A Shadow of Death
CHAPTER 1: KIAN
"After you, my love." Kian held open the door to the rooftop vestibule for Syssi.
"Your mother was in an awful hurry to get back home this time," she said. "Do you think something happened while we were away?"
As soon as they'd returned from Hawaii, Annani had been in such a rush to leave, the chopper's engines hadn't had a chance to cool off after shuttling them back from the clan's airstrip.
"She doesn't like to be away from her sanctuary for too long."
And thank the merciful Fates for that. Kian couldn't wait to reclaim their penthouse. At last, they had the place to themselves, with no family members invading their space and demanding his attention.
Guests, even loved ones, stretched his patience to the limit. His home was his sanctuary, the one place he could let go and be just Kian—not the regent, not the head of the keep or the clan's business empire, but a guy chilling at home with his wife.
Besides, the sooner his mother was back at the sanctuary, the better. Kian had enough on his mind without adding concern for the goddess's safety to the mix.
Just as he'd known she would, Annani had hardly kept her presence a secret. His mother had visited Tessa in the clinic, not at all concerned about bumping into someone who wasn't on the need-to-know list.
But then Annani considered his insistence on secrecy an overkill. After all, she could pull a number of tricks her immortal descendants couldn't, like sneaking into Tessa's room under the cover of a shroud with no one any the wiser.
The goddess had the power to manipulate human and immortal minds with ease, while he and the other immortals could only affect those of humans. Thankfully, she refrained from using those powers on her family.
His mother was manipulating them the old-fashioned way. Like any other mother worth her salt, Annani guilted and bullied them into doing her bidding.
"She visited the catacombs again," Syssi said.
Not a big surprise. Every time the goddess graced his keep with her presence, she paid her respects to their dead.
Thank the Fates the catacombs in his keep housed only a few. The final resting place for most of those they had lost over the years was at the clan's old Scottish stronghold.
Kian shrugged. "Annani is sentimental."
"I know. It's just strange that she includes the Doomers in her walkabout."
"Tell me about it. My mother holds on to the naive belief that one day the entombed Doomers she forbade us to kill could be resurrected and brought into the clan's fold."
"I understand her reluctance to kill them. Even though they are brainwashed to hate her and seek her demise and her progeny's demise, she feels that they are still her people and there aren't many of you left."
"Us," he corrected her. "You're part of the clan."
Syssi waved a hand. "Naturally. But I meant your family. I wasn't born into it. Though you are right, I should say us."
He wrapped his arms around her. "You are my family first. The clan comes second."
"I love you too." Syssi reached for his cheek and cupped it in her soft palm. "I would never tell Annani this to her face, but I agree that her thinking they could be reformed is naive, especially for someone who is older than most civilizations and should know better. She should never put her family in danger like that."
"Don't worry. I would never let her do something so idiotic. It's like freeing a bunch of deadly vipers inside your home, hoping they will play nice and go peacefully about their business."
Syssi nodded. "The moment they are able, they will attack."
Not on his watch.
Letting Syssi out of the cocoon of his arms, Kian walked over to the bar and poured himself a shot of whiskey. "Do you want a drink?" he asked.
"No, thanks. I want to go visit Brundar and Anandur and welcome Callie into the clan. You need to come too."
"Why? Can't you go as my representative?" Kian grimaced. "I was quite rude to the girl when I caught her hiding in their apartment."
"It wasn't her idea to sneak into the keep. It was theirs. You should have been nicer to her." Syssi shook her head. "Poor girl. She'd been through a horrible trauma, and then you had to go and scare her even more. Do you know how terrifying you are when you're angry?"
Kian raked his fingers through his hair.
If Syssi was trying to make him feel guilty, she was succeeding. Except, his anger had been justified and he had done nothing wrong. The girl was a human, and humans were not allowed in the clan areas of the building. Kian was willing to relax the rules for a potential Dormant, but even Brundar hadn't suspected her of that. Callie had none of the indicators. Her transition had taken all of them by surprise.
"I did what I had to. There is a reason no humans are allowed on the floors occupied by the clan. I don't make up rules to make everyone's life more difficult, they are there to ensure the safety and survival of my people."
Syssi waved a hand. "Before Amanda met Dalhu, she'd been bringing guys up to her penthouse and breaking your rules all of the time. I'm sure many of the others are doing so as well. They are just better at hiding it from you."
