Sub Rosa (Clutch Wars 3)
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Copyright ©2014 Mychael Black
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Bryn Navarro perched on a stool at the makeshift bar. Shouting and cheers filled the basement, giving the smoky room all the ambiance and charm of a ticking time bomb. His guards -- Regan York and Regan's lover, their newest guard, Sal -- hovered near him. Bryn wanted to come alone, but his own lovers -- Tia and Loren -- protested vehemently. They'd finally relented when Regan and Sal volunteered to play bodyguards. Now Bryn was here, waiting for the highlight of the night.
The chain cage rattled when the two gates at opposite sides opened. Two men stepped into the cage, glaring at each other. If Bryn didn't know better, he'd deem the entire fight unfair. A vampire and dragon didn't present much in the way of a balanced fight, but the vampire -- Steele -- was the epitome of the age-old adage: looks can be deceiving. He was petite but limber and fast, and he kept his opponents on their toes. He was also the biggest rival of the man across from him.
Mason Navarro had left Bryn's clan after a... disagreement years ago. Bryn occasionally talked to his brother, but Mason hadn't returned. Bryn figured it was solely because he'd struck up a relationship with Loren that Mason had left in the first place. Whether Mason accepted his sexuality now or not, Bryn needed the man back. He only hoped he could keep Mason and Steele from killing each other. He needed them both -- Mason's strength and guard-training, and Steele's alter-ego as a world-renowned scientist. Not that anyone had a clue Steele went by the name Shane Lawson outside of this place. The vampire was a recluse, always had been.
A bell rang and the men launched into each other. Fists flew, claws drew blood. Snarls filled the bar, warring with the shouts and cheers and eventually overpowering everything else. No one breathed as the fight club's best fighters circled and lashed out. Mason charged, but Steele sidestepped. The vampire landed a swift, low roundhouse kick, and Mason landed on the dusty floor with a thud Bryn felt across the room.
"Damn," Regan muttered.
Bryn snorted. "Most people underestimate Steele. They think he's a pushover until they get in there with him."
Mason leapt to his feet and spun around. He swung at Steele, and the vampire dodged. Despite the small enclosure, Steele somehow managed to defy gravity itself. He did a wicked flip and kicked, nailing Mason square in the chest with his bare feet. Mason stumbled backward, then rolled his broad shoulders. He snatched the vampire's arm and twisted it back, so far that Bryn marveled when no bones snapped. Mason's mouth was dangerously close to the vampire's neck. With Steele's face to the bar, Bryn saw the vampire smirk. Steele twisted, fast as lightning, and slammed Mason face-first onto the floor. Mason snarled, and the vampire merely leaned down to whisper something in Mason's ear.
"It's a mating dance," Sal murmured.
Regan choked on his beer. "What?"
Sal glanced at Regan, Bryn, then back to the two men in the cage. "These two aren't enemies," he said. "They're lovers."
"They hate each other," Regan said.
Bryn studied the way Steele sat astride Mason's back. Mason put up a fight, squirming beneath the vampire, but for the briefest moment, he stilled. Bryn cocked an eyebrow. "He may be right."
"Mason and Steele have never liked each other," Regan argued. "It's one of the biggest draws to their fights. This place rakes in a huge killing when those two hit the cage together."
Bryn didn't doubt that, but as he watched the subtle ways Mason responded to Steele, he thought maybe Sal had a point. "If that's the case, if they have something going on outside the ring, then there's a reason it's not known. So let's keep it that way."
The bell rang again, signaling the end of the match. Steele got up and stepped back. The few cuts he had slowly healed on their own. Mason stood and his own wounds took a bit longer, but they closed as well. Both men, still glaring at one another, backed to their respective gates. They left the cage, going in opposite directions.
Bryn started to get up, but Mason met his gaze from across the room. Mason didn't look particularly happy. Bryn sighed and gestured his brother over. A few feet from Bryn, Mason stopped, huge arms crossed. Dark brown eyes stared into Bryn's own.
"You wouldn't be here without a good reason."
"I need you to come home."
Mason raised one eyebrow, looked around the bar, then back at Bryn. "I am home."
"Mason, I -- we -- need your help. The clan is going to war."
Mason's gaze shifted to Sal. "And the demon?"
"Sal," Sal offered, extending a hand. Regan had made a point to touch Sal all night, just to show anyone who noticed Sal that the demon didn't present any sort of threat to their kind.
After a few seconds, Mason shook Sal's outstretched hand. "So what's this about?"
"Sal's joined us," Bryn said. "His kind are gearing up for war, Mason. We have a new queen."