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Love’s Confinement Preview

1

Getting sent out on assignments was my least favorite part of the job. I loved being a warrior… I was literally born into it, after all, but I also liked consistency. I liked knowing that Mondays we made supply runs that took forever because the camp was so far out in the middle of nowhere that it was a hike to any type of civilization. And there was Taco Tuesdays no matter the weather outside, and I had kitchen duty that day so I spent most of it chopping up tomatoes and cooking up enough ground beef to make up a dozen cows.

Except things had been hard for me lately. I’d stepped outside my comfort zone and told a post-trans, Wally—who was now a warrior—that I’d had a thing for him and it had blown up in my face in an epic way. So now he, his mate, and just about everyone else was weird around me as if I was the lover they’d all cheated on or something. It hadn’t been that big of a deal.

I was disappointed, sure, but it wasn’t as if I’d been in love with Wally and gotten my heart stomped all over. People get rejected. Shit happens. I simply wanted everyone to move on and stop giving me pitying looks and being weird around me.

So when Alexander said Councilman Ashton needed a warrior stationed at his house because of some threats made against him and he had some big party coming up for his human cover, I think I shocked the crap out of him when I jumped at the assignment.

“You feeling okay, Evan?” he’d asked me when everyone else was gone. “Do you need some time off instead?”

“No, Alexander,” I ground out. “I need everyone to stop acting like my hamster was murdered and my truck was stolen and I just survived a bad country song. I had dinner with Wally and he still loved his mate. Life goes on and I’m good. Just send me out and maybe everyone will let this go while I’m gone.”

He nodded, eyeing me closely. “As you wish. I’m sorry you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable. Everyone was trying to be conscious of your feelings when we have not always been so aware of each other’s in the past.”

“That’s great,” I sighed when I realized he was serious. “It is and I’m glad we’re working towards being more like brothers around here instead of jerks who use and sometimes abuse each other now that Ben, Dean, and some of the others are gone. I am. But this isn’t Oprah either. My personal life is my own, and if it becomes something that conflicts with work, I’d talk to you. Making things a bigger deal than they are isn’t the way to go either.”

“Agreed. Enjoy your assignment.” He handed me the file of the details and I left the conference room.

I had been so eager to get the hell out of there for a much needed break from everyone I’d even left early, opting to take the seven hour—or so with stops—drive overnight. It wasn’t like the mountain roads were a problem with the vision we had as vampires and I wasn’t in some cute little compact. I was one of the few warriors at camp who had a vehicle of their own because it was the only allowance I’d ever asked for. I liked going for a drive now and again and I didn’t want to check who had what vehicle or risk messing anyone up.

I needed the freedom of having my own.

Pulling into the Ashton estate—which was less than an hour outside Rapid City, South Dakota—right before dawn, I saw it was attached to a massive ranch. That was part of their cover. Vampires rarely lived in the spotlight or in high volume cities where they could be targets for scrutiny because of their wealth. It was easier to act as if they were more reclusive business people.

Less chance of getting caught drinking blood or silly things like that which could get us all busted.

I pulled in past the gates, but not up to the house. There was no security or anything right as I came onto the property, and since I was early, I thought I’d start making some notes. Jacob Ashton was a damn councilman after all. There should be better security than what I’d already seen.

Grabbing a flashlight, notepad, and pen, I hopped out and started from the top of my assessment. I was about twenty minutes into it when I noticed what looked like a bomb shelter by the barn.

What the fuck do they have going on here? I didn’t feel the least bit bad when I flipped open the latch because, for one, I didn’t need permission as a warrior assigned to protect the councilman. The council had given me an all-access pass, and two, it was my duty to investigate any threat to vampires even if that meant checking into a councilman because he wasn’t above the law.

And a bomb shelter that looked currently in use from the new door and recent scores of footprints to and from it, screamed something shady was going on. I pulled out my gun as I quietly opened the hatch, noting the way the hinges were well-oiled too. Seriously, what were these people up to? I was five steps down the staircase when I caught whiff of another vampire. My stomach instantly turned sour. I really wanted to think they were giving someone shelter there.