Anger, hot and sharp, filled his chest. What else was happening right under his nose that he wasn't aware of?
"I'm going to fire the entire goddamned security department. They should have informed me of what was going on. It's not like the rules are unclear. It's their fucking job to monitor who goes where!"
"How would they've known?" Syssi rolled her eyes. "Amanda parked in the clan's private garage and used the penthouse's dedicated elevator, which has no surveillance cameras. That's a big gaping hole in your security protocol, Mr. Regent in charge of everyone's safety."
Fuck. Syssi was right. But to put cameras in the parking garage and in the clan's private elevators was an invasion of privacy he wanted to avoid. "I'm walking a very thin line between ensuring safety and a big-brother-watching type of security."
Syssi sighed. "I know, my love." She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "These kinds of problems will no longer be an issue once we move everyone to the village."
He held her to him, burying his nose in her hair. "Then there will be new ones. I feel like I'm in charge of a kindergarten full of misbehaving children, instead of people who've lived long enough and have experienced enough to know better. And what's worse, my own mother is the ringleader."
Syssi caressed his back. "After living with danger for so long, people get tired of hiding and worrying. They just want to live normal lives. You can see it on the news when a terrorist bomb explodes in a busy café, killing and maiming dozens of innocent civilians. The next day, the same street is teeming with people again. Life goes on."
"And I bet the security personnel in charge of keeping all those civilians safe are going nuts."
She chuckled. "Probably. But I don't want to talk about depressing subjects, especially when we have reason to celebrate. We have two new clan members—two new females to start two new hereditary lines. Not so long ago, you would've been jumping with joy at such news."
True words. With his lack of gratitude, Kian was probably courting the Fates' wrath. Instead of complaining, he should be offering his thanks. After millennia of turning their capricious backs on his family, recently the Fates had bestowed a bounty of gifts on his clan.
He, in particular, had a lot to be grateful for.
The Fates had been incredibly kind to him, bringing him Syssi, the love of his life, his truelove mate, and the first Dormant ever discovered.
Kian kissed the top of his wife's head. "What would I have done without you? Who would have called me out on my bullshit?"
She chuckled. "Your mother, Amanda, and your two other sisters."
Yeah, he was surrounded by smart women who he couldn't intimidate no matter how hard he tried, and who had no problem chewing him out whenever he deserved it. "Let's go and get the visit over with. Is Callie staying at Brundar's?"
"They plan to live here until the village is ready."
"What about Anandur? Did he move out?"
"The three of them are staying together." Syssi laughed. "I don't think they could've gotten rid of him even if they wanted to. Callie is an amazing cook, and you know how Anandur loves it when someone makes food for him, especially when it's not vegan."
"That didn't stop him and his brother from taking every opportunity to show up just when Okidu was serving lunch or dinner. They kept complaining about it being vegan and eating it anyway."
"As I said, having someone else cook for him is more important to Anandur than what is served."
No wonder the guy wanted to stay. Having a cook at home who had no problem with preparing meat dishes was a dream come true for him.
The question was whether Brundar was happy with the arrangement. Kian would have hated having one of his nosy siblings around. A mated couple needed their privacy. Anandur needed to move out.
Perhaps the girl should ruin a couple of dishes on purpose.
Except, her cooking might be a source of pride for her. Kian wondered what her level of skill was. Had she studied the culinary arts, or was it just a hobby?
"How do you know Callie is a good cook?"
"Bridget told me." Syssi's cheeks were getting pinker by the minute.
Kian cocked a brow and looked down at his wife, who was trying to avoid his gaze. "And how did Bridget learn of the fact?"
Syssi looked away. "Hmm, Callie invited her and Anandur to dinner."
"So soon after her transition?"
"It was before that."
"I knew it, the bastards kept hiding her in their apartment even after I ordered them to take her home. I'll have those two whipped."
Syssi paled. "The dinner wasn't here. It was at Callie's apartment."
He didn't smell a lie, but it didn't make sense for Bridget to accompany Brundar to his girlfriend's place. It wasn't as if the doctor and Brundar were close friends. Unless, she'd gone there to check up on him, which meant that he'd been staying with Callie while pretending to be in the keep.
Since Kian hadn't asked, he couldn't even accuse the guy of lying, but apparently the conspiracy to keep this from him involved more than Brundar and his brother.
"Who else knew that Brundar was staying at Callie's?"
