Authors: Nancy A. Collins
In loving memory of my aunt, Emily Riggins,
and with special thanks to my agent, Lori Perkins,
and my editor, Barbara Lalicki
“You can drop me off here, Bruno,” Lilith Todd saidâ¦
Lilith groaned aloud as she huddled under her 980-thread Egyptianâ¦
“So, where are we slumming tonight?” Melinda asked as sheâ¦
Cally Monture shook her head in disgust as she hurriedâ¦
“Hurry up!” Oliver yelled over his shoulder as he ranâ¦
Cally lived with her mother on the top floor ofâ¦
The Van Helsing Institute was headquartered in a rambling Georgianâ¦
Because the Graveses were out of the country and Lilithâ¦
There is nothing about Bathory Academy's exterior to suggest thatâ¦
As everyone started leaving, Lilith hopped down from her perchâ¦
Scrivening was Cally's last class of the night. She eyedâ¦
It was very late by the time Cally started home.
“Winged flight is our heritage and our destiny.” Coach Knorrigâ¦
Cally exited the locker room and hurried to Coach Knorrig'sâ¦
When Bathory Academy was originally founded, there was no suchâ¦
The rest of the night Cally was riding high onâ¦
Leaving Bathory Academy, Cally was relieved to find the streetsâ¦
What a strange illusion it is
to suppose that beauty is goodness.
ou can drop me off here, Bruno,” Lilith Todd said as she slid a Christian Louboutin heel onto her right foot.
The chauffeur quickly glanced over his shoulder at her as he piloted the vintage Rolls along Sixth Avenue. Bruno had been driving the Todd family to and from their various destinations since the days of cobblestones and coach-and-fours. Before that he'd been an officer in some European army.
He asked, “Are you sure, Miss Lilith? I can drive around the block one more time if you like.”
Lilith checked to make sure her backless emerald-green Dior dress was zipped to the waist and glanced at her Patek Philippe watch. She was secretly pleased to see she had broken her personal best for changing from
her school uniform into her party clothes in the back of the limo.
“Yes, Miss Lilith.”
As the driver stopped at the club in the section cordoned off for valet service, a young man dressed in the Belfry's standard-issue black designer pants, T-shirt, and dinner jacket hurried up to open the car door.
The Belfry was once an Episcopal church built by robber barons. More than 125 years later, the rich and famous still streamed through its ornate double doors; only now they came to minister to the flesh and drink the spirit.
Even though it was after two in the morning, there were plenty of wannabes hanging around, grumbling among themselves and eyeing the beefy bouncers guarding the entrance to the club. As Lilith extended a shapely leg onto the curb, the throng on the wrong side of the velvet ropes turned toward her, hungry for a glimpse, no matter how fleeting, of celebrity glamour.
With a toss of her head, Lilith moved up the stairs to the door, her long, honey-blond hair floating behind her like a bridal veil. One of the bridge-and-tunnel rats elbowed her companion in the ribs and pointed at Lilith as she breezed by.
“Look! There's someone famous! Isn't sheâ¦?”
“I don't think so,” her friend said, squinting like a jewel appraiser trying to tell the difference between a precious
and semiprecious stone. “Too young. But I'm pretty sure she's someone famous. Or she's rich. Maybe both.”
Lilith brought her hand to her mouth so that no one could see her laugh. Oh, she was rich and famous, all right. Just not in the way the wannabes were thinking.
As she reached the front door of the club, a new bouncer stretched out a bulging arm, blocking her way.
“You look the part, lady,” he said, his eyes traveling up and down her svelte body. “But I need to see some ID.”
Suddenly the valet ran up and tapped the bouncer on the shoulder. The huge mountain of man-muscle lowered his head so the valet could whisper into his ear. Lilith smiled as she saw the panic cross his face.
“Sorry, my mistake,” the bouncer rumbled, exposing his throat in deference as he stepped out of her way. “Enjoy your night, Miss Todd.”
Lilith crossed the glowing entryway and headed toward the massive main dance floor that filled what had once been the church sanctuary. She looked up at the DJ booth housed in the old pulpit and waved at the young man spinning trance at deafening levels.
She spotted Sebastian, the club's party promoter and appointed guardian of the VIP lounge on the second floor. He rushed toward her as fast as his custom-made blue leather shoes could carry him. As always, he was ecstatic to see her.
“Lilith! Baby! You look positively
good to see you!” he shouted over the throbbing punch of the club's sound system.
“Hello, Seb,” she yelled back. “Are the others here?”
