Read King's Gambit Online

Authors: Ashley Meira

King's Gambit (5 page)

“What kind of services?”

“Whatever is necessary…provided they can pay.”

“Everyone has a price,” I repeated.

“Indeed. What’s your price, I wonder?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”

“That isn’t what I meant, I assure you.” He tapped his fingers against the steering wheel as he waited for the light to turn green. “Tell me, Morgan, do you practice blood magic?”

“No.”

“Is that why you don’t trust Elise?”

No one likes a profiler, dude.
I didn’t give him the satisfaction of reacting. “In this line of work, it’s not really a good idea to wear your heart on your sleeve.”

There was a hidden expectation in his silence.

“I don’t get her end-game,” I admitted. “Marcus told me she recently became his magical advisor. If she wanted the job that badly, it wouldn’t be too hard to schmooze her way into Flavius’ good graces. Plus, it’d be a lot easier to kill Zhen Zhu-Li than it would be to take a blood sample from the parliament members.”

“Which is why you are doing it and not her,” he said. “As for schmoozing…You have met Elise, yes? She has an exceptional mind, but charming is not the first word that comes to mind when one speaks her name.”

“She’s doing all this for a job, then?”

“Usually, members of the king’s parliament are at least six or seven hundred years old. Elise is a fair bit younger than that, despite her attempts to act like my great-grandmother.” Khalil slammed on the breaks and the car screeched to a deafening halt as a dark figure stumbled into the street. The bum swore at us, his words a drunken slur, before inching his way across the road. “Anyway,” he continued with a frown, “to come into such a prestigious position at her age takes a great deal of talent and determination. She’s worked very hard to get where she is today, and she won’t take being pushed aside lightly. Imagine working decades to reach your goals, only to have them ripped away the moment you attain them.”

I didn’t have to imagine. The decades bit aside, her situation reminded me of my own. I understood why the Council didn’t want me in charge of the Maxwell family right now. Even I thought I was too young (though I was willing to take the reins). My life had been pretty much laid out, and now everything was up in the air. Lady Cassandra listed me as her successor, but who knew if that would still hold in the future. I worked hard to make a name for myself beyond “Sullivan Wallace’s wayward daughter” or “Cassandra Maxwell’s charity case.” When people heard my name now, they thought of all I’d achieved, not the connections I had.

Still…the act of killing may get easier the more you do it, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hunt things until I was so old I
had
to retire. Death got exhausting. I wanted to see what else I could do, how else I could help keep people safe without risking my life every day.

This kind of melancholy called for booze and cuddles. Well, one out of two wasn’t bad. We turned onto a familiar street, and I could practically hear the whiskey I bought calling out to me.

“What are you, her biggest fan?” I joked.

“I’m just good at reading people. Besides, don’t you think these ventures work better when everyone involved gets along?” Khalil pulled over. “I’ll walk you to your door.”

“It’s okay,” I said, trying to resist the urge to smother my angst in other, sweatier ways.

“Ah, but please, allow me to enjoy your company for as long as I can.” He opened my door and held his hand out with that dashing smile.

I rolled my eyes but couldn’t help feeling flattered as I took his hand. “You’ll be seeing me tomorrow, you know. For hours, if this soiree is the same as other vampire parties.”

“We
are
known for going all night.” He winked. “I RSVP’d with you as my date, by the way, so wear something leggy.”

I scoffed, the sound echoing through the alley like a ghostly whisper. “I’m, like, five-foot-two – that’s not really ‘leggy’ material.”

He stepped back as we reached my door and looked me over. I had the presence of mind to put on Ugg boots, but couldn’t take five minutes to change out of my cocktail dress. Genius. Whatever, it’s not like I felt naked as his eyes roamed over me. Totally not.

“I think you pull it off wonderfully,” he said in a husky voice, his eyes sliding back up to mine. His irises were gold in the darkness, and I felt like a lamb staring down a wolf.

My back hit the door and I jumped, my heart pounding so loudly you didn’t even need to be vampire to hear it. This certainly isn’t how I thought my night would end. The door handle was frozen against my fingertips as I gripped it, willing the temperature to cool me down.

Khalil looked every bit the sensual predator as he stalked towards me, each step slow and deliberate. He stopped when our bodies were just brushing against each other and pressed his arm against the wall, right above my head. The heady blend of incense and expensive cologne filled my senses, sending my pulse racing even faster.

He leaned down, his lips grazing the shell of my ear. “It would be a shame to end the night so early, don’t you think?”

Yes
. I bit my lip hard before letting up – the last thing I needed was to start bleeding in front of him. Would it really be that bad? Just one little night. No one would ever know, would they? Khalil may try to use it as leverage, but it wouldn’t work. Sexual blackmail only worked on people with something to lose…

His hand slid down to my neck, the manner so similar to the way Alex touched me that it jarred me back into reality.

I pressed a hand against his – Lord help me – incredibly firm shoulder. “Sorry, Khalil, but I’m really tired.”

He let out a disappointed hum and gave me one last smoldering look before pulling away, leaving me shivering as the cold he was shielding me from came back in full force. He took my hand and traced his lips across my knuckles before placing a kiss against the surface, peering up at me with a look that promised nothing but pleasure. I gave him a shaky smile, sending heavy waves of cold magic all over my body. It did little to make my heart slow, but I couldn’t think of another way to calm down.