I highly doubted it though. They had a huge house with ample room. I’m sure they could have found space for a guest.

Sure enough, I got to the bottom of the stairs and saw a smaller male chained to a wall, his head drooped, and his chest not visibly moving. Oh god, please breathe. Just breathe. I rushed over to him and at the last second something stopped me from reaching him.

“Don’t,” a soft growl ordered. I froze and then raised my flashlight again. Soft blue eyes were peeking out at me from behind his tangled, dirty hair. “They haven’t been feeding me.” I winced at how raw his throat sounded. It hurt just to hear him. “I’m not safe to be around.”

“Jesus, I thought you were dead,” I whispered, squatting down out of range of his bite but still close enough to talk to him. “Your heartbeat is so faint.”

“Not yet. They feed me just enough to keep me alive. He doesn’t want me dead, just compliant.”

“Who?”

“Councilman Ashton.”

“Fuck,” I hissed, scrubbing my hand over my hair. “Okay, okay, let me get you some blood from the cooler of my truck and call in reinforcements. I’ll take him into custody immediately and get you help.”

“You don’t know that I’m not a criminal,” he hedged, staring at me curiously.

I met his gaze and frowned. “I don’t fucking care if you’re Jack the Ripper. Councilman Ashton is not judge, jury, and god. He doesn’t get to decide who to lock down in a bomb shelter and fucking starve even if it’s for a confession or information. We have interrogators and warriors that can read minds for that. Fuck him and whatever bullshit’s going on.” He opened his mouth and I waved him off. “Save your strength.”

“Thank you.” He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, peaceful almost as if realizing his hell was over now.

Damn right it was.

I snuck back out of the bomb shelter and closed it up, racing to my truck. I called Alexander, ignoring his annoyed greeting.

“Just because you wanted to drive overnight does not mean I wanted you to report in before even the rooster wakes, Evan.”

“I need backup. The councilman is keeping a vampire in a bomb shelter on his property that he’s starving for some reason. I thought the guy was dead, Alexander. I couldn’t even hear a heartbeat until I was within five feet. Guy says they feed him just enough to keep him alive, trying to make him compliant. I didn’t ask any more than that. I’m afraid he still might die.”

“Sweet fucking hell,” Alexander hissed. “Can you sneak him some blood?”

“Already on it,” I muttered, grabbing two pints from the cooler hidden under the backseat of my truck. “You want me to make a scene or wait until you guys get here?”

“Stall. We’ll get on the chopper within twenty. Helios and I should make enough of a stink for whatever security he has to stand down.”

I snorted. “What security? I’ve been here almost an hour now and have yet to see a soul.”

“Probably because he doesn’t want anyone to know what’s going on in the damn bomb shelter,” I heard Dimitri mutter. “We’re up. We’re coming. Feed the poor dude.”

We disconnected the call and I did just that. It was easy to get back into the shelter and help him eat, careful of his bite radius. At that level of malnutrition it was amazing he wasn’t rabidly snapping at me without any thought in his head besides blood.

Most of us would have. And the danger was he could kill or mate someone that way… I blinked at him as he drank, wondering if that was what the councilman wanted from him.

“I have to go until the team gets here, okay?” I muttered, hiding the empty blood bags in the corner.

“But you’re coming back for me, right?” His voice was so shaky and I saw fear so thick in his eyes it killed me to have to leave him and not cut him loose right then.

“I swear it to you…” I trailed off, not knowing his name.

“Theo,” he whispered. “Theodore Ashton.” I actually fell over from my squatted position, my butt hitting the floor hard. “Yeah, figured you’d react something like that.”

“You’re his son?” I waited until he nodded. “Okay, this has to wait before we draw attention.” He nodded again. “Theo, I’m Evan Maguire, and I promise you that in less than an hour, you’ll be out of here and in a hot shower.”

“Will you help me? I won’t be able to stand on my own,” he muttered, looking away.

“Sure, whatever you want, buddy.” Hell, I would have promised him a lot more after the shit he’d been through. I booked it out of there, knowing if I didn’t leave then, I might not have been able to walk away and given my truck was still parked at the gate and the sun was already rising, people would start to notice soon.