“Jules just arrived. Go on up to the Loft; I have your favorite vintage warmed and ready for you.”
“You're my favorite, Seb!” she said, kissing the air to either side of his thin cheeks.
“I'm sure you say that to
the devilishly handsome club promoters who let you drink for free!” He winked.
As she entered the former choir loft that served as the VIP lounge for the club, Lilith spotted her promised, Jules de Laval, sprawled on one of the divans. He was dressed in an Armani polo T-shirt, the sleeves rolled up to give his biceps maximum reveal, chatting with Tanith Graves, one of her best friends. With his tousled, collar-length strawberry-blond hair, green eyes, perfectly straight nose, and strong masculine jaw, Jules looked like a movie star and loved to act the part.
Tanith and Lilith enjoyed passing for sisters, and since both girls had blond hair, oval faces, fake tans, and the same taste in high-end fashion, it was an easy con to pull off.
Sitting next to Tanith was her boyfriend, Sergei Savanovic, one of Jules's classmates from Ruthven's. With his dark, shoulder-length hair, black eyes, and penchant for turtleneck sweaters and leather jeans,
Sergei could easily be mistaken for a Russian poet, but he was actually from Serbia, as he was quick to point out to anyone who bothered to ask.
Carmen Duivel and Oliver Drake were sprawled on the opposite sofa. Carmen's baby-doll face and coppery tresses perfectly complemented Oliver's dirty blond hair and bad-boyish good looks. Like most vampire couples, Oliver and Carmen were seeing each other simply because they knew they looked good together.
“There she is,” Jules said, smiling as he got to his feet. “I was beginning to think Teacher kept you after school.”
“Thank the Founders it's Thursday!” Lilith laughed as they embraced. “I don't see how clots can stand going to school five days out of the week!” She gave the room a cursory glance as she kissed him on the cheek. “Who's not here yet?”
“Melinda,” Carmen replied.
“Big surprise there,” Lilith said with a roll of her eyes. “She's
“Like you have room to talk! You're not exactly the most punctual,” Jules chided.
“Yes, but I'm
late, sweetie. There's a difference. So what dish have I missed out on?”
“Ollie was telling us how he managed to score backstage passes to the Victoria's Secret Pink Party for everyone,” Carmen said excitedly.
“One of my father's thralls is a publicist for the
company,” Oliver explained.
“Victoria's Secret? Oh, please.” Lilith sniffed.
“Yeah, I wasn't really sure I wanted to go,” Carmen said, her previous enthusiasm suddenly curbed. “What was I thinking?”
“I'm going to get a drink. I need to wash the taste of school out of my mouth,” Lilith said. “Don't gossip too much while I'm goneâI'll just make you repeat it when I get back.”
As she walked up to the bar made from parts of the church pipe organ, she could see that the bartender was already reaching under the countertop. “The usual?” he asked.
“Here you go,” he said, handing her a wineglass filled with something that could be mistaken for claret.
Lilith sniffed the bouquet, smiled, and nodded her approval.
On rejoining her friends, Lilith saw that Melinda had arrived. With her pale jade eyes, cafÃ© au lait skin, and elaborately braided hair, the daughter of Anton Mauvais was a mesmerizing beautyâand one who was standing a little too close to Jules.
“Glad to see you finally made it, Melly,” Lilith said as she slid between the two in such a way that Melinda was forced to take a step back.
“I had to go home to change my clothes,” Melinda
explained, “or I would have been here sooner.”
“What are you drinking, Lili?” Sergei asked.
“AB neg served at body temperature with a hint of anticoagulant: just the way I like it.”
“Soâhow was school?” Jules prompted.
“Ugh! Please, don't remind me!” Lilith grimaced. “So far we're a week into the fall semester and it already blows donkey dongs.”
“I didn't realize that donkey dongs were a unit of measure.” Jules chuckled.
“Shut up!” Lilith said, slapping him playfully on the leg. “You know what I mean! Anyway, I was hoping they'd start treating us more like adults and less like fledglings this year. Maybe let us take a field trip, do some luring, you know? No such luck! I can already lure any of the clots in this club with one hand tied behind my back!” She drained her glass and slowly and sensuously licked her lips.
“If that's what you're interested in, we could always go slumming,” Tanith suggested. “There are plenty of drug dealers to be found in this city, day or night. No one would notice or care what happened to them.”
“Down around Washington Square Park is an easy spot,” Jules suggested off-handedly, giving Tanith a wink.
