Authors: Linda Robertson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Contemporary, #Romance, #General
Johnny knew. He had met the Rege.
Aurelia swung her arm to point at Red. “If you keep screwing around with the witch, they
off you and take your son.”
Beyond her, he saw Red’s eyes widen at the word “son.”
“You said no one knew.”
“The information is secured,” she said coolly. “If anything happens to me, if I don’t check in, locks will be opened.”
“Also, if I go into custody,” she added in a snide sing-song voice, “locks will be opened. And you know what will happen then.” She paused. “Anticipating that Evan will be able to transform at will like you, they’ll turn him.”
Johnny felt his heartbeat in his ears. He felt his blood pressure rising. His fists clenched.
“They will raise him to be what they
in a Domn Lup.” The room remained silent for a long moment, then Aurelia added, “I’m sure their values and ideals would not be in keeping with how you would want him raised.”
With that, Aurelia spun and, though she advanced awkwardly using only the heel of her left foot, she rushed at Seph, who swung the chair up to defend herself. Aurelia grabbed the legs smoothly and used her momentum to push the chair at Seph, twisting it so the back of it cracked her in the side of the head. She went down.
Aurelia leapt over her, landing on her right foot and her hands, but she was immediately up and rushing to the door that led to the garage.
Johnny was already in motion, following her swift move, but he fell on one knee, crouching over Seph. “Red? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she snarled. “Get
Johnny ran into the garage and leapt the railing of the steps. Aurelia had escaped out the door to the rear and as he lunged through it, the flat of a shovel whacked against his head.
His knees buckled and hit the ground. Dazed, it took him a second to recover. He saw Aurelia hobbling across the yard toward the road. Even injured, she was fast.
Her car is that way. Mine’s closer
Pushing himself up, he ran in the other direction around the house, skidded up to the door of the Maserati, and jerked the now fobless key ring from his pocket. In seconds he was throwing gravel as he reversed up the driveway and squealed the tires on the road. Remarkably, Aurelia had made it to her car already.
Catching a glimpse of taillights, he shifted gears and floored the gas pedal.
oliath stood in the main chamber of the Haven Master’s suite. His elbow was propped on the back of the master’s chair and he let the full force of his most threatening glare crash over Ivanka.
She was well aware of his displeasure. She had barely made it through the door before lowering herself to one knee before him. Her eyes were kept downcast, her chin low with shame.
As the moment wore on, Mero, beside Goliath, shifted his weight impatiently.
Goliath had not wanted Liyliy to escape, but the fact that she had escaped Mero
meant the advisor couldn’t begrudge Goliath the escape of Persephone Alcmedi while the vampires lay dead for the day.
“My orders were for the Erus Veneficus to remain on site.” Goliath’s tone was sharp.
“I try to keep her here,” Ivanka said. Regardless of her stilted English and thick Russian accent, Goliath understood her well; he’d trained her as security personnel when she joined this haven. “Old man come in. He angry.”
“What old man?”
“Own shop. Volfsbane and Absinthe.”
Mero shot Goliath a questioning look so he explained, “It is a nearby witch supply shop.”
“I protect Erus Veneficus when he use cane as weapon,” Ivanka added.
“You mean you fought a
man when he attacked the Erus Veneficus?” Mero asked.
The pointed and accusing nature of his comment wasn’t lost on either Goliath or Ivanka. Goliath knew Ivanka’s abilities as a sentinel were among the best in the haven; she’d taken his instruction flawlessly. He also knew that
knew she was among the best.
She looked up from the floor for the first time since entering and her brows were knit together tight. “Yes,” she snapped at Mero. “He is mortal. As per standing haven orders, I did not harm him, just subdue. Not so easy as beating him black and blue. And zis”—she lifted her casted arm—“make even more difficult.”
“Did he use magic against you?” Mero asked.
“Beauregard was Bindspoken years back,” Goliath said. “He cannot use magic.”
“Why would he attack the witch?”
