A Taste of Midnight
She didn't think so, despite the forbidding glower he pinned on her. "Brannoc what?" When he didn't answer, she tried a different tack. "Reiver called you Brandogge last night. Is that what you are to him, his personal watchdog?"
"When need be." He took a step forward, the bulk of his huge body crowding her back against the door. The roll of his Scottish accent deepened with each syllable. "It was unwise of you to come here. You're trespassing, and my employer does not tolerate intruders in his place of business."
The closer he got to her, the more the air seemed sucked from the room. He was heat and danger and dark menace, a storm pushing her to retreat. Danika held his simmering gaze, mere inches between them now. "Just what kind of business goes on in here?"
He didn't answer, merely took more space from her, his gunmetal gray eyes throwing off sparks through the tendrils of dark hair that hung into them.
"Reiver's running a blood club, isn't he." Not a question, because her eso,ecause arlier suspicion had now hardened into a cold certainty that settled like ice in her stomach. "You know this, and yet you can serve him? What kind of man could willingly protect someone like Reiver and turn a blind eye to the way he makes his living?"
"We all make choices in life. We do what we have to."
"At the expense of your honor?" she challenged hotly. "Even at the cost of your own soul?"
He stared at her for the longest moment. Then the lock on the door behind her sprang free with a sharp metallic snick that made her flinch. "Go back where you belong, lass."
She didn't move. She didn't care now whether she knew him or if he was simply the hired guard dog of a skin-trading thug. Contempt for what he stood for-for what he was able to condone-put a defiant spark in her veins. "If you think I'll walk away without doing something about this, you're wrong. I won't be silent knowing innocent people are being hurt-"
His answering snarl cut her words short. "Yes, you bloody will be."
Suddenly she was pressed flat against the carved wood panels of the door, his body scorching hers everywhere they made contact. Which was too many places to count. She felt each contour and muscled bulk, from the unyielding planes of his naked chest and iron-clad abdomen, to the blatantly sexual heat of his pelvis and thick-hewn thighs.
"You will be silent," he commanded her tightly, full lips drawn back off his teeth and fangs. Fire crackled in his eyes now, but there was more than fury or threat in his wild gaze. There was concern in that hard look. A concern that bordered on desperation. "You'll say nothing to anyone, Danika. Do you understand?"
She gaped at him as the realization of how she knew him finally settled on her. It was an old memory-as old as her love for Conlan. Older, still, for she'd known this man even longer. Might have been tempted at one time to give him her heart, if she hadn't feared he'd leave it crushed under his boot heels one day. "Oh, my God," she murmured, reaching up to touch the grizzled, battle-worn face that had once been so handsome and bold. "It really is you&nbsp;..."
He didn't let her fingers light for more than an instant on his cheek. His grasp was firm, his mouth grim as he gave a slight shake of his head. Danika couldn't breathe. She felt as if she'd been knocked to the ground and lifted high aloft, all at the same time. A tangle of emotion swamped her as she struggled to accept what she was seeing, what she was feeling in that moment.
But where she was awash in confusion and a hopeful sense of relief, the man she knew to be Malcolm MacBain projected utter control. Cool and deliberate, devoid of any tenderness, he guided her hand back down to her side and held it there. "Forget what you heard. Forget Reiver." He let go of her, but his eyes still trapped her in their penetrating stare. "Forget me too."
He reached past her then and freed the latch on the club's front door. A gust of cold, damphe f cold, December wind sifted in around them. Street noise intruded, an unwelcome savior that jolted Danika out of the stupor that gripped her as she stared up into the face of someone she'd once considered a beloved friend but who was now worse than a stranger.
"Go," he said, and stepped back to give her space and keep himself out of the wan daylight that was reaching into the vestibule.
Danika looked at him one last time, searching for words that wouldn't come. Then she turned around and numbly walked back into the bustle of the street outside.
"Boss wants to see you in his office, Bran. Doesn't look happy."