I moved my truck up to the house as if I’d just arrived and then there was finally some security, but not much. They checked my ID, barely glancing at my driver’s license, and I wanted to roll my eyes. Wow, great job they were doing. Then I was led into the swank house for being out in the middle of nowhere and to the kitchen where a grumpy vampire was just sitting down.

“Councilman Ashton, I’m—”

“The warrior they sent, I know,” he muttered, reaching for the coffee pot that was already waiting for him. “This is all nonsense. My colleagues are overreacting. Some of the covens are pissed that I had to raise the prices of the blood distribution my company provides them because of the additional costs to me in these hard economic times. So they’ve thrown around some harsh words and threats. It is not a situation that requires the time of a warrior who I’m sure has bigger fish to fry.”

“While I appreciate that you value the warriors, sir, part of our job is to protect the council. And what I have found already is disturbing.”

He glanced up from pouring his coffee as he set the pot back down, raising an eyebrow at me. “Already? You just arrived.”

I put on my game face, clutching my hands behind my back to keep from launching over the table and not bashing his face in myself. “Sir, I’ve been here for an hour, checking out your security measures around the property. You have none. Your people barely looked at my ID and nothing more to verify me. Honestly, if someone wants you injured or dead, you’re making it really easy for them to accomplish that.”

Councilman Ashton nodded as I spoke and then sipped his coffee. “I stand corrected. Thank you for coming. Please, sit down…”

“Evan Maguire, sir.”

“Please, sit down and join me for breakfast, Evan.”

“Thank you, sir, but given what I found and the threats against you, I thought the situation should immediately be dealt with and have called in my team to bring in the equipment I would need before your big weekend meeting coming up. I’d rather us be overly precautious than take any chances with your life.”

“No, no, of course.” He gestured to the chair next to him anyways. “Still, you must have questions before they arrive. Sit. Have some coffee. I special order my beans, and I promise it’s a brew like you’ve never tasted.”

While starving and torturing your son in the bomb shelter, you sadistic asshole. I smiled and accepted the offer, grinding my jaw as I did. But I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to grill the jagoff while I waited for backup. I pulled out my notebook after pouring myself a cup and jumped right in.

Mmm, that is excellent coffee,” I commented once I’d had a sip.

“Isn’t it?” he chuckled, smiling as if he’d made a new friend. If he only knew.

“Is it just you here, sir?”

“Yes, for now. My mate is traveling with my son abroad.”

“It would be smart to call them home until we’ve confirmed the threat is passed,” I hedged, studying his reaction. I bit back a smile when he flinched. “The best way to get to you is through the ones you love.”

“Very true. My mate is easy enough, but my son might be a problem since he’s finishing a degree.”

“Oh, I thought you said traveling?” I pushed, loving I’d already trapped him in a lie.

He gave me a tight smile. “He’s abroad studying, and she’s traveling there to visit. I suppose I would consider both as traveling abroad since he’s only staying a semester and such is my normal answer for business. My apologies, Evan. I’m so used to my human answers for things I need to not put up that wall for when answering you.”

“I understand completely, Councilman,” I lied through my teeth. After that I kept it mainly to collecting as much information as I could about his security team. By the time I heard the chopper, I had everything and more that we’d need to take the estate. I thanked the councilman and hurried out to greet my friends.

Only to flinch when I saw Roarke and Wally getting off the chopper. Great. Just great. Apparently I couldn’t get far enough away from them. Whatever, right then wasn’t about them or me—it was about Theodore.

I filled in Alexander and Helios with what I knew, pointing out the entrances and where the bomb shelter was. “You guys good? I told him I’d be back within the hour and time’s almost up.”

“We should secure the councilman first and—” Helios started and I growled.

“You could do that blindfolded with this crack security. He’s scared, hurt, and was barely alive before I gave him blood. I promised him.” I spun around and took off, not waiting for him to answer in case he said no. My heart hurt for Theo… And I hadn’t even told them yet that he was the councilman’s son. He could tell them himself once he was in better shape.

I reached the bomb shelter as they did the house and I ripped open the door before flying down the stairs. Theo’s head snapped up when I hit the floor and I saw tears in his eyes. “You came back.”

