Authors: Karen Chance
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
“So why kill him now, after so long? Why give him what he wanted?”
“Every time he escaped, Vlad tried to hurt me by attacking those I loved. I finally had to ask myself how much I was willing to risk for his continued pain.” I numbly watched Radu through a crack in the office blinds. The wake had reached the maudlin stage, and he was being crushed against the huge bosom of a sobbing troll woman who made Olga look petite. He took out a handkerchief and gently dried her eyes, as Mircea’s voice caressed my painfully tattered nerves. “I realized… some things are worth more than revenge.”
I abruptly stood up. I was so angry I could barely see straight. “Well, I’m thrilled you had that epiphany!”
“How many people died for your revenge? How many suffered? You could have ended this centuries ago, spared us all, but no. The great Mircea is always right!” I raged at him, finally giving voice to everything I’d known for years and that he had stubbornly refused to see. I’d waited for this moment, dreamed of it, and now that it was here… it rang strangely hollow.
I could still see Louis-Cesare’s mutilated body, with Jonathan tenderly stroking the multiple wounds he’d inflicted. I understood what Mircea meant; one death was far, far too good for him. I’d have loved to give him one for each and every scar, but wasn’t sure I’d given him even one. He’d fooled me with the illusion that Louis-Cesare was dead. No vamp healed an almost decapitation in a couple of minutes, not even a master. Especially not a master so drained of power he couldn’t even stand up. What I’d taken for a challenge had been Jonathan’s attempt to convince me not to risk my neck trying to save a corpse. Too bad for him that I don’t reason well in the midst of a killing rage.
Now I was faced, just like last time, with cleaning up the mess Mircea’s revenge had left behind. Was Jonathan really dead? Or had it been another illusion? We’d found several charred bodies that might have been his, but could just as easily have belonged to one of his little helpers. No one seemed to know exactly how many mages he’d brought along, how many bodies we should expect to find. I had no choice but to play it safe and assume that I now had a revenge-crazed dark mage after me, along with who knew how many other people. All because Mircea had to do it his way.
He started to get up, a hand outstretched toward me. “Don’t,” I warned him. “Just. Don’t.” The hand fell to his side.
It was too much, after centuries of ignorance, to have this all dumped on me now. Along with Louis-Cesare’s memories, I probably had nightmare material for at least the next millennium. Even worse, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about any of it. It was over, except for the mopping up. And suddenly I was so very tired.
We stared at each other for a heartbeat. Despite the gloom, I could see the faint lines of exhaustion etched onto that ageless face. Mircea looked as tired as I felt, and the sad, almost defeated look in his eyes was one I’d never seen. My hands clenched, and it was with a kind of horror that I saw one fist come up, the knuckles brushing lightly across the smooth line of his cheek. Then I whirled on my heel and started for the door, desperate to get away before I showed a weakness I’d regret.
“Dorina. Where are you going?” The voice was soft, careful.
“Back to New York. Back to my life.” I paused, my hand on the aluminum facing of the door. “And Mircea—the next time you need a favor…
He didn’t call. He wrote instead. Although I almost didn’t get the letter.
Ever since an unfortunate incident involving a lack of morning coffee and the postal uniform’s uncanny resemblance to Byrthinian demon battle dress, my mail is thrown in the general direction of the house while the carrier books it down the street. This morning, I fished one piece out of a hydrangea bush and another off the porch roof. Then I prized Mrs. Luca’s poodle away from Stinky and took him back inside.
I added the letters to the ones I’d collected that morning from the basement. Claire was in Faerie for the moment, but she still sent regular notes through the portal, which her uncle had used as a conduit for bringing in bootleg supplies. Because of the timeline difference, I’d found three letters that morning, each dated several weeks apart. They all said the same thing: she was fine; Heidar was fine; Caedmon was impossible—apparently, no one fusses over an expectant mother like the Fey, especially when the mother in question is carrying the heir to the throne.
