One fateful night, Leo Adams is kidnapped and forced to serve as an unwilling blood-donor for a coalition of vampires. It is a harsh life,and he doubts he will live much longer. Part of him feels like that might not be such a bad thing. One day, unforeseen events allow Leo to escape his horrible life, and he ends up falling straight into the lion-shifter, Maddox.
Maddox is unsure of what has fallen into his arms, but he knows Leo is someone special. As they grow closer, he knows that he will fight, fang and claw, to keep Leo safe. If that means taking on the entire vampire coalition... then so be it.
Maddox and his brother Liam had been patrolling downtown for hours without success when they stopped on a backstreet corner. The cops had been busy tonight, which usually meant the blood-suckers kept a low profile. He wanted to pack it up and head back home, but Liam insisted on expanding their area to keep searching.
Before they’d come to an agreement, the sound of metal rattling caught their attention. Down at the end of the street, a half-naked man stared at them with wide eyes before turning around and limping in the other direction.
Maddox shared a glance with his brother before he took off after the guy.
Something wasn’t right, and Maddox feared the guy was injured. The temperature had dropped lately, and seeing as the man wore next to nothing, Maddox didn’t like the guy’s chances.
Closing in, the runner struck him as barely out of his teens, and Maddox could smell blood on him. The kid was definitely injured and ran at snail’s pace. When Maddox caught up to him, the kid stumbled, and he grabbed him before he fell to the ground.
Maddox held the kid in his arms as the lithe body started to shake violently. He just barely caught sight a pair of brown, doe eyes before they rolled to the back of his skull and the body started to seize.
“Shit.” He lifted the kid in his arms and headed back for the Hummer, leaving Liam to follow in his wake. They were parked a few streets up, and Maddox needed to be quick. Considering the man in his arms hardly weighed anything at all, he got them to the car in no time.
“We need to get the kid to a hospital!” his brother yelled behind him.
Both of them jumped into the car. Liam took the wheel as Maddox kept the guy in his lap and tried to get him to swallow some water he had stashed in the car. “No hospital. There was a big accident a few hours ago on the highway. By the time they get to him, he’ll be gone. We need to take him back to base.”
“You know that isn’t regulations,” his brother reminded him.
“To hell with it, Liam! I may not know the kid, but I’m sure as hell not gonna let him die because of some damn rules. You know Sol will agree. Might not be happy about it, but…”
“Just saying, the last thing Sol needs right now is more crap to deal with,” Liam said.
Yeah, Maddox knew that several members of the Council were looking for excuses to withdraw Sol’s leader status, but this was important. The kid in his lap was pale, and Maddox wasn’t sure the fact his shaking had almost stopped was a good thing.
Who the hell could this guy be, anyway? For god’s sake, he was wearing only a pair of leather pants and a collar. Seeing the redness around the edges of the leather band at his neck, Maddox found the small lock in the back and released it. The collar fell off, and Maddox gasped.
“What?” his brother asked.
Anger spread through Maddox’s body. “He’s a donor,” he said as he let one of his fingers trace scars and barely healed sores from bite marks on the kid’s neck. “By the looks of it, they’ve kept him a while.”
“Shit. You’re sure?”
Liam sounded sick, and he had right to be. Being a donor wasn’t considered easy living, and while most donors had an expiration date of three, maybe four months, this kid had to have been kept much longer. There was just no way he’d end up with that much scarring in such a short time.
“Yeah, his neck is covered in old scars. Some are pretty fresh.” The kid’s arm fell to the side, and the sight definitely tried Maddox’s stomach. “Christ… They didn’t just feed on him. They used him as a fucking pin-cushion.” Leaning down, Maddox crinkled his nose. “From the smell of it, he was recently dosed.”
Leaning down again, Maddox took another whiff nearer the kid’s neck. Behind the dirt and the drugs, a soft and spicy vanilla scent wafted off him, which somehow calmed him. Maddox loved vanilla. He took another deep breath, almost burying his nose in the kid’s neck.
“Bro? What exactly are you doing?” Liam asked, giving Maddox a suspicious look.
Blushing, Maddox sat back up again, “He smells nice…”
“Right. Well, you might want to refrain from… sniffing him in front of Solomon. Besides, if he really is a donor, I doubt he’ll be sympathetic to supernaturals. Especially ones trying to… sniff him.”
“Not like anyone has given him a reason to trust us.” Thinking about what the kid must’ve gone through got to him. A sudden protectiveness rose in his chest, and he held the body tighter in his arms.
Maddox would keep him safe.
“Stop that,” Liam hissed at him with a disturbed expression on his face.
“What?” Maddox inquired.
“Blushing. It’s weird.”
“Get stuffed,” Maddox grumbled.
Liam glanced over and rolled his eyes. “You’re pathetic.” He took a right off the highway, and the asphalt soon turned into a dusty road.
A few minutes later, they passed through the first security gates flanked by tall, electrified fences that went around the entire property. Several surveillance cameras with thermal vision were posted along the fence, and the automatic gate itself needed both a password and a retinal scan before it opened.
