“You’re so whipped, man,” Ramón said with a laugh at his expense. Felipe frowned without removing his gaze from Charlie until his mate disappeared through the upstairs hallway. He glared at his friend with a low growl. Ramón held his hands up. “Don’t shoot the messenger, Felipe. And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.” His friend’s lips curled up in a goofy smile. “In fact, it’s nice to see you still want him as badly as when you first mated. After watching your grumpy ass be alone for so long, it’s fun to see you go through the same shit you made fun of me for.”
Felipe snorted, knowing too well how true it was. “It’s the obligation of any single male to tease his mated friends. It helps them to deal with the loneliness.” Although Felipe would never admit it to another living person, he knew just how true his words were. He never realized he had been lonely until he finally took Charlie as his own. Now he couldn’t imagine a life without the cute little male in it, bringing softness and light where before there had been nothing but hardness and darkness. While he felt more fragile and vulnerable with a mate, he wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a weakness and yet his strength, all at the same time. And being mated has made me a sentimental fool, Felipe thought wryly. Shaking his head, he turned to go up the steps, Ramón keeping pace with him easily.
“You’re definitely not lonely now. I think five hours of marathon sex is enough to drive the loneliness out of even you. You stink of sweat and Charlie, by the way.”
“I know.” Felipe eyed his friend, who was still
fucking smiling like a smug idiot. “I’m not ashamed of it, just like you and Luc never are when you refuse to shower so ‘the scent will sink into our skin,’” he said in a mock version of Ramón’s voice. He crowed internally to see Ramón’s brown skin pinken slightly high in his cheeks.
“Well, it’s true.” Ramón’s voice had a faint, high-pitched whine of indignation. “The scent will linger all day that way.”
Felipe didn’t need Ramón to tell him that. He’d lost track of the amount of times he and Charlie had refused to shower, wanting the smell in their nostrils to last as long as possible. Sex was a bonding act between mates, but the scent of sex and their mate was like a calming balm to their volatile minds. In a life of war and blood, the sacred scent of their mates at their most vulnerable and open brought a calm to them that couldn’t be replicated by anything else. Plus, it soothed the savage beast inside that needed to claim what was theirs. Charlie was his, and knowing that his mate would smell of him whenever he encountered other males helped Felipe while they were separate for any length of time. So it wasn’t unusual for mates to figure out ways to make their sex smells linger as long as possible.
But the fact that he was openly discussing that with Ramón certainly made him feel
like he was a whipped idiot. He still wasn’t comfortable discussing the intimate details of his and Charlie’s relationship. Ramón never stopped trying, though, poking at his buttons until he snapped, taking great enjoyment from seeing Felipe squirm.
Instead of responding, Felipe ignored his second until they reached his office. They strode inside, and Felipe walked through his team of males, who had all arrived. His males parted before him like water around a rock in a stream, and Felipe noted how their nostrils flared, their pupils dilating as they took in the scents of sex. He went to the desk and sat, resting his arms on the dark wood. His gaze went from one male to another, taking them all in.
Doc’s eyes shone through his glasses, which only seemed to give him a sexy-geek-chic look that attracted all sorts of males to him like flies to honey, despite the scar that ran across his jaw. Felipe remembered feeling jealous and insecure back when he’d first met Charlie because Doc had pretended to have feelings for his mate. But then he found out Will, his sharpshooter, was in a sexual relationship of an…interesting sort with Doc. Felipe had done some research about BDSM, and what he found had only made him more confused. For a male needing to be dominated, Doc could hold his own in his life, career, and in battle. It was a conundrum that Felipe had long ago stopped trying to figure out. Doc’s private needs didn’t hamper his work, and that’s all Felipe cared about. Will was leaning against the far wall, acting bored as usual. His appearance of negligence, Felipe figured, was nothing more than a farce to make others think he wasn’t as much of a danger. But Will took in everything around him with a skill that could surprise even Felipe still. Will was a master observer with a knack for noticing even the smallest, most inconsequential details.
Ramón had taken a seat on the sofa next to his mate, Luc. The two were like white and milk chocolate. Ramón’s olive tone was beautiful next to Luc’s paleness. And the French male was quite a looker himself—Luc’s dark hair and piercing, blue eyes were striking. Luc and Ramón were a perfect match, both fair-tempered for vampires and high-spirited. They loved to laugh and play. Ramón was more outspoken than his partner, which suited Luc fine. Luc didn’t like to talk much, preferring to sit back and observe. Both were deadly in a fight, however, and Felipe had quickly learned to respect the French male when he’d joined them years ago.