“I don’t break promises,” I assured him. I closed the distance between us and tore his chains from the wall, not bothering to look for a key we could get later.

“I’m sorry I smell,” he cried as I picked him up. Of course I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but it wasn’t like there had been a bathroom down there with him that he’d had access to. God, the horrors he’d endured.

“I only smell minty freshness,” I fibbed.

“Please don’t let them all see me like this,” he begged. I carried him over to the stairs and got a better look at him in the light. He was covered in filth—some of his own—shirtless, and his shorts were now so big they were falling off. I set him on the stairs and yanked off my shirt, putting it on him quickly. His five-eight frame was so much smaller, especially in this state, than my six-five frame that it was huge on him. I caught sight of the keys hanging on the wall then and hurried to undo his battered wrists, hissing at how painful they looked.

I lifted him back into my arms and jogged up the stairs, wanting to get him out of his prison as fast as possible.

As we were walking towards the front door, Roarke was coming out with the restrained councilman. I intercepted them and bared my fangs to the man. “Studying abroad my ass, you bastard. Rot in hell, mother fucker. You deserve it.”

“You have no right to get involved in family business,” the councilman tried to defend.

“Fuck you, Father,” Theo snapped, rolling his head in my arms to stare at the man. “You still didn’t win. I didn’t bite the Carter girl. It’s like I really am gay or something, and even blood-deprived and half mad, you still couldn’t get me to claim a female.”

That’s what this was all about?” I whispered, my heart racing. It seemed so cold and twisted. Theo glanced up at me and nodded. I focused on the councilman and let my distaste for him show. “You’re a sick, sick fuck.” Then I looked back to Theo. “Anything else you want to say to him? I don’t think you’ll be seeing him again.”

“God no,” he sighed, closing his eyes. “I hope I never do.”

I took the hint and carried him inside. He told me how to get to his room, and I beelined it right there, ignoring Helios as he called after us.

I should have known the man would be persistent enough to follow.

“Helios, he doesn’t want anyone to see him like this,” I argued as he entered the bedroom after I’d kicked the door closed behind us. “He wants to get cleaned up.”

“I know he does,” he mumbled and looked at Theo. “I’m sorry, but Evan can’t be the only witness for this to stick. He found you and made the accusations to call us in. Someone else has to be able to testify as to your condition. I’m Wyrok so it would be best if it’s me.” Theo glanced at me and I nodded. He was right.

“Yeah, okay,” he whispered, shaking in my arms.

“Helios is a good guy, I promise.”

“And you never break a promise,” he murmured, giving me a soft smile.

“I don’t,” I chuckled.

“Did I hear someone right that you’re Councilman Ashton’s son?” Helios hedged as I sat Theo on the chair at his desk.

“Yes, Theodor Ashton.”

“And what was this regarding?” Helios kept his tone gentle as he nodded for me to take my shirt off Theo.

“My father hated I wasn’t born a warrior,” Theo muttered, lifting his arms so I could remove the clothing, looking away. “He’d tried to mate me for connections for years. I always turn them down. Finally he found a huge fish as he put it, and she’s really into me, likes my type or some shit. So when I said no this time, he wasn’t having it. He threw me in the bomb shelter and told me I’d mate her one way or another. He thought if he starved me long enough he could bring her around and I’d bite her.”

“But you didn’t?” Helios checked.

Theo shook his head and looked up at me. “What’s the date?” I felt like a complete ass. Of course he’d want to know. I told him and he hung his head but not before I saw tears in his eyes. “Six months. I’ve been in there over six months.”

“Hey, be proud of how long you held out,” I praised as I knelt down next to him. “You may not have grown big like a warrior, but you have the heart of one, Theo. I would have caved after a week and I’m gay too. I don’t know how you held out that long.”

“You haven’t met Meggan Carter,” he rasped, rubbing his chest. “The woman is just as big of a monster as my father. The way she beat me when I wouldn’t bite her and—”

“So she was directly involved?” Helios asked, jotting down notes.