“He say his son is cad . . . cad . . . ” Ivanka paused, snorted a self-critical breath as she tried to remember. “Catatonic. He blame vitch for zis.” She added, “While we fight, she sneak out. I try to follow, but she get to cab,” Ivanka added.
Mero shifted his weight again. “Did she happen to mention why she was leaving or where she was going?”
“Say she haf meeting, but not vhair.” Ivanka’s gaze shifted to Goliath. “If she said, I already go there and bring vitch back.”
Goliath nodded. “You may leave.”
Ivanka rose and turned to the door. Before opening it she said, “She say she come back.”
“Of course she did.” Mero didn’t sound convinced.
“Thank you,” Goliath said and gestured her out. When Ivanka had gone, he faced Mero. The bruising Liyliy had caused around the vampire’s eye was finally diminishing. “If my E.V. said she’d be back, that’s what she’ll do,” Goliath assured him.
Mero met his gaze squarely. “I have not seen Menessos around the haven tonight.”
Goliath remained calm. “I sent him on an errand.”
“If he has gone to her and told her what we are deliberating about, she
flee. He could have told her that last night when she made her brief visit here. He could have told her to escape while we were yet under the sway of the death. She might have planned the escape with the old man.”
“You make valid points.” He broke his pose and strolled away with his hands clasped behind his back, thinking.
This was the unavoidable moment where he had to let Mero know where he stood. He’d bought time with his diplomacy yesterday, but that time had run out.
Goliath thought of his confrontation with Menessos earlier and what his Maker had said about the witch. Menessos had made no secret about his opposition to her being taken to the Excelsior when the three of them spoke yesterday evening. The question was, as Haven Master, should he support Menessos? His Maker was starting down a path at odds with the hierarchy of their kind. It was not completely unlike him, but it was rash.
Menessos had been acting more and more rashly since he’d met Persephone . . . conceivably since she’d marked him.
“She could have lured him out of this room,” he said. “She could have used her influence to make him reveal any threats. She could have started planning to abscond right then. She could have lost all the integrity I’ve come to know she possesses due to the desperation of the moment.” He turned back. “But I’ve seen her in desperate moments. She paused to save my life in a desperate moment.”
Mero lifted his chin and squared his shoulders. “Do you feel you owe her loyalty for that?”
It seemed Mero was preparing himself for a confrontation, in case Goliath felt it necessary to subdue him.
“We all have to make our own choices, Mero. Yours is evident.” Goliath smiled. “My Maker Made you. That makes us brothers of a sort. Out of respect for you, I will not try to stop you, but out of respect for our Maker, I will not help you, either.”
Mero said nothing, but he did not move to leave.
Goliath said, “I can see that you are now considering whether or not you should use your rank and authority against me. Commandeering my haven and claiming my people to use them to aid you as you try to seize the Lustrata is a wise—even shrewd—move. Although you certainly should not underestimate her. Still”—he strode around the master’s chair and lowered himself into it with all the regal poise he possessed—“I promise you, brother, if you try to take what is mine, I will give you a war.”
• • •
She will destroy us. Does he not see that
? Mero wondered as he left the Haven Master’s chambers. He glanced up the
stairs at the doorway to the Erus Veneficus’s chambers, irritated that they were empty. She’d slipped through his grasp.
Goliath was young, but Menessos had trained him well. The diplomacy he offered was smart. It let him stand his own ground among all sides, yet clearly revealed which side he’d choose tonight if forced to.
Mero knew what he needed to do. He’d started toward the stage when a cacophony of excited sounds arose in the theater house beyond. Proceeding cautiously, he peered around the backstage wall and saw Menessos carrying a child. He was accompanied by a pair of women as different as night and day.
Seven, with her willowy figure and long, straight black hair worn in a ponytail, was on his right. Though a high-ranking vampire in this court, she wore jeans and work boots with her turquoise tank top; her primary job was overseeing the construction and renovation of the bar upstairs called Haven.
On his left was the red-eyed half-demon Risqué, her blond ringlets bouncing. At any given time her curvaceous body was barely covered. Since Mero had arrived he’d seen several different colors of ruffled panties on her. And clear platform heels. The ringlets usually covered her breasts, but when she was on the move, like now, her nipples peeked through.