Syssi's pale cheeks flushed with color again. "Bridget and Anandur."
"And who else?"
She chewed on her lower lip.
"Spit it out, Syssi."
She sighed. "Amanda and I knew as well. Amanda even dragged me over there to check Callie out. She is very nice. All of us liked her even when she was still a human, which should have clued us in about her being a Dormant. We all felt an affinity for her."
He cast her a stern look. "Tsk, tsk. You kept a secret from me."
"I know, and I'm sorry, but it wasn't my secret to share, and besides, you would've gotten mad and demanded that Brundar return to the keep. We all thought he needed to be with her, for his sake and for hers. They helped each other heal. She didn't know who we were, just that we were Brundar's family. There was no harm in that. I didn't break any clan laws."
It was all true, but there was still the matter of Syssi practically lying to him by not telling him that she'd gone to visit Callie.
"I think you earned yourself a spanking to remember, my love."
Without looking up at him, Syssi nodded, but for the first time ever, she didn't seem excited by the prospect. Instead of arousal, Kian smelled fear.
With a frown, he hooked a finger under her chin. "Look at me, sweet girl."
She raised a pair of worried eyes to him.
"I can't believe that the promise of a spanking makes you anxious. Did I ever hurt you?"
"No, but you were never mad at me like this either."
He shook his head. "I'm not mad, and this is still the same game we love to play for both of our enjoyments and nothing else."
Syssi expelled a breath. "For a moment there, I wasn't sure. You looked so disappointed."
"I am disappointed. Apparently, you don't trust me. The omission of truth is almost as bad as a lie, but thinking that I could ever do anything to hurt you is worse."
Tears pooled in the corners of Syssi's eyes. "I'm sorry. Can you forgive me? What can I do to make it up to you?"
Damn. When Syssi looked so remorseful, it was impossible to stay even slightly peeved at her or pretend that he was.
Wrapping his arms around his wife, Kian lifted her so their faces were aligned. "I'm glad to finally have something to be disappointed about. You're so damn perfect all of the time, while I'm so utterly flawed, that it's a relief to catch you doing something wrong."
As he kissed her, she melted into him, her anxious scent dissipating.
"I love you, my sweet girl, with everything that I am, and with everything that I've got."
Love shining in her beautiful eyes, Syssi cupped his cheeks. "You keep saying that you are not a romantic and that you're not good with words, but you always find the perfect ones for me."
CHAPTER 2: TURNER
Turner knocked on the door of the suite that had become his and Kian's usual meeting place. With both of them keeping the locations of their real offices secret, they needed a neutral territory to conduct their business. Coffee shops and restaurants didn't provide the necessary privacy, so Kian generously offered this vacant room in one of the clan's many office buildings.
Naturally, Turner had it under surveillance.
The space was used for nothing else, which was quite wasteful since they weren't meeting all that often. Kian was losing good money by not renting it out. But then he could afford it.
At the start of their business association, when Turner had done the background check on his new client, he'd been surprised to find out how extensive their holdings were. It had been difficult to track everything the clan owned, but then Kian wasn't Turner's first client to run an international conglomerate under myriad shadow companies. The clan's, though, was definitely the largest.
One of Kian's bodyguards opened the door. The redhead Viking smiled broadly, his whole face lighting up as if he was welcoming his best friend. "Turner, my man, come in. You're early as usual."
"And as always, you're already here."
The giant slapped his back. "Wouldn't want to keep an important man like you waiting." He stepped aside.
Kian rose to his feet and offered his hand. "Good to see you, Turner."
"You too. How are things going?" He shook the guy's offered hand.
"Busy is good." Turner sat in one of the two leather chairs.
Kian took the other one, while the Viking leaned against the desk and crossed his arms over his chest, doing his best to look formidable. Not that he had to work hard at it. Take away that charming smile and what was left was a killer.
The other bodyguard, the more dangerous of the two, was absent this time, making Turner wonder whether Kian had sent the blond on an errand, or had decided that Turner wasn't dangerous enough to merit two bodyguards.
"What happened to Brundar?" Turner asked.
Kian lifted a brow. "I'm surprised that you remember the names of my men."
"You shouldn't be." Turner paid attention to details others ignored and committed everything to memory. Every seemingly insignificant tidbit could prove useful in the future.
The guy's lips showed a shadow of a smile. "You're right, I shouldn't. So, what do you have for me?"
