for her. That hadn't stopped her from volunteering to come here though.
Her mention of his name tamed the room slightly. Well, it brought a thoughtful expression on the bartender's face if nothing else. He leaned down and picked up a phone from underneath the bar. "There's an arrogant bitch in here who doesn't understand the concept of no dogs allowed," he said shortly, his tone full of anger. He listened quietly for a second and then looked at Loretta. "Name," he barked ominously.
Loretta's lips twitched slightly as she considered her response. He must have called Andrei. She tried not to show any sign of relief that he'd had the brains to do so. Maybe she wasn't about to die in the next couple of minutes after all.
"Rose," she answered, her lips twitching further. She was playing a dangerous game, relying on the vampire to remember their last conversation. Maybe he had forgotten her completely, it had been almost a year ago and vampires were such a fickle people, swiftly moving on to the next thing that caught their attention without a second thought for what they were leaving behind.
The bartender hung up after listening quietly for another long moment. He turned and grabbed a bottle of red wine and two glasses, putting it down on the bar in front of her. His head jerked to the door to his left marked private. "You're to go down." His attention turned from her immediately, his eyes raking the room quickly as if silently conveying some message to his own kind.
The music suddenly started up again and Loretta breathed a sigh of relief as she grabbed the bottle and glasses and moved over to the indicated door. Andrei clearly must have remembered her. She felt a stirring of excitement inside her and tried to dampen it down as she pushed through the door and started making her way down the long flight of stairs before her. She was here on pack business, not personal business. She had to keep that firmly in mind.
Andrei Romanov leaned back in his chair, his keen ears listening to the heels tapping lightly on the stairs as the spicy scent of cinnamon drew closer. He tapped a long finger against his lips as he smiled slightly, his interest piqued as to why the little she wolf was entering his domain. She was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. He couldn't work out which one at the moment.
Not a lot surprised the elder vampire anymore but the woman approaching his office just had, for the second time. The first was the night of the war, when he had found her broken and close to death, still in wolf form at the time. He had gone to put her out of her misery but found himself unable to do so. It had been disconcerting to say the least and very out of character for him.
Instead of killing the she wolf he had healed her with his blood, giving up a secret of his kind which was once closely guarded. Had she kept that secret or had she told her Alpha at the first possible opportunity? It was something he had always wondered about when she came to mind. Something which happened much too often for his liking.
Still, he couldn't help smiling as he listened to her reach the door, a little shiver of excitement coursing through his body at the thought of seeing her again. The last time she had been covered in bruises, her feminine beauty hidden under the damage done to her body. He felt as if this would be the first time he was truly seeing her.
The office door opened and she stepped through, stopping in the doorway. His brown eyes quickly travelled over her body poured into the most delicious little red dress he had ever seen, his appreciation for her tempting womanly curves causing his blood to heat slightly. Damn, she was surprising him again, or rather; his reaction to her was surprising him again.
She looked hot, there was no denying that. Her breasts were pleasantly firm and rounded, the plunging vee of her neckline showing ample creamy white flesh. Her small waist was pinched tight in the dress, her hips flaring out as the tight material clung to her like a second skin before ending mid- thigh showing off her strong, sleek legs. She wasn't a tall woman, maybe five feet three or four but in her red patent leather heels her legs looked so much longer, her calves so graceful.
His eyes travelled back up her body to her face and he actually struggled to keep his expression carefully neutral. She'd let her hair grow out. The thick brown locks rested just on the top of her shoulders in silky waves. It really suited her, softening her slightly sharp features which couldn't really be termed as beautiful in a classical way but were exceedingly attractive despite that. He smiled as he watched her silently, seeing her deep brown eyes sizing him up just as intently as he was her.
Loretta was so still because she quite literally found herself unable to move. Andrei Romanov was even more beautiful than she remembered from their first meeting. Granted she had been in a considerable amount of pain and close to death at the time, but even still, she had registered his inhuman beauty despite that. Her memory had obviously been clouded with the pain because it didn't do him justice though.
His long, light brown hair was loose around his shoulder, his brown eyes intent as they travelled over her body very slowly and actually caused a stirring of liquid heat inside her which she fought down before she started scenting up the room in a very embarrassing way. Her gaze slowly roamed over his strong, hard face, taking in the strong brow, high chiselled cheekbones, hard, granite jaw and soft, slightly curved lips. The vampire was a walking advertisement for all things that were alpha male; hot, sexy and extremely dangerous.
His big body was huge even sitting down. She knew he was around six feet tall and so strong he could snap her neck with barely any force required. His wide shoulders and arms made his white, silk shirt bulge slightly, the soft material at odds with the hardness of his physique.
Her gaze didn't get much further than that because he remained seated but her memory of him knew she wouldn't be disappointed in the rest of his amazing body. She could still remember how it felt to be draped over his hard, muscled thighs, of how he moved with such grace and speed as he'd carried her almost tenderly in his embrace that night.
Loretta met his eyes when he travelled back to her face, seeing a hint of amusement in them. They were his secret weapon, able to lull his enemies into a false sense of security before he took them apart. Andrei Romanov may be the most beautiful man to walk the planet but Loretta Simpson wasn't the most stupid woman to, she knew exactly what he was. Her eyes stayed locked on his for a fraction of a second longer and then she clinked the glasses in her hand and moved into the room.
"Hey asshole," she drawled smoothly, her lips twitching in a little smile as his widened even as one of his eyebrows quirked up at her greeting.