Felipe’s team possessed different strengths, which covered each other’s weaknesses—what few they had, that is. Felipe couldn’t hope for a better group of males to call his own. And with the war they’d waged for decades, they had all come out ahead—stronger, faster, smarter. In his mind, Felipe considered them invincible. A foolish notion, but he held it all the same. None had defeated them.
“Ever since the battle in the warehouse, when Charlie led us to the Hunters’ nest, then destroyed them, the Hunters we encountered have been scattered, leaderless,” Felipe began. He wanted to snarl as the memory haunted him. Charlie had been bound to a pole, frightened as Maître
threatened to kill him. Felipe had never been as terrified as he was that day, watching the life drain from his mate’s body after Charlie’s telekinesis attack. “We now outnumber them, and the numbers are even more in our favor, as the ones we find are few and not as well trained to fight.”
“That’s what they get for making the chiens
do all their work for them,” Will said with a snort of derision.
The others mumbled in agreement, and Felipe nodded at his male. “Yes, they weakened themselves by enslaving the chiens and forcing the males to hunt for them and be their shields. But let us not forget what the Hunters were like before then. Back in Spain, they were a force to be reckoned with.”
Doc stretched out his legs, his blue gaze bouncing between the rest of the group. “But that was with the Maître to lead them. Most of their captains died in the warehouse. And although the Maître disappeared, there has been no sign of the Hunters coming back together to fight as a single unit. Their skills are amateur at best. Downright childish at worst.”
“It would be foolish to underestimate them,” Ramón cut in, his tone gentle but firm. “They were once fearsome warriors. The battles we had were bloody, with many deaths on both sides. Their strategy changed when they followed us to America, but there is no guarantee they won’t go back. For all we know, they could be training elite warriors and using the others as a way to draw us into a false sense of security.”
Felipe pointed to his second. “Precisely. We should not be thrown off the end game here. The fact that they are still attempting to battle us even when severely weakened is a sign we should not ignore. We’ve been lax the last few years, and His Majesty and I have allowed it, taking a break after they lost the battle. But it would be extremely foolish to keep our defenses lowered. I’ve been using my tracking abilities to attempt to find Maître, without any success, but the fact that he hasn’t been found, alive or dead, is worrisome. It’s time to get ourselves back into the fight. He’s out there somewhere, and if he’s alive, then he’s had time to heal. And he’s had time to prepare. We must not be caught unawares.”
It was difficult to watch the light leave Doc’s eyes. Felipe knew how hard killing was for him. And he knew Will also did, from the way the male reached out to rest his hand on the nape of Doc’s neck, massaging lightly. Felipe nodded to his sharpshooter. “It’s time to tighten our defenses. And we need to redirect our missions. It’s no longer a seek-and-destroy game. It’s time to be stealthier.”
“Are we part of the task force His Majesty discussed in the last gathering?” Will queried.
Felipe nodded. “Yes. Our team and two others have been given a special mission. The three other teams on duty tonight will continue their regular duties, killing any Hunters they encounter. However, if they spot any, then they will contact us and attempt to leave at least one alive, allowing them to escape or whatever shit they think will be believable. We must follow them to their hideouts. Not only that, but we will bug the hell out of them—listen to their communications, watch their comings and goings. That’s what you’ve been working on in the new computer room downstairs, Will. It’s to be a communication center for our teams, as well as our spy center. We can watch and listen at our leisure, and report our findings to His Majesty.”
“Well, shit,” Doc said with a dry laugh. He rubbed at the red spots on the bridge of his nose where his glasses rested. Felipe could only imagine the annoyance of having glasses. They didn’t look comfortable in the least, with as much as Doc messed with his eyes and nose. “We’re not playing around here, are we? Fuck, I’d hoped that eventually those bastards would just die out.”
“There were more than anyone realized,” Ramón said, “or they are bringing more in from France, and if that’s the case, that would be a sign of some kind of organization on their part.”
“I get it.” Doc’s voice was heavy with resignation. “I just don’t like it.”
“None of us do, Doc,” Will said in a soft tone that made Ramón’s and Luc’s eyebrows pop up. It wasn’t like Will to be comforting.
Felipe cleared his throat to distract them. “I specifically requested our team house the communication center. And I believe that you and Luc should man it in shifts, Doc.”
Doc seemed relieved, but Luc’s blue eyes flashed and a threatening growl filled the air. “I can fight!” the French male protested. “I feel no loyalty toward those bastards anymore. I don’t need to be coddled—”
“Enough!” Felipe snapped. He could feel anger starting to swell in his chest, and he forced it back. “If I wanted to coddle anyone, then I should hope that someone would step in to remove me from my post. I’m not one to coddle, and the decisions I make are to build this team to be as strong and capable as possible. And if you want to fight, I suggest you put in for a transfer immediately, because that is no longer the purpose of this team. I put you in the center for a reason, and I do not need to defend my decision to you, or to anyone. Dismissed, Luc.”