Turner appreciated that Kian didn't waste his time beating around the bush. The immortal had as much patience for idle chitchat as he had.
Pulling a laptop from his briefcase, Turner put it on the desk. "Your initial plan is not going to work. You might be able to take out some of the smaller operators, but the next day others would take their place. Slave trafficking is painfully easy to do, and where big money can be made with nothing more than lies and manipulation, the scum of the world jumps to fill the void."
"What about the ones who run the operations?"
"Frankly, I can't see anyone taking them down. Countless operators, big and small, are spread all over the world, and some of the organizations are so big, powerful, and ruthless that they make your dreaded enemies the Doomers with all their immortal tricks seem like small fry."
Kian leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "If I didn't know you, I would've dismissed your statement as uninformed nonsense. The Doomers are extremely powerful, not only as a mercenary army with thousands of nearly invincible immortal warriors, but with immense resources, including many politicians they hold in their pockets either with bribes or extortion."
"Other than the immortality, some of those slave traders have all of that and more. And unlike your Doomers, who are concentrated in one location, they are spread all over the world. Not only that, they don't function as an army or even as guerrilla forces like drug and arms dealers. The structure is economical in nature, and some of the big ones operate like franchises. I don't know of any army or government that can deal with that effectively."
Turner smoothed his hand over his bald scalp. What he'd found out bothered him, which was unusual for him, and quite disturbing. His professional success depended on his cold and calculated detachment. Emotions were just as bad as alcohol or drugs at compromising the thought process. Probably worse.
"I didn't know how widespread it was until I started digging. It's a plague, and most of it isn't even about abductions. In Third World countries, false promises of employment or marriage coerce desperate families to sell their daughters for a few bucks. And I'm talking about girls as young as twelve and sometimes younger. Abductions are more of a problem in the West. They use promises of love and romance to lure the girls themselves."
Kian shook his head. "Unbelievable."
"Later, when they sell the girls to brothels or individual pimps, they ensure cooperation by sending a small portion of the girls' earnings to their families in the case of Third World countries, and threats to harm loved ones in the West. In both cases, severe beatings and starvation are often used to break the girls' spirits."
"Fuck." Kian uncrossed his arms and leaned his forearms on the desk. "So what are we supposed to do? Nothing? Thinking about all those young lives destroyed haunted my nights even before I knew how widespread this vile trade is. Now I won't be able to sleep at all."
As Turner observed Kian's distress, he wondered how the guy had managed to survive as head of his clan for so long. Despite his centuries’ long experience, Kian hadn't mastered the detachment that would've helped keep him sane in an insane world. Feelings that strong were not only a burden but also a hindrance to a leader.
First of all, he was inviting competition from within, but that was only part of the problem. Kian wasn't nearly as ruthless as he needed to be in order to win the war against his enemies of old. To fight and actually win, even the good guys couldn't afford compassion.
It wasn't that Turner was indifferent. The world was a fucked up place, but to feel sorrow for all the suffering and injustice was pointless and counterproductive.
After all, he'd spent most of his life rescuing people from bad situations, but for him it meant acknowledging the wrong and trying to fix it to the best of his ability. It didn't affect him emotionally as it did Kian.
His lack of feelings would've been considered a disability by most, but Turner counted it as one of his most valuable assets. Logic and analytical thinking necessitated detachment. Emotions led to rushed decision and half-baked actions which often resulted in more lives lost.
After examining the issue from all angles, the plan he'd come up with was quite extreme and didn't provide the fast solution Kian had hoped for, but it was the only course of action that could actually achieve measurable results. "There is something we can do," he said.
Kian cocked a brow. "And that is?"
"We become the buyers."
The guy leaned away. "You can't be serious. That would contribute to the trade instead of putting a stop to it. I have no intention of lining the traders' pockets with more cash."
Turner shrugged. "You asked me what can be done, and I offered you a solution. I didn't say you were going to like it."
He pinned Kian with a hard stare. "Our goal is to save those girls in any way we can. Until a better solution presents itself, buying and freeing them is better than sitting on our asses and scratching our heads. Your clan is rich, and this is a most worthy charity. Hell, I'm not a philanthropist or an activist, but even I'm willing to contribute to the cause. I'm sure we can find others who would too."
Kian glanced at the open laptop. "I assume you made initial estimates?"