Seven had gone into interrogation mode. “How long has she been unconscious?”
“About an hour and a half,” Menessos answered.
“How long will she continue to be out?”
“I do not know. She may sleep through the night, as it is her custom.”
“She will have to be watched around the clock.”
Mero wondered what had happened to the girl.
“Indeed.” Menessos was coming up the ramp to the stage. “That is why I brought her.”
“You do not intend for her to stay in your chambers, do you?”
“No. The child will stay in Persephone’s rooms.”
Menessos paused to face her. They both turned to Risqué.
She glanced back and forth between them. “No.” Her pouty lips were pursed and her hands were planted on her hips. “No, no, no. I am not hanging out with a . . . child.”
Menessos and Seven were not fazed. He said, “You are not dead for the day and you are magically proficient. You can keep her under control.”
Mero’s curiosity was piqued.
Menessos continued walking. “Besides, I think she’ll like you.”
Risqué’s shoulders slumped. “But I hate wearing shirts,” she whined.
Mero passed through the doorway as the others neared it. “Pardon us,” Menessos said and continued on without offering an explanation. Mero hesitated for an instant, then was on his way across the theater. He made his way to the common area one floor up where he had earlier seen Talto and Ailo.
It was an open space with a beige and scarlet color scheme, creating a comfortable living room. The elegant atmosphere was marred, however, by the small group of Beholders playing cards in the far corner. They clustered around an elaborately carved and red felted poker table,
but the beer cans, cigarette smoke, overflowing ashtrays, and colorful cheap chips drained all the sophistication from the room.
Those he sought were sitting closer to the room’s entry, on a leather couch in front of the large-screen television. They were watching a news channel and soundly ignoring him.
He approached. “Ladies.”
Only Ailo acknowledged him, and that was a simple sidelong shift in her eyes. Before she looked away, he said, “Did you learn anything about a young girl when you read Menessos?”
“The former court witch is the foster parent of a girl with dark hair.”
“Aha. Thank you.” Mero smiled. This was good news. Perhaps Goliath was correct. If her foster child was here, surely Persephone would come back. “The E.V. will likely be returning soon, then, as the child was brought in moments ago.”
“I doubt it,” Ailo murmured, looking back at the screen and smiling like she knew a secret.
Mero took that to mean that Liyliy was on her way to the witch.
Probably to kill her.
They needed her, alive, and marked by the Excelsior.
He stepped in front of the television. “Where is she?”
Ailo and Talto both kept staring at the screen as if he was not in the way at all. He turned, frustrated, and when he couldn’t find the television’s power button, he jerked the cord from the wall. “Where, Ailo?”
Both shabbubitum glared up at him. Ailo zoned out for a moment. When she blinked, she said, “She’s at home.”
stood up faster than was wise. My head spun and I stumbled to the wall.
Propped against the wall, I touched my head and felt warm wetness and a lump.
I walked to the sink, pulled a clean rag from the drawer, wet it, and held it to the bleeding goose egg on the side of my head as I leaned against the counter.
That bitch said Johnny had a son.
He hadn’t denied it.
A son. How old is he?
My mother and Nana had teased me that maybe since Johnny is the Domn Lup he was somehow immune to the nonprocreating rule. I didn’t buy that idea at all. Because Johnny’s memory was blank except for the last eight years, the kid would have to have been conceived eight years ago or more.
My stomach did a flip when I worked my way around to wondering who his mother was.
He has a family somewhere
I filled a glass with water, added ice from the fridge, and drank it down. Swallowing hurt, but the cool liquid eased my throat. I dumped the ice from the empty glass into the rag and alternated holding it to my head and throat.
I’m a liability to Johnny.
I’d already proven what a burden I was for Menessos. He’d lost his haven because of me. It hurt to know
what I’d cost him, but even though the power Johnny was attaining was changing so much about him and our relationship, I didn’t want to cause him problems. More than that, I didn’t want to be the reason he—or his son—were in danger.