“Good night, Morgan,” he said, his voice thick with lust.

I whispered a good night back and fumbled with the lock on my door. It closed behind me with a soft thump and I slid down against it, sitting on the lacquered wood floor.

What the hell was I doing? Seriously, what the fuck was wrong with me? I brought my knees up, burying my face between them. I had Alex. Sweet, wonderful Alex who loved me.

I’d resisted Khalil, though. It was late and a lot happened and I had a shit-ton of wine and…It was a momentary weakness that was now over. Completely over. I should feel good about myself. I had an incredibly tempting opportunity to cheat and I didn’t take it.

So, why did it feel like I was missing out?

4

I slipped off my boots and sighed in relief as my feet touched the warm floor. Elise may have had a ritzy brownstone, but I had magically heated floors. Actually, she probably had heated floors, too. Damn it. I still remember fumbling around trying to mix in heating charms with my wards so the temperature would dip if my wards were broken. It made me paranoid as hell my first winter here, but I adjusted.

That, and about a dozen other random thoughts alternated between racing around and seeping into one big, sludgy mess in my mind. I padded over to the small kitchenette in the corner, tossed my coat over the nearby couch, and pulled one of the bottles I bought earlier out of its plastic prison. The lip of the bottle clunked painfully against my teeth as I took a heavy swig.

My apartment was a lot smaller than the home I had back in Haven, but I still loved it. A big part of that had to do with the fact that I was responsible for this place. Lady Cassandra owned the home in the Haven; she let me live there whenever I was in town. She left it to me in the will, so I guess I was responsible for both places now. Though I would give it all up to have her back. I took another drink and pretended the burning in my chest was from the alcohol.

I twisted in my swivel chair, looking over my little slice of paradise. There was a small, round dining table in a nook near the kitchenette, and a very comfy leather couch which had its back to me as it faced an admittedly extravagant plasma TV I bought shortly after coming back. Hey, blame all the people who forced me to stay on bed-rest so long; there had been nothing else for me to do but watch TV and play video games.

Buying it had been an exercise in frustration – salespeople were actually a bigger pain to deal with than vampires. But I got it done and now spent my off time drinking, eating unhealthy amounts of takeout, and watching TV series. You’d think that after all my complaining to Lily about how procedural cop shows were basically all the same, I’d stop collecting anything that even looked like CSI.

You’d be wrong.

I considered watching some reruns before heading to bed, but my drooping eyelids refused to even entertain the thought. Next to my dining table was a small staircase that led to my “nest” – an affectionate nickname I’d given the small upstairs loft which made up my bedroom. There was a very soft, very bouncy bed up there I’d fall on a sword for, and it was calling my name. A few dribbles of whiskey splashed me as I capped the bottle, but exhaustion KO’d hygiene every time – a shower could wait until tomorrow.

A quick glance at my phone told me I hadn’t overslept this time, so my day – night, rather – was starting off well. I sat up with a heavy groan, bundling the blankets around me, and unlocked my phone. Khalil sent me a message with all the details about the party, and I thumbed through it still half asleep before dialing up Alex. With me going back to my night owl tendencies and him rising with the sun, we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to speak.

Ugh, Khalil and Alex were not people I needed to be thinking about at the same time. The guilt over almost succumbing to the vampire’s advances last night hit me hard, but not as hard as the fact that I actually
regretted
sending him away. I wrapped the blankets tighter around me. Hopefully, speaking with Alex would make all these horrible thoughts disappear.

“Damn it, pick up,” I mumbled as the dull ringtone echoed in my ear.

Next to me was a haphazard pile of photo albums. Actually, with the exception of my lab, everything in my apartment could be labeled as a “haphazard pile” of something – I wonder if being allergic to picking up after oneself was a real thing. I pulled one of the albums onto my lap as I tried calling Alex again. A niggling,
fucking evil,
part of me said that the distance made Alex realize he didn’t actually love me – that the time we spent together had just been a fling – and was now trying to avoid me. It was good to know it took so little for me to turn into a crazy, self-conscious mess.

With ringing that was becoming the bane of my existence as background music, I flipped through the album as I waited. After kind of, sort of, totally making up with my dad during the shifter-werewolf case, he let me take some of the things he’d stored away following my mother’s disappearance. It was too painful for him to look at all the happy memories he’d shared with her, but my desire to know the woman – even through photos – overrode any inhibitions I may have had.

One of the biggest things these albums revealed was that I had been the chubbiest baby ever. Chubby and adorable, of course. I ran a finger over my favorite photo of the bunch. It was the same one that stood on my mother’s makeup stand in Dovesport. I was two, being held by my mother while she hugged my father with her free arm. It was a sunny, spring day and the leaves were almost unnaturally green. We all looked so happy, even my dad was smiling. It was pretty and domestic and not at all in my memory bank. Stupid two-year-olds and their tiny brains.

My mother looked exactly like I remembered, albeit way more HD than any of my grainy memories. Her cherry-colored hair was a wild mess of curls and her eyes were a crystal clear grey that radiated happiness. I stared at her smiling face, trying to figure out what could have happened to make such a happy woman leave her family. The expression on her face certainly didn’t look fake. This job made me a pretty good judge of character, but maybe I was letting my emotions blind me to the truth. I debated the idea as I chomped down on my lower lip to keep the welling tears in my eyes from overflowing.

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