"I did. But contrary to what you may think, the monetary side isn't the most problematic. Our biggest concern is keeping our true intentions secret from the traffickers. To them, we must appear as legit buyers, which means that we can't return the girls to their families. Besides, in the case of Third World countries, the families don't want the girls back. They prefer to think of them as dead rather than have them come back and shame the family."
It was indeed a fucked up world, and young girls had always been its most vulnerable and abused victims. In ancient times virgins had been sacrificed to idols, and in modern times they were sold like commodities then considered tainted and unwanted when used for the purpose they'd been sold for.
Kian shook his head. "What are we supposed to do once we get them? With all due respect, Turner, your plan is too ambitious. We are talking about thousands of girls. The increased demand will only make the traffickers rub their hands with glee and double their efforts. We will solve nothing."
"If buying out the girls was the only thing we did, you would be right. But I'm even more ambitious than that. We approach it from both ends. We buy the girls, and at the same time eliminate the competition, either by outbidding the individual buyers, or stealing girls away from the brothels and then reducing the brothels to rubble. The buyers are a much easier target than the suppliers."
Kian didn't seem convinced, in fact, he regarded Turner as if he'd lost his mind—a reaction Turner was used to since most people had a hard time following his logic. His ability to weave complicated webs in his head without getting lost in the maze allowed him to see clearly what others couldn't.
An example could help Kian understand.
"Imagine that one day your Doomers decide that they want to establish a chain of brothels exactly like the one they have on their island. Will they try to take over the world's slave market? Or will they buy out the entire supply by outbidding their competitors?"
"If taking over is as impossible as you imply, then they would outbid the competition."
Turner nodded. "They buy all the supply, but then they realize that it costs them too much. They want to renegotiate the terms, but the slavers refuse because they know that there are plenty of other buyers. It's in the traffickers' best interests to sell to the highest bidders. What do the Doomers do?"
Given the glow emanating from Kian's eyes, the wheels in his head were gaining momentum. "They take out the other bidders and become the only game in town. Or at least try to."
"Right. Does it surprise anyone?"
"Not really. That's what they do."
"And what will the slavers do when the Doomers are the only remaining bulk buyers and negotiate the prices down?"
Kian tilted his head. "Either live with that or try to take out the Doomers."
"Correct." Turner leaned back in his chair and waited for the gears in Kian's head to do the rest.
The guy shook his head. "I don't get it. Are you suggesting that we establish a chain of brothels or pretend to do so? What's the point?"
Turner had thought the guy was smarter than that. But then it was possible that Kian's do-gooder nature prevented him from seeing the big picture that Turner had so carefully painted for him.
"Let me recap and elaborate. Over time, we become the only game in town by outbidding the competition and then taking it out. Supposedly, we are buying all the stock to create a chain of exclusive brothels in secret locations, when in fact we are stashing the girls somewhere safe. At the same time, we are deflecting suspicion by pointing the big dogs toward your enemies. If you are lucky, the traffickers might help you win your war without you having to lose a single soldier. It's a long shot, but it's a possibility."
The glow emanating from Kian's eyes intensified, making him look even more alien than usual, and when he smiled, he flashed Turner a pair of gleaming white, pointy fangs. "You are a fucking genius, Turner. Your idea is absolutely fucking brilliant. Crazy, probably impossible, but still brilliant."
"It's not impossible. If you can take care of the financial side, I can take care of the tactical one. Between the two of us, we can make it happen." Provided Turner lived long enough to see it through.
This wasn't a short-term plan. It would take years or even decades—time that Turner didn't have unless Kian agreed to grant him his wish.
He stifled a grin.
If Kian chose to proceed with the ambitious plan, he would have one hell of an incentive to do everything in his power to keep Turner around.
CHAPTER 3: KIAN
Turner's idea was insane.
Even with their combined resources, Kian couldn't see how they could pull it off. It was incredibly costly and involved and would take years if not decades to implement. The part about it that he liked the most was getting the victims out, starting right now.
At least some of them.
He needed Turner to prepare a detailed plan and estimate the rate of acquisitions. If Kian were to divert significant clan resources to the project, he had to get the clan's approval first. As long as he was using their money to grow more of it, he could spend it at his discretion. But he couldn't undertake a humanitarian effort of the magnitude Turner was talking about without a majority vote.
That was only one part of the problem, though, and not the biggest one.