Another of Reiver's personal security detail, Thane, leaned against the doorjamb of Bran's quarters at the club. The vampire was built like a tank, tall and immense, his massive shoulders and arms straining the fabric of his dark suit, the muscled bulk of him filling the doorway. Tonight, his shoulder-length black hair was pulled back in a short queue, the vee of his sharp widow's peak and slashing ebony brows giving his cool green eyes a hawkish quality as he watched Bran finish cleaning his pair of Glock 20s. The guns didn't need the attention, but after the day he'd had, if Bran didn't keep his hands busy, he was liable to punch someone. Starting with the bastard he worked for.
Taking his time on the weapons, he angled a scowl in Thane's direction as he reassembled the second of the pistols. "Tell the boss I'll be up in a minute."
"And tempt him to shoot the messenger?" Although he gave a low chuckle as he said it, Thane's shrewd eyes showed no humor. "You got a problem with Mr. Reiver, you take it up with him yourself, man."
Bran casually inspected both of his service weapons, then shoved them into the cross-body holsters that rode over the top of his graphite-gray shirt. "I've got no problems with him."
"You sure about that?" Thane stared, letting the question hang between them.
In the seven months since Bran had entered Reiver's employ, Thane had proven the hardest of the other guards to read. Tough, smart, hardcore when needed, if anyone were to suspect Bran's true motives where Reiver was concerned, it would without a doubt be Thane.
Bran stood up and crossed the small room to retrieve his black suit coat from the back of the wooden chair where it hung. He felt Thane's eyes on him as he shrugged into the coat, completing his thug's uniform, and prepared to face his boss.
"I don't know how you do it, man. Living here at the club, day in day out." Thane studied him. "Don't you have a place of your own, or kin somewhere to take you in?"
Bran cast a bland look at the thin cot and sparse furnishings of the room that had been his home since he'd come on board with Reiver. He shrugged. "I have a place to lay my head. I don't need anything more.y sp01D;
Not for now, at least.
Not until he had what he came for: vengeance.
Then, perhaps, he would return to his true home. Try to find some way to live again, in the empty place where Reiver had left nothing but death.
He brushed past Thane into the hallway. "The boss say what he wanted?"
"Nope. Just told me to find you and send you up to see him." The big guard crossed his arms over his chest. "Better hope you've got nothing to hide."
Bran ignored the warning and strode through the main floor of the club, past the members' lounge and gaming tables, where a few of Reiver's wealthiest clients had recently arrived to begin their night of deal making, debate, and discreetly arranged debauchery. Reiver's office was upstairs, a lavish suite that spanned the entire third floor of the building. The pair of vampires posted at the door admitted him with expressionless nods.
He walked in and found Reiver standing in front of a large flat-screen monitor, remote control gripped in his hand. "You sent for me?"
"Yes." The word was little better than a hiss. When Reiver swiveled his head to look at him, his face was hard with displeasure. "I've been informed that roughly an hour's worth of security camera feed from inside the club today has been damaged irreparably."
"Really." Bran feigned a measure of surprise, even though he'd been the one who destroyed the video surveillance footage personally. Right after Danika's appearance in the building.
Reiver grunted. "What's the use of keeping a watchdog on the premises if he isn't aware of everything that goes on in here at all times?" He set the remote down on his desk, his movements too deliberate. Too calm to be trusted. "Did anything unusual happen today, Brandogge?"
Bran bristled at the insulting nickname but kept his head. Just one more means of Reiver testing him, goading him to see what he was truly made of. "We had a visitor this morning," he said. No sense in denying it; he suspected Reiver already knew anyway and was testing his loyalty. "The female from the party last night."
"Danika MacConn." The sound of her name on Reiver's lips made Bran's pulse spike with a contempt he fought hard not to show. "I did some investigating of my own after Thane recovered a backup feed from the lobby this morning. Would you like to see it?"
