Taste of Torment Page 17

“I can’t help but notice that your questions are becoming more and more about the squad and how they feel rather than about Sam’s actions,” observed Jared. He was right.

Collins shifted nervously in his seat. “Naturally it is important how they feel. It tells me whether or not they enjoy having Commander Parker as a commander.”

“But you already asked us that question during our interview,” Chico pointed out. “So you already know the answer to that.”

Butch nodded. “Commander Michaels is right. You’re a little too interested in us.”

“Maybe he wishes he was part of the squad,” mused Damien. His expression said ‘like that would ever happen’.

That gave me an idea. “Is that true, Mr Collins?” I gave the arsehole a delighted smile. “Oh, why didn’t you say something sooner? Come on down here.”

Collins froze. “Excuse me?”

“You can spend five minutes with the squad before they leave the arena. Come on, there’s no better way of understanding what it’s like to be part of the legion than up close and personal. It’ll be fun.”

(Jared)

I really did love this woman. By the end of the five minutes, Collins had been psychically slapped at least twenty times, was lathered in yellowy-green ooze from head to toe, had over a dozen thorns sticking out of his ass – luckily for him, Reuben had lessened the strength of Chico’s gift and so the thorns only caused him discomfort – and then Denny had farted skunk-like musk at him. To top it all off, Collins had a personal encounter with the ceiling thanks to Harvey’s gift.

Wheezing, a pale Collins staggered toward the exit. “It’s all right. I’m okay.” He put a hand to his stomach and swallowed hard. “I think I’ll go lay down for a while.”

David gave him a falsely sympathetic smile. “Yeah, I think that might be for the best.”

“Eloise, could you carry my things? I’m unable to do it myself.” Collins showed her his ooze-covered hands.

Eloise did as he’d asked, shooting me another inviting smile as she past. “Maybe I’ll see you later, Jared. I’ll be at the pool if you need me for anything. Anything.” That was getting real old.

Unlike Sam, I wasn’t convinced that Eloise wanted me as desperately as she and her body language implied. In fact, I’d been told by another commander that Eloise had been amusing herself with a few of the guards – and all at once. Nor did I believe that she was under the illusion that I’d ever cheat on Sam. She never invested any real effort in trying to get my attention. Sleazy smiles, flirty comments, and walking around half na**d were nothing compared to the type of things that Joy had been known to do.

I personally believed that Eloise simply did all that to rile Sam, maybe in the hope of making Sam snap and do something that wouldn’t look so good in the report, or maybe simply because Eloise was – as I’d soon come to realise – jealous of Sam. Jealous of how powerful she was, of how people looked up to her, and of how they respected her. Flirting with Sam’s mate was guaranteed to anger her. Possessiveness took on a whole new meaning when two people were Bound – probably because of the protectiveness the couple had of the bond and the instinctive need to eradicate any threat to it.

Eloise was undoubtedly frustrated that Sam wasn’t responding violently to her taunts. Sam knew that I’d never betray her, and she knew that I’d never leave her. Not just because of how deeply the bond connected us and just how much it allowed her to see, but because I never let her forget it. Of course, someone as fickle and selfish as Eloise wouldn’t understand that and wouldn’t expect Sam to hold back. Nor would she expect that Sam would put her position and her squad before her own wants.

It seemed that people had a habit of underestimating my blunt, crazy, homicidal ray of sunshine. More fool them. I’d been guilty of that at one time, but it wasn’t a mistake I’d repeated. I didn’t doubt that Collins and Eloise would soon learn that they had stupidly underestimated her in many ways. She could be impulsive, sure, but she could also bide her time when need be.

“Now that they’re gone, I can tell you what happened yesterday evening.” Chico double-checked that Collins and Eloise were gone before he spoke again. “When you went home after training, we all headed to the basketball court for a while. Collins turned up, wanting to play, like we were all good friends – the cheeky f**ker. Anyway, I told him no. That I only played with people I trusted. He said that his presence here at The Hollow should prove his loyalty to us.”

Reuben shook his head in disbelief. “He really thinks that investigating the complaints that have been made against you is good for us, Coach – that he’s helping and protecting us from potential harm and exploitation.”

Harvey smirked. “Butch cleverly took advantage of that.”

We all turned to Butch, who shrugged and smiled crookedly. “I told him that if he was really loyal to the squad, he’d reveal which one of us apparently made the complaints.”

I stiffened. “And did he?”

“At first, he said the complaints were made anonymously,” replied Butch. “But I reminded him that he’d already told us the first night he came here that he knew their name and that he was respecting their wish to remain anonymous. We were just about to walk away from him when he blurted out their name.”

There was a long moment of complete silence before Sam asked, “Who?” Butch didn’t respond.

Damien sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Max.”

Sam shook her head. “I don’t believe that.”

“Good, because neither do we,” stated Salem. “Max is a convenient person to blame it on, since he isn’t in any state to defend himself.”

“Do you think Collins might be blaming someone who can’t object because he believes it’s his way of protecting the person who supposedly made the complaints?” asked David.

“I don’t know.” I turned to Reuben. “I agree that Collins truly believes he’s helping here. He honestly thinks these complaints are genuine.”

Chico looked at Sam cautiously. “You know that none of us would ever do that, Coach, don’t you?”

“We respect you, and we look up to you,” began Damien. “Hell, we owe what we’ve become to you.” I wasn’t offended that I wasn’t being given equal credit. Sam had helped them dramatically in the sense that they’d had no idea of the things they could do with their gifts until she came along. Without her, they may never have learned to use their gifts to their full potential, may never have attained such control over them.