The clan's resources were traditionally used to invest in new scientific research and the development of new technologies. By doing so, they were helping the advancement of humanity while amassing more money to fund more research and more new technologies. If he were to siphon funds away, he would be slowing that progress.
Was it worth it?
Billions of people across the globe would have to wait longer for their lives to improve because the clan was dedicating resources to rescuing mere thousands and providing them with a life worth living.
A tough choice.
Saving the girls was akin to treating the symptoms, while pushing for the advancement of all humanity was akin to eliminating the pathogens of the disease.
The people now living in such abject poverty that some were reduced to selling their children, would in the long run benefit from better and cheaper farming equipment, easier and cheaper access to medical treatment, and better education. All of that was possible with the help of technology. Taking resources away from that would slow down the process which wasn't going fast enough as it was.
Except, the immediate problem was too devastatingly tragic to be allowed to continue. Logic dictated that the needs of millions outweighed the needs of thousands, but the heart didn't agree.
What Kian found peculiar, though, was that a purely analytical man like Turner was the mind behind a plan that required a heart. Perhaps he wasn't the cold-hearted bastard everyone believed him to be.
"I need to sleep on it," he told Turner.
"Do you want me to start working on the plan? I don't want to waste my time if you feel it is not a project you want to undertake."
"I'm inclined to move forward with this, but I need to sell the idea to my clan first. As shareholders, they have the right to refuse an endeavor that is about to make all of them poorer. Furthermore, by diverting resources from investing in new technologies, we are veering away from our main goal, which is to push forward all of humanity's progress."
Turner nodded. "I understand. Do you need help convincing your people? I can prepare a killer presentation. Something so heart-wrenching that no one would refuse you after hearing it."
Kian doubted Turner would know how to achieve that. One needed to have a heart to know how to tug on its strings. This was a project for Amanda.
"Give me a rough draft, and I'll have someone who is excellent at manipulating emotions edit it."
As always, Turner's poker face revealed nothing, but the faint scent emanating from him hinted at disappointment. Usually, Kian's sense of smell was superior, but Turner was either in complete control of his emotions or just didn't feel strongly about anything. Perhaps Andrew was right, and the guy was a borderline sociopath.
"Is there anything else you wish to discuss?"
Turner glanced at Anandur. "There is. But I'd rather not discuss it in front of an audience."
"Anandur is privy to all my business dealings. I vouch for his discretion."
A slight grimace was the first emotion Turner had ever displayed in front of Kian. The guy shifted in his chair. "The matter I wish to discuss with you has nothing to do with business. It's private." He pinned Kian with his hard grey eyes. "All I'm asking for is a few minutes of your time. Do you really need a bodyguard in here? I pose no threat to you. You're faster and stronger than me, and I'm unarmed. Your guy is welcome to search me."
"That won't be necessary." Kian glanced at Anandur, who was shaking his head.
To send him away was a breach of protocol, but Turner was right that Anandur’s presence was unnecessary. "Fifteen minutes," he said.
The guy inclined his head. "More than I need."
Anandur pushed away from the corner of the desk he'd been leaning against. "I'll be outside the door."
Turner cleared his throat. "I know how good your hearing is, and I really need this to be private."
Kian was impatient to hear what the guy had to say. "Very well." He looked up at Anandur. "Would you mind getting us coffee? There is a Starbucks in the next building over."
Anandur waved his hands in the air. "I'm getting demoted from a bodyguard to a delivery boy. Why would I mind?" He walked out the door without looking back.
"I guess that's the trouble with employing family," Turner said.
"Tell me about it. But there are advantages too."
"I bet. They are very loyal to you."
"That they are."
"It speaks volumes about the kind of leader you are. They respect you."
Kian smiled. "Okay, now that you've stroked my ego, you can tell me what you need from me."
Turner shrugged. "Regardless, it's the truth."
"What do you want, Turner?"
The guy took a deep breath, then looked Kian straight in the eyes. "I have cancer."
Kian was taken aback. Turner looked as healthy as a horse and was in great shape. "I'm sorry to hear that, but I don't see how I can help you. If we had the cure for cancer, we would've shared the knowledge with humanity."
"I'm not asking you for a cure. I'm asking you to do for me what you did for Andrew."
That was unexpected. As far as Kian was aware, Turner had been told only what was necessary for him to help them. "What do you know about that?"
"I know he was human and now he is not. He gained about two inches in height, and his scars are gone."
"Do you know how it was done?"