Bran gave a nonchalant shake of his head, his suspicion confirmed that he was being tested and judged.
Leave it to Thane to throw him under the bus. But what was worse was the fact that Danika's appearance at the club today had only heightened Reiver's interest in her.
"Apparently the meddling bitch is in Scotland only temporarily, staying at the little cottage near the river on the MacConns' lands."
Jesus Christ. He knew where Danika was and how to find her. Details that could prove more than dangerous in the hands of a heartless bastard like Reiver.
"The question is, what was she doing nosing around my place of business today?"
Bran shrugged dismissively. "She didn't say what she wanted, but since you saw the camera feed, you know she didn't get far. And she won't be coming back anytime soon. The way I left things with her, I don't think she'll pose any further problems for you."
"No," Reiver said, all too readily. "No, I'm certain she won't. I saw to that myself a few minutes ago."
All the blood in Bran's head made a swift, cold rush into his boots. He held the flat stare of his employer, careful to betray none of the dread he was feeling. "What do you mean, you saw to it?"
"I sent a couple of men over to the MacConn lands to look in on the woman. I'm sure they'll be able to persuade her that she might be more comfortable staying out of my affairs. Unfortunately, Edinburgh can be a very dangerous place for a strong-headed woman."
"Who did you send?" The words were dry in Bran's throat, his limbs wooden as he waited to hear the answer.
"Kerr and Packard."
Two of his most brutal henchman. Where Thane and some of the other Breed males in service to Reiver were threatening in their own right, Kerr and Packard were reserved for only the ugliest jobs. They were the bone-breakers of Reiver's stable, the ones dispatched when he wanted to make his point with someone in the bloodiest of terms.
It was all Bran could do not to leap on Reiver and tear out the son of a bitch's throat right where he stood. But killing him now wouldn't spare Danika the pain that was heading her way. There would be time to deal with Reiver later-time for Bran to see his vengeance through as he'd long planned.
Right now, all that mattered was reaching Danika.
Before Kerr and Packard had the chance to do their worst.
Bran cleared his throat to dislodge the icy knot that had settled there. "If there's nothing else you need from me&nbsp;..."
"No," Reiver said, casual despite the fact that he'd issued a likely death warrant for an innocent woman. "That'll be all for now, Brandogge. I'll send for you if I have need of anything further."
Bran inclined his head, then pivoted to make his exit. Each calm stride was a test of his self-control as he made his way back downstairs and through the now-bustling club.
He had to get out of there. He had to get to Danika, and fast.
Hell, it might already be too late.
As he cleared the membershe he membx2019; lounge and turned the corner down a stretch of empty hallway, his steps hastened. Worry and rage snarled in his gut when he thought about Reiver's evil touching someone else he cared about. He couldn't bite back the curse that boiled out between his teeth and emerging fangs.
"I gather it didn't go well."
Bran paused, swung a dark look over his shoulder at Thane. The guard stood behind him in the hallway, one beefy shoulder pressed against the wall, his booted feet crossed at the ankle. His expression might have been mistaken for boredom, if not for the glint of suspicion in his eyes.
"Something went wrong with the surveillance camera feed today. But I guess you already know that," Bran said, wrestling his concern and fury into a semblance of curt frustration. And it didn't escape him that the best defense was often a good offense. "Thanks for not telling me that my ass was on the line with the boss."
"Wasn't my place to tell you," Thane said. "You going down to the control room to have a look?"
"Yeah." Bran nodded, well aware that there was a back exit to the building down there too.
Thane started walking toward him. "I'll go with you."
Bran scoffed. "You've helped me enough for one night, don't you think? Why don't you do something useful and send a few of the girls up to the boss for a while, tell them to take good care of him, make him real happy. Pick the best ones too, the ones with the most skilled mouths. Maybe if we keep him busy, he'll lay off the rest of us for the night."
Thane stared at him, unsmiling. "All right, Bran. You do what you have to. I'll handle things with Mr. Reiver."