As Claire said, she was still pretty freaked-out, both about the pregnancy and, even more, about all the creatures she had killed at Radu’s. A strict vegetarian, she was having a hard time accepting that she had drained most of the experiments dry of magic, and thereby of life, without even realizing it. The only ones who had survived were those, like Stinky, who were at least part Fey. Her gift seemed to have less of an effect on them. I supposed that was just as well—a part-human null was going to have enough trouble being accepted at court without draining the nobility dry.
She also wrote that she’s looking into possible Fey cures for my fits. A word was all it took for Caedmon to have a lab set up where she could explore the new flora to her heart’s content. Pretty soon, she’s going to have him as whipped as Heidar.
Of the other letters, the first was from Mircea. Purely a business proposition, he said, with no family strings attached. I raised a brow at that, but read on. Claire’s disappearance meant the bills were now all coming in my name.
Mircea wanted to know if I would be willing to work with the task force the Senate was forming to deal with problems caused by the war. Specifically, I would help to hunt down more of the dark’s special experiments and see that they were taken to Radu for examination. I might also assist in rounding up illegal immigrants from Faerie before they started snacking on humans. And, of course, ensure that the import of Fey wine was strictly prohibited.
I poured a tiny amount of the contraband stuff into my coffee mug. Luckily, I had about a five-year supply in the basement, courtesy of Claire’s uncle—God bless him. I drank a salute to Pip and resumed reading.
The Senate had been convinced to employ such a disreputable type as myself because of two recommendations. Mircea had somehow persuaded them that our recent adventures, and the fact that I am currently babysitting a Duergar, qualify me as a Dark Fey expert. The second came from Caedmon, although perhaps
isn’t quite the right word. It seems that he’d flatly refused to deal with anyone else. That had me narrowing my eyes and wondering what the crafty old bastard was up to. I had a feeling I was going to find out.
The other piece of mail was a brown-paper-wrapped package sealed with the family crest—in bloodred wax, of course. I smiled as I slit it open, and smiled more when I saw the contents. Radu had thoughtfully sent me a little gift along with his letter, which consisted of two paragraphs explaining about the task force, and eight more bitching about the facilities/people/pressure with which he was forced to work. He was back at MAGIC while his place was undergoing massive renovations. I winced at the thought of what he’d build on what was now virtually a blank slate. It boggled the mind. I couldn’t wait to see it.
He also wrote that Mircea was twisting arms trying to get Louis-Cesare back, at least for the duration of the war. He’d gone off chasing some rumor about Christine, much to Mircea’s annoyance. He wants him for the task force, which, as it was his idea, Mircea is expected to staff. He told Radu that it’s been tough going—most people don’t want to deal with the Fey. The Senate was desperate enough to employ a dhampir; what was next, trolls? I grinned and made a mental note to introduce him to my new secretary as soon as possible.
No explanation was given for the enclosed item, but then, I didn’t really need one. Radu had sent me a box of butterscotch candy. My favorite flavor. I stood there for a moment, thinking of schemes and plans, oaths and family. But mostly about a pair of blue, blue eyes.
I hadn’t been surprised to find out when I woke up at Radu’s that Louis-Cesare had done a disappearing act. I might have been hurt, if I hadn’t had his memories. If I hadn’t known to expect it. Somewhere along the line, he got tired of people lying to him, betraying him and leaving him. So he pulled the classic response. He became the one who left.
I should have been furious that someone who could be accepted chose not to be, that he shied away from the closeness I was denied merely to avoid the possibility of hurt. But I had those damn memories, and they weren’t fading with time. If anything, they seemed to be settling in for good, revealing stray glimpses into another life, another world, when I least expected it. And understanding another person, I was discovering, makes judging him a lot harder to do.
I finished my wine-laced coffee, then put through a call to Daddy. The vamp answering the magical mirror hissed at me, showing a lot more fang than he probably would have if I’d been there in person. I smiled back, which made him twitch. Finally, I got my request across and Mircea came into view. I told him that, with certain guarantees, I really thought I could make the time.