"No. But it's not important. If you did it for Spivak, you could do it for me."
"Andrew already carried our genes. All we had to do was to activate them."
"I might have them too."
"Dormant carriers of immortal genes are extremely rare. What makes you think you're one of them?"
His jaw hardening, Turner narrowed his eyes. "Let's cut the crap, shall we? I'm not the best in my field for nothing. Andrew's sister works in a lab with a professor who researches paranormal abilities, and who happens to look a lot like you. A sister, I assume?"
Kian's blood turned cold. If Turner could follow the breadcrumbs to Amanda, then others could too. "Did you have Andrew followed?"
"Naturally. And you too." He waved his hand at the office they were using for their meetings. "We can drop the charade. I know exactly where you live and work. From now on, we can meet over there."
"Fuck. I should've known you'd do that."
"Yes, you should've. But don't worry, your secrets are safe with me."
"What about your people? I assume you didn't do the following yourself."
"No, I didn't. But I don't share with my people the reasons for sending them on assignments. They have no idea why I need the information they collect, and no one person gathers all of the pieces. I'm the only one who puts the puzzle together."
Fuck. Turner had discovered a major flaw in their defenses. The breach had to be addressed as soon as possible.
How much did he know already?
"And what did you learn from putting those puzzle pieces together?"
"Dr. Amanda Dokani is testing people for paranormal abilities, which both Andrew and Syssi have. Andrew has his lie-detector skills, and his sister has visions of the future. I've known this for years because Andrew didn't keep it a secret. You are obviously interested in finding people with paranormal abilities. My guess is that you believe they are good candidates for what you did with Andrew, and I assume with his sister as well."
This was bad. This human, who had no personal alliance with them, knew too much. He was too smart and too cautious to be affected by a memory-suppressing thrall, and he was too valuable to get rid of.
In short, Turner was in a position to blackmail them. He'd maneuvered things so that Kian would not be able to refuse his request.
"Even if we assume that you are a dormant carrier of our immortal genes, which is highly unlikely, you are way past the safe age to attempt transition. Andrew almost died during his, and he is several years younger than you. The older the person, the harder the transition. In addition, you're sick, which in our very limited experience prevents the body from going into transition. If you're not a Dormant, the process will probably not harm you, but if you are, you are most likely going to die from it. Instead of sacrificing the years you still have for an impossible dream, my advice is to get treatment and try to enjoy your life."
Turner shook his head. "I’ve made up my mind. I'd rather end this quickly than drag it out. I don't want to live in the Grim Reaper's shadow. I'm willing to take the chance. All I'm asking is for you to give it to me."
Fuck. Kian couldn't turn the guy away, but he didn't want to sign Turner's death warrant either. There was a lot of good Turner could still do for them. It would be a shame to lose a valuable asset like that.
Except, Turner was most likely not a Dormant, which meant that they could go through the motions of inducing his transition and nothing would happen. Who knew? Maybe the injection of venom would help with the cancer? They'd never tried it before.
"I'll tell you what I'm willing to do for you. I'll arrange a visit with our in-house doctor. She will evaluate your general health and determine your chances of successfully completing a transition. We will abide by her decision."
Turner narrowed his eyes. "The doctor is working for you, and she will do whatever you tell her."
A snort escaped Kian's throat. "You obviously don't know Bridget. But even if she were inclined to listen to me, she outranks me in everything that has to do with medicine."
The guy didn't look convinced. "But you outrank her in everything that has to do with security. In every organization, safety concerns trump everything else."
Kian spread his arms. "You already know everything that has to do with our safety. If I wanted you dead, I would tell the doctor to approve your request. Your death would solve the security breach you represent, and your blood would not even be on my hands because you asked for it."
That seemed to appease Turner. "Where and when?"
"I'll let you know."
Turner pushed to his feet and offered Kian his hand. "Thank you. You're not going to regret it."
Kian shook what he was offered. "If you die, I certainly will. We need you."
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DARK OPERATIVE: A SHADOW OF DEATH
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When gods and immortals still ruled the ancient world,
one young goddess risked everything for love.
Promised to the power-hungry god Mortdh, the young Annani is determined to find a way out of the prearranged political union that would one day put Mortdh on the throne.
Even though Khiann is the son of a merchant and not a member of the leading circle, the handsome young god is a much more appealing choice. Now all she has to do is convince him that she is worth chancing an all-out civil war over succession and possibly his very life.