Theo raised his head, anger in his eyes as tears glistened on his cheeks. “It was her idea to deny me blood so I’d bite anyone who got close to me. My father was just going to lock me up, confine me so I submitted, but she was willing to risk starving me to death to get her way.”

“We’ll have her brought in as well,” Helios promised. After that we did a basic inventory of his wounds. Since he’d barely eaten or had his needed blood intake, he was healing slower than a human. My heart hurt seeing the state Theo was in. “Okay, you can get cleaned up. I’ll have food prepared for your compromised system and blood brought in—”

Theo snorted. “Walk out to the barn. My family owns one of the largest blood banks in the country. We supply to most of the covens. The threats against my father are because he jacked up the prices like an asshat to fill his bank accounts. There’s more than enough blood here for everyone and to withstand any apocalypse. There’s a whole underground cooler of it below the barn as well for his personal, paranoid stash. While he’s been selling blood to the covens that humans would reject since we can’t get sick, he’s been hoarding clean blood for himself.”

“Wow, your dad is a dick,” I mumbled.

“You don’t have to convince me of that,” he snickered. Helios excused himself, stating he had more than enough to get started with updating the people he needed to and the ball rolling on everything else. I stood to go turn on the shower but paused when Theo reached out and put his hand on my arm. “How bad am I? I can’t even look.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. There weren’t words for the condition he was in, but he was holding it together pretty well—good enough to crack a joke and tell off his father at least—and I didn’t want to push him over… So I went with my normal smartass default. “Hard to say. I didn’t see you before. This could be an improvement for all I know. I mean, you could have been hideous to start with and—”

“Asshole,” Theo cried, wiping his eyes even as he smiled. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Then I paused. “Don’t look though. I was banged up really bad once from an ambush of Zakasacs and I wish I’d never looked. People say that what you imagine will be worse than the reality, but I don’t think that’s true. We’re taught to be so hard on ourselves that what we see can be so far off from what’s actually there that I think it makes it harder on us.”

“Okay, but now we’ve built it up to Pandora’s box level and my bathroom is full of mirrors,” he grumbled.

He had a point there. I hurried into the connecting room and turned on the shower. Then I found some spray-in conditioner and along with the steam from the shower, covered the mirrors with it as best as I could. Enough at least so Theo would be blurry if he did look instead of clear as normal. Then I turned down the heat of the shower and went back for him.

“Were you pumping the water from a well?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at me. “My room needs to be disinfected from my stench now.”

“Mucking up the mirrors.”

His mouth fell open as I lifted him up. “You’re awesome.”

“I have my moments.” I had him check the water temperature, turning it colder when he asked. It turned out the heat and steam hurt his dried out and fragile skin from being so dehydrated. I set him on his feet, ignoring that his shorts were getting all wet and closed the door.

“Evan!” he exclaimed a second later. I yanked open the door and caught him just as he was falling down. He leaned his head on my shoulder, sobbing. “I can’t shower myself. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re not the first guy to use that excuse to get me naked,” I joked.

“God, you’re gorgeous and normally I would totally look for any excuse to get you in a shower with me but not like this,” he whimpered.

It was hard not to take the compliment even under the circumstances. I turned the spray away, glad I hadn’t gotten much on my clothes, and brought him back out, sitting him on the counter as I stripped until I was just in my boxer briefs. Then it seemed silly when I’d have to get him all the way naked.

Theo blushed and looked away as I picked him back up. “This is so humiliating.”

“Do you want me to get someone else?”

He sniffled and shook his head. “No, then I’d just have to be humiliated with two people.”

I let the comment go and quickly washed him up. He could do a better job later once he was feeling better. I found out then that his hair wasn’t dark, but all the shit in it had made it seem that way. He actually had thick, ear-length strawberry blond hair that had a lot of shine to it.

And when he blinked up at me from under his lashes, the water pouring all over him, it was my turn to be humiliated… Because I got hard and there was no way to hide it or he didn’t feel it.

Theo was beautiful. Once all the grime, dirt, and months of mistreatment were washed away, even in his malnourished state, I’d never seen anyone more breathtaking.

And he was naked.

With me.

In the shower.

Naked.

I was so fucked.