“You don’t need to try to convince me of that,” Sam assured them, rolling her eyes. “I have never – not even for one second – believed any of you would do this. If I wasn’t confident in your loyalty to me, Jared, and each other, I wouldn’t have you with me on assignments, watching my back, would I?” That clearly settled them.

“We just wanted to be sure.” David gave her a half-smile. “No one could blame you for wondering.”

“Well I don’t ‘wonder’. We’ll find out who’s behind all this and we’ll deal with it. Until then, we need to keep handling Collins and Eloise the same as we have been doing since they arrived: give them nothing to whine about or use against any of us.”

“It occurred to me,” began Harvey, “that if someone came up with a plan like this, it might not be to make you lose your job or to discredit you. That might not be the true goal.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Coach, this is eating up your time and attention. It’s restricting, too; you need to constantly be on your best behaviour, and you can’t afford to push us hard during training. In short, this whole ‘case’ that’s been made against you is distracting you from researching a way to fight The Call. Maybe that’s the goal.”

I cocked my head. “I never thought of it like that.” At Sam’s sceptical look, I added, “Don’t get me wrong, I think Collins does truly think this is a real complaint and he would like to see you lose your position purely because he’s an a**hole. But it’s still possible that the motivation behind the complaint isn’t what we thought it was.”

Sam twisted her lips. “Okay, so let’s say that’s true and someone wants to keep me distracted…Why? Why would they want me to find it even more difficult to fight The Call than it already is? Why would they hamper our attempts to find a counteragent?”

Harvey shrugged. “I didn’t say I had all the answers. My brain is good with strategies, but that’s pretty much it.” Yes, by his own admission, he lacked common sense.

“It could be that someone is hoping that The Call spreads around The Hollow, killing many of its inhabitants.” Chico waved his hand. “This place will always have people trying to take over it. It’s happened too many times to count.”

“Yeah,” said Damien. “And if Evan, Max, and Stuart were to die – which won’t f**king happen – it would mentally weaken us all, wouldn’t it? Weaken us enough to put us all in a shit state of mind.”

And look what had happened to Evan when he’d been in a bad state of mind.

Sam slowly paced up and down. “To sum up, it’s possible that someone wants me distracted, wants us all mentally weak and off-balance, and wants to stop us from battling The Call – and possibly because they fully intend to leap on that in order to invade The Hollow. But surely if there was going to be an attack, Luther would have foreseen it.”

“Luther doesn’t foresee everything, though.” David shrugged. “If he did, Evan, Max, and Stuart wouldn’t be in a cell right now.”

Luther did say that a lot of people would turn up for Paige West, I reminded her.

Yeah, for Paige. Not for control of The Hollow.

It’s neither here nor there anyway because there’s absolutely no way that she will come here.

Sam rolled her eyes at me but didn’t push me on the subject this time, thank God. It caused disputes between us every time, and I was sick of having the same argument over and over. Nothing in the world would make me risk her. I just f**king couldn’t. But she didn’t seem to get just how much she meant to me. To her, I was being stubborn and unreasonable. To me, I was putting Sam before anything else and determined to keep her safe.

Sure, a part of me felt bad for refusing to bring Paige West here when she could potentially save Evan, Max, and Stuart. But how the hell could I do that, knowing something bad could happen to Sam, to the thing that mattered to me more than anything?

When I’d gone to see the guys earlier, I’d spoken to Evan telepathically even though he didn’t appear to be in a rational enough state of mind to understand me. All three of them had badly deteriorated and looked f**king awful – almost as bad as their attackers had. It was a reminder that time was running out. I’d told Evan a little about Paige West, told him about Luther’s vision, and begged him to understand why I couldn’t bring Paige here. Begged him to understand that I just couldn’t be without Sam. I’d told him that if the situation was reversed, I wouldn’t have wanted him to sacrifice Alora and his life with her just for me. It was true. If he had understood my words, he hadn’t let on.

Once Sam and I were finished talking to the squad, I teleported us both home. Sam took three steps toward the kitchen area and abruptly halted. So attuned to her that I sensed her outrage, I stiffened. “What’s wrong?” Then she was strangely zooming through the entire apartment at vampire velocity before returning to me.

Clenching and unclenching her fists, she ordered through her teeth, “Teleport me to the bat pool.”

“Baby, what’s”

“Now, Jared.”

Not liking her tone whatsoever, I shot her a reprimanding look. Right now, I’d humour her, but…“I’ll spank your ass for that later.” Taking her hand, I teleported us out of there.

The second we appeared beside the pool, Sam twirled as her shrewd eyes searched her surroundings. Her gaze landed on something – no, someone – and she made a hissing sound that would have made Dexter proud. Before I had the chance to calm Sam down and stop her from doing anything that she would later regret, she was stomping over to an unsuspecting Eloise. Well, shit.“Sam”

“What the f**k do you think you’re playing at?”

Startled, Eloise lifted her head from where she was lying on a sun lounger – all vampires enjoyed moonlight bathing. “Excuse me?”

Hands on her hips, Sam glared down at her. “You were inside my apartment!”

That sure surprised me.

Eloise blanched. “I don’t know what”

Sam laughed, but it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Sweetheart, did you really think that if enough time went past for your scent to fade, I wouldn’t have known you’d been there? You can’t hide an energy signature. Feeders like me are all about energy. And your energy signature was all over my f**king apartment! What I want to know is what you were doing in there.”

Eloise desperately looked around for some form of help. That was when I noticed that we were no longer alone. Antonio, Luther, and Antonio’s personal guards all stood near the patio doors, clearly baffled.

“Well?” demanded Sam.

“I-I, um, I was looking for Jared.”

“You know what? I don’t believe you.”

“Why?”

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