"Hey Rose," he answered, finding her irreverence strangely refreshing. He wasn't used to blatant disrespect. In truth, he'd be tempted to kill anyone foolish enough to address him as she had just done, but the little she wolf somehow managed to get away with it without sparking his ire. "You look much improved on our last meeting."
She set the glasses and bottle of wine down on the desk in front of him, coolly opening the bottle and pouring out two healthy glasses before she responded. "Vamp blood sure tastes like shit but it does wonders for a girl's complexion," she retorted with a little laugh, taking her glass of wine and sitting calmly down in the leather chair before him. She tipped her glass in his direction before taking a sip from it.
Andrei threw his head back and laughed loudly at her sass. Yes, she really was quite refreshing, as long as she didn't let it go to her head too much.
Loretta watched him with bated breath. She had thought long and hard on how to approach him on the way over. She had sensed that he responded to strong personalities on their first meeting. She tried to measure her inner strength whilst trying to appeal to his baser side with the skimpy dress. That she had also managed to appeal to his sense of humour was a bonus. She would live a little longer, maybe long enough to find out what she needed to know and make it back to the pack.
His laughter trailed off as he picked up his glass of wine and tipped it in her direction. "I'd say you had balls, Loretta, but that wouldn't be anatomically correct," he smiled softly. He took a healthy slug of his drink, enjoying the deep, full bloodied wine as it slid down his throat. His mouth watered slightly as his eyes dropped to the pulsing beat at the side of her neck. Her blood would taste so much better than the wine he was drinking.
He stiffened imperceptively at the errant thought. He had tasted her blood before when he had healed her back, his tongue lapping up her bright red succulent essence as he'd waited for her to heal. He knew what she tasted like, had remembered the sweetness of her taste many a night since then, almost craved it. But he could never taste her again and he knew it. If he ever bit into her tender skin he would kill her instantly. He couldn't stop his venom from releasing the moment he bit, it was a physical impossibility and vampire venom was instantly lethal to a Were.
"As much as I find your wit mildly amusing, I assume you are not here for a social call?" he finally said, dragging his eyes away from her neck and meeting her gaze head on. She looked wary, most probably having worked out just where his thoughts had been going just then. He liked seeing her knocked off balance. It appealed to the predator in him and let him see that she wasn't nearly as confident as her arrogant entrance implied.
"My Alpha needs to know what's happening with The Council," she said quietly, a thumb lazily stroking over the bowl of her wine glass as she kept her gaze locked with his. She watched him frown, a flash of irritation appear in his eyes along with something else. Wariness? Did he have something to hide? Something pertinent to the pack's survival? She instantly became more alert, searching his beautiful face for some answers but finding none as he closed down his expression expertly, a blank mask settling over his features.
"And you came to me why?" Andrei's voice was cold and hard, his eyes narrowing intently. Had Caleb told the Alpha? If the other vampire had he was going to have to do something, find a way to counter his interference. He couldn't allow the Ancient to run around telling all his secrets, especially to non-Vampires. He didn't think Caleb would have said anything. He had said he didn't want to be involved in Council politics. Maybe he was reading more into the she wolf's words than were really there?
Loretta wasn't unaware of the sudden tension in the room or the way Andrei's big body was suddenly coiled tightly as if ready to spring. She wondered what she had said that had suddenly sent him into such a feral state. She couldn't counter the slight shiver of trepidation which coursed through her body. She had to be very careful with what she said next or they might be her last words.
"You're the only one available to ask," she said carefully. "Caleb and Annie are in Europe. No one knows where Demetri whisked Mara off to but they are definitely out of the country. We know your brother is too and has been for months now. So that just leaves you, Andrei." She let out a slow breath when she saw him relax, his hard expression melting slightly and a hint of amusement coming back into his eyes.
Andrei willed his anger to subside, scenting her fear and not liking the acrid scent it gave off. It interfered with her wonderful spicy scent of hot cinnamon which he particularly enjoyed. Her explanation seemed plausible enough. If the other vampires weren't around and the pack really were concerned about what was happening in the Council, they would send a representative to him if he were the only 'friendly' vampire available.
"Why you?" he asked curiously taking another drink of wine as he relaxed more fully. He watched a slight flush of colour tinge her cheeks as she twisted slightly in her chair.
"I volunteered," she answered after a short pause, taking a little Dutch courage from her glass before speaking. "It seemed imprudent for the Alpha to come himself given the uncertainty of our welcome, plus his mate has recently given birth and he doesn't like to be away from her. A Beta seemed the logical choice to send."
He watched her silently for another long moment. "Why you?" he growled softly, repeating his question and smiling slightly when she flushed with colour again. She really did look cute when she was all flustered and knocked off balance. He was enjoying her discomfort immensely.
Loretta sighed and met his gaze, knowing he wasn't going to give her any information until she answered what he wanted to know. "I argued that there was less of a possibility of you killing me than any of the others," she admitted truthfully. "You had your opportunity to do so and didn't take it. I figured that gave me a fighting chance of walking out of here alive."
Her honesty surprised him. He wouldn't have harmed any other member of the pack if they'd come but she wasn't to know that. He had no need to harm them, not unless they attempted to hurt him in some way. While he had no great love for the dogs, they were under Ancient protection; at least until the Council came to a decision on what, if any, retribution was to be inflicted because of the war.
Her bravery amused him and he felt a little flicker of pride in her which surprised him. She constantly surprised him, engaging him on so many different levels. The little she wolf intrigued him greatly as did his own reaction to her. He was finding this meeting with her was more than he had imagined their next meeting would be.