During the night, there would be a few perimeter checks, but it was the inner sanctum that was truly guarded. Between the electric fence and the concrete walls surrounding their facility, acres of forest and tall grass decorated the spacious backyard of the pride manor. Several deer and other, smaller animals roamed the forest for whenever any of the pride members needed to work things out by hunting.
They pulled up to the second set of gates. Maddox was relieved to see their baby-brother Kett on patrol. Still, he held the unconscious man closer when Kett approached the car. Kett stood shorter than Liam and him, but not by much. His golden-brown hair was also a bit darker than theirs, but the gold-tinted eyes revealed their blood relation.
“Hey, Liam, Maddox… Who is that?” Kett asked when he came over to them and saw the limp body in Maddox’s lap. “He’s not looking too peachy. You run him over or something?”
The snarl startled all of them, even Maddox, despite the fact the sound came from him.
Liam reproached him with a speculative glance before looking down at the injured kid.
“Okay…” Kett backed away a few steps from the car. “Something you wanna share there, bro?”
When Maddox failed to answer, Liam broke the silence. “We’re gonna need Solomon down at the medical center. Call ahead and tell Jace we’ll need whatever the hell he’s got to help a human through drug withdrawal.”
“Yikes. You got it.” Kett pulled out his phone as he punched in the eight digit code on a small alarm box next to the gate, allowing them to pass through.
It still took them a few minutes to reach the manor. The kid started seizing again, and Maddox tried to calm him down, stroking his cheek and whispering words of reassurance.
Liam kept glancing over, and Maddox didn’t blame him. It wasn’t exactly normal for him to be so tentative with anyone.
Driving up to the pride manor, Maddox glanced up at the square, white building. It would have looked like some kind of fancy factory if it hadn’t been for the Roman pillars at the entrance.
Liam drove around the back toward the medical center. Sol and Jace were waiting for them when they arrived. As expected, Sol looked disgruntled. The pride leader’s arms were crossed, and he had a tight expression on his face. Sol wasn’t one to be messed with—he was both taller and broader than Maddox—and with his near ice-blond hair and sharp blue eyes, people rarely did. Sol had a strict policy of no outsiders, but this was a special case. It wasn’t like Maddox could just leave the kid to die in that filthy alley.
Jace, the pride doctor, stood next to their leader. Though he had the same coloring as Sol, his build was completely different. Jace shifted into a snow leopard, built for speed, not strength. The doctor was much leaner than the others in the pride. Nonetheless, he topped at almost six feet and didn’t lack muscle tone. At heart, Maddox felt Jace would probably be more at home amongst a bunch of eighty year old women in a quilting circle than in a pride. The guy stitched up the wounded, and gossiped like a woman’s magazine.
“Never figured you for bringing home strays, Mad.” Jace grinned as he opened the car door, letting Maddox carefully extract the kid from the vehicle—a somewhat difficult task, since the kid kept thrashing about.
Maddox ignored the snow leopard and gave his attention to Sol. “We found him while patrolling downtown. He pretty much collapsed in my arms.” Angling the kid in his arms while holding him tight so he wouldn't fall, Maddox showed Sol the marks on his neck. “I’m pretty sure Cujo didn’t leave those bites. Or these,” Maddox said, referring to the needle marks on the kid’s arm.
Sol didn’t argue, and led the way to the medical center.
The medical center was at the back of the manor, and could hardly be called a center at all. Only six people, including Jace, constituted the pride. Their group was small, yet strong. They had one patient room with three large hospital beds and a couple of chairs at their sides. The room was painted in a soft yellow, and a couple of green plants had been placed around the room to make it feel less like a hospital ward.
Maddox put the kid down on one of the beds, and Jace tilted his head and turned his arm so he could inspect the evidence. Sol sighed at the sight. The injuries told the story of a hard life as a blood donor. The kid started thrashing on the table and Jace gave him some painkillers to calm him down, but he was still breathing a little too heavy for Maddox’s liking.
Jace didn’t appear to like it any better. “Jesus… These marks go back at least six or seven months. He’s also malnourished, but hardly the worst we’ve seen, considering he’s still alive. I don’t suppose you found a nice little wallet complete with ID on the vic?”
Maddox shook his head. “No. He saw us and ran. The moment I reached him, he just collapsed.”
Maddox hadn’t realized he was pacing, but when he looked up to find the others watching him, he stopped. His cat couldn’t settle down.
Sol was their Sorena, their leader, and he hadn’t gotten the position without being perceptive. It didn’t surprise Maddox when the man gave him a stern look and asked: “Anything you’d like to add?”
“No,” Maddox lied, and kept pacing, tensing whenever the kid whimpered in pain.
Maddox wanted to tear Jace’s face off when he leered at him. “If you ask me, it seems like Simba here just found himself a new chew-toy. Even if it happens to be pre-chewed.”
Maddox bared his teeth, and a dark, threatening rumble rose from his chest.
“Whoa, easy there, kitty,” Jace laughed nervously, backing off. “I was just yanking your chain a bit.”
“Do you think you can save the remarks for when the kid isn’t dying?” Maddox hissed. “Do your fucking job!”
Sol watched with keen eyes, then turned on his heels for the door. “Maddox, I need to see you in my office.” When Maddox hesitated, he added, “I’m sure your brother won’t mind watching over him while you’re gone. It won’t take long.”