Luc’s face flamed, and his eyes dulled. “General, I am—”
“I said dismissed
.” Felipe’s tone brooked no argument. It had been a while since he had to deal with such insubordination in his team, but he was pleased to find his being mated didn’t soften him. There was no room for reasoning or arguments when they were at war. He expected his males to follow him without question, or their team would break apart.
Ramón patted his mate on the leg and jerked his head toward the door, signaling for him to obey. Luc hurriedly left the room, closing the door quietly behind him, the scent of shame following him as he went.
“Tonight, Will will show Luc and Doc how to run the equipment. Ramón and I will patrol the streets, ready to be called in as necessary.”
“What of Charlie?” Ramón asked. “He’s part of this team too.”
Felipe growled this time. Fear and anger swarmed in his head like bees, and he glared at his second. “Will, I suggest you take Doc and Luc to breakfast now.”
Will and Doc didn’t hesitate to flee the room, knowing the storm that was brewing was likely to rain down at any second.
Ramón tilted his chin up, meeting Felipe’s gaze without reserve, defiance in every line of his face. “A problem, General?”
“Perhaps I have an insubordination problem in my ranks, Ramón,” Felipe spat out. “First your mate, and now you, defying me in front of my team. That is unacceptable behavior!”
Ramón barked a laugh. “Luc was, yes, I confess it. He reacts emotionally when he feels his loyalty is questioned, even after all this time among us. But me, I merely asked you a question, my friend. And your response tells me all I need to know. You’re keeping Charlie out of the fight.”
Felipe banged a fist against the desk. Ramón didn’t flinch. Sometimes Felipe cursed the fact he had a second who knew him so well and was used to his ways. He didn’t so much as intimidate Ramón, and it pissed him off. “It’s not his fight, damn it. And it’s not even really a fight! We’re not part of that anymore.”
“For the time being,” Ramón corrected. “And if it’s not a fight, then why are you afraid to let him go with us? Be a part of the team? He’s trained, and he can control his powers now.”
Felipe snarled, his lip curling up to bare his lowered fangs. “He’s not a fighter, no matter how well he’s trained. Maybe you don’t remember his phone call from the warehouse, but I sure as hell do. He was afraid, and he ran instead of confronting them.”
Ramón rolled his eyes. “He was outnumbered, and he did the smart thing since he couldn’t figure out how to use his powers. And yes, fear overtook him because he only had some training by then and was half-starved for blood for weeks! He was in no position to fight back. He is now. And His Majesty—”
“Screw Antony!” Felipe bellowed. He pushed back his chair until it tumbled to the floor behind him, and he rested his fists on the top of the desk. His chest heaved with every breath as Felipe fought for control. Rage darkened his vision and filled his senses. “Charlie is small, and he’s not a fighter. Not like you or Luc or Will. He’s too soft for this fight, no matter what training he has received.” And Charlie had learned from the best—him. But Felipe knew his mate and what he could handle. Didn’t he?
Ramón stood and went nose-to-nose with Felipe, his own breathing roughened, his eyes dilated, body brimming with tension. “You’re saying Doc isn’t a fighter, and yet you’ve expected him to be on the front line with all of us for years
. Don’t think I didn’t notice you left him out, Felipe. And who are you to decide for Charlie? He’s been chomping at the bit for a chance to prove himself, and as you said, it’s not even fighting for Christ’s sake! He may be small, but he’s not a fledgling anymore, nor is he a child. He’s fully capable of making his own decisions.”
With a roar, Felipe raised his hand and clenched Ramón’s throat in his grip. His second’s eyes bulged, going from surprise to worry in seconds. Ramón’s hands came up to clutch at the one wrapped around his throat, crushing his windpipe. Felipe’s entire body vibrated. He cursed the fact that his prominent emotion was fucking fear
. Just the thought of Charlie going up against a Hunter had him reeling. Hell, he was more terrified than likely Charlie would be. You can’t lose him again, his mind chanted over and over. Remember what that felt like, him walking out of your life and then almost dying in your arms? Do you want to face that again?
“No, I won’t!” Felipe growled. “I won’t lose him again!”
Felipe started when the door to his office burst open. Before he could figure out what the fuck was going on, the muzzle of a gun was jammed against the bottom of his jaw, and he was face to face with a pissed-off Luc.
“Let him go, now
,” the male snarled. His normally light eyes were almost black, and full of hatred. “Or I swear to Dieu
, I will fucking kill you.”
With the cold metal of a deadly weapon digging into his skin, too shocked to fight or respond, Felipe released Ramón.