Tanith lifted an eyebrow but was careful to make
sure Lilith didn't see the look on her face. All of Lilith's friends knew better than to respond to Jules's flirting, even in jest.
“Really? So let's go!” Lilith said, refusing to acknowledge Jules's behavior.
The marriage between Lilith Todd and Jules de Laval had been arranged by their families when they were still babies and was viewed as the perfect merger of Old World power and New World wealth.
The de Lavals were the most aristocratic family in the whole city. Jules's father, the Count de Laval, had a bloodright that predated the reign of Clovis I, and he still owned considerable property in his native France.
Despite having changed the family name from Todesking on moving to America, the Todds had no claim to royalty. However, they
richer than Midas. By arranging a marriage contract with the de Lavals, Lilith's father had guaranteed that his precious daughter would indeed grow up to be a real princessâor at least a countessâand the de Lavals were assured of the steady stream of money necessary to make sure their collection of chÃ¢teaus, palaces, and castles remained in the family.
Of course, none of this stopped Jules's eyesâand other body partsâfrom wandering on a regular basis.
“We could do it this weekend, I guess.” He shrugged.
That's if you don't mind some of the boys tagging along.”
interested in partying,” she said, snuggling up to him.
There was a buzzing sound and Jules pulled out his cell phone. “It's my dad,” he said with a frown. “I better go.”
Lilith tried to angle her head so she could see the name on Jules's caller ID, but he had already palmed the phone. “Since when do you go scampering home when Daddy calls?” she asked.
“Since I got a failing grade on my last alchemy test,” Jules replied sourly. “He threatened to cancel my trip to Vail if I didn't put in at least a couple hours studying after school.”
“See you tomorrow night, then?”
“Sure,” Jules replied. As he bent down to kiss her good-bye, Lilith rose to meet him. Jules cradled the back of her head in his palm as his tongue slipped into her eager, hungry mouth. After a long, final kiss that felt real, he looked into her eyes and gave her his patented sexy smile. “I gotta go, babe. Call me when you get up.”
Lilith watched as Jules left. Even though the Loft was packed, the crowd parted without him having to say a word. She silently wondered if he really was going home or if it was simply an excuse to be with someone
else. There would be plenty of time for him to go out without her after they got married. Until then, she wanted Jules all to herself. The idea of Jules doing the things to another girl that he did to her was enough to trigger bouts of jealous anxiety in her.
Lilith glanced down at her hands and saw that they were knotted into fists. “Excuse me for a moment, will you?” she said to the others as she stood up. “I need to make a run to the little girls' room.”
The VIP lounge's ladies' room was considerably smaller than its counterpart downstairs, with only two toilets and no mirrors mounted on the wall over the sink. Lilith quickly scanned the floor, checking to make sure there weren't any feet visible under the stalls. Satisfied that she was alone, she dropped the lid onto one of the toilets so she could sit down. Her hands were already starting to shake as she pushed the bolt lock home behind her.
She put her Prada bag down between her feet and reached inside, her fingers blindly groping for the zippered pocket where she kept the forbidden stash no one knew about: not her parents, not Tanith, not even Jules.
She just needed a little hit, that's all. Just a little something to take the edge off and boost her self-confidence. Everybody thought she had it so easy. But being the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the
perfect student, the perfect girlfriend all the time was hard work.
She deserved this.
She opened her hand to reveal a small tortoiseshell case compact. She smiled to herself as she unsnapped the compact's lid, revealing its contents.
A small, circular mirror.
Lilith stared at her reflection for a long moment, tilting the compact first one way, then another in order to see as much of her face as possible.
She had been told all her life that she was beautiful. Her mother said so. Her father said so. Jules said so. Tanith said so. And when she became older, others said soânot with words, but with their eyes. Even though she was only sixteen, Lilith was accustomed to lustful looks directed at her by people of all ages and persuasions. Still, no matter how many times others told her she was attractive, it wasn't the same as being able to see it with her own eyes.
However, the relief the small mirror provided her didn't come without a price. If she was ever caught with it in her possession, she would be automatically expelled from school and brought as a criminal before the Synod, the governing counsel that saw to it that the ancient laws of her people were obeyed.
Lilith scrutinized her hair and makeup, checking to make sure she looked her best before clicking the compact shut. As she returned the mirror to its secret
hiding place, her hands were once again steady, her manner assured. Before she exited the stall, she made certain to flush the toilet, just in case someone had entered the restroom in the meantime and might be paying attention. After all, appearance was everything.