Book 17 in Guardians of Eternity
When a conspiracy threatens what’s most precious to The Guardians of Eternity, they must depend upon their one-time enemy to protect them in the latest from New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Ivy.
Once, Brigette was the conduit through which the ultimate evil reached Earth. Now she’s just a lonely Were isolated in an Irish cottage, cut off from her animal and humanity alike. When a band of rebels approach her to take down the king of the vampires, she knows denying them means certain death—but even if she warns the king, he may not listen to the likes of her.
From the moment Xi slips into Brigette’s bedroom to escort her to his king, he sees the heartbreak that hides behind her guilt. The elusive vampire has fought for centuries to master his own regrets, and his word will convince the king to value hers. Neither can escape the attraction between them, even as partners on an undercover mission. But there’s no room for pleasure when their work might redeem her to the Guardians completely—or send them to the death they’ve evaded for so long . . .
Read an Excerpt
The lair of the Anasso, King of the Vampires should have been a dank, musty place filled with bats and a few shabby coffins to emphasize the whole creepy vibe. Or at least dug deep underground to avoid the dastardly sunlight.
Instead, Styx had chosen a sprawling mansion on the outskirts of Chicago with lots of marble and gilt that was supposed to give it a classic sophistication. Okay, it had been Styx’s mate who’d chosen it. Styx personally thought it looked like something an aging rocker with too many burnt brain cells would choose, but it pleased Darcy. And since she was a pureblood Were with claws that could literally rip out a male’s throat, he tried to keep her happy.
Styx was currently in his office that had been stripped of most of the gilt, although there was nothing he could do about the marble. Or the fluted columns that grew like a forest through the mansion. He’d intended to spend a few hours enjoying an ancient manuscript that had been loaned to him by Jagr. Darcy had recently gone to Kansas City to visit her twin sister who was mated to the King of Weres, Salvatore, and their litter of pups. She claimed that late fall was the perfect time to travel to see the leaves changing colors.
Styx had declined her invitation. He wasn’t interested in foliage, no matter what color it might be. More importantly, the Were pups had reached an age where they spent an enormous amount of energy racing through the house shrieking and yipping at the top of their lungs. It didn’t matter if they were in their human form or their wolf form. The noise was enough to raise the dead.
And not in a good way.
Unfortunately, his decision to remain behind hadn’t gone as he’d plan. He’d barely settled into his large leather chair when a male shoved open the door to the office.
Xi was one of his Ravens, the personal guards who’d sworn to protect him. Unlike Jagr, who was the leader of the Ravens, Xi wasn’t bulky or as strong as an ox. He wasn’t even the most powerful warrior, although anyone stupid enough to challenge him would quickly find himself with a dagger shoved into his chest and his heart cut out.
But he possessed a unique talent for stealth that made him the perfect choice for Styx’s his latest assignment.
Setting aside the manuscript, Styx regarded his Raven with a lift of his brows. The male was just under six foot with short black hair that was shaved on the side to reveal the tattoos of two coiled snakes on his scalp. His eyes were dark and his finely carved features so perfect he didn’t look real. He was standing in the open doorway wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt. Keeping with the theme, his heavy books were also black. The clothing was more about blending into the background than any particular fashion choice.
Styx, on the other hand was wearing black leather pants and a white silk shirt because that’s all he had in his closet. Darcy had finally accepted that he was never going to dress like a king.
“Are you looking for me?” Styx demanded when the male continued to stand there, eying him with an inscrutable expression.
“Then what are you waiting on? An engraved invitation?”
Xi’s dark gaze drifted around the room before returning to Styx. “I’m attempting to decide whether or not I have the courage to enter.”
Styx scowled. He’d witnessed this male battle a horde of orcs with nothing more than his fangs and a dagger.
“The one thing you’ve never lacked is courage, amigo.”
“Normally I would agree with you, but you have been…”
Styx lifted his six-foot five body out of the chair. “I’ve been what?”
“Volatile over the past weeks,” Xi told him.
The Raven was right. The past month had stretched Styx’s limited patience to the breaking point. It was nothing he could put his finger on. Unexplained fires. Sudden riots. Vandalism. Brutal attacks on lesser demons.
Every night he woke to discover a line of demons waiting to make a complaint or plead for his assistance. It was enough to stress out the most Zen vampire. And there was nothing Zen about Styx.
Which was why he’d requested Xi to investigate the various incidents.
With an effort, Styx leashed his burst of annoyance at the interruption. He even managed to force a wry smile to his lips.
“According to my mate I’m always volatile.”
Xi didn’t argue. “More volatile than usual,” he clarified.
“Mount Etna volatile or Mount Vesuvius?”
Xi answered without hesitation. “Definitely Mount Vesuvius.”
Styx tapped a finger on the edge of his desk. He was often short-tempered. It was part of his charm. But the past month had rubbed his nerves raw.
“I’ve had a stressful times, terrifying times, and the world-is-about-to-end times. But this…” He shook his head. “I feel like I’m being tormented by a thousand unseen ants. Each biting when I least expect it.”
“The city is seething.”
“Seething. Yes. That’s exactly what’s happening,” Styx agreed. It was like they were sitting on a simmering pot that might boil over at any moment. “I don’t suppose you’ve managed to discover what’s causing the trouble?”
“I have answers for the latest incidents.” Xi strolled forward, halting next to the desk. “The collapse at the sanctuary happened when the wooden beams in the ceiling shattered.”
The sanctuary had been Darcy’s idea. She’d spent years barely scraping by, unaware why she was different from other people. She wanted a place for demons to go that would offer them food and a warm place to sleep, as well as protection from the more predator demons. Or even from humans who had a tendency to kill what they feared.
A week ago, the old warehouse collapsed into a pile of rubble, wounding several of those seeking asylum. Darcy had been furious and Styx had promised to get to the bottom of the collapse.
“Did someone tamper with them?” he asked Xi.
The Raven shrugged. “The damage was too great to determine if it was an accident or deliberate.”
Styx was willing to bet it was deliberate. “And the others?”
“The fire at the Viper Club was caused by an electrical surge,” Xi continued. “And the rampaging vampire that we captured claims he was kidnapped and injected with some unknown toxin that sent him into a psychotic episode.”
It’d only been a night ago that Styx had received a frantic call that warned there was a crazed vampire destroying a human nightclub. The male was not only creating chaos, but he was threatening to expose the existence of vampires. Something that would be catastrophic for the entire demon world.
Styx had personally gone to the club to capture the idiot and toss him in a locked cell. It was also when he’d suggested to Darcy she might want to visit her sister. Anything to get her out of town.
“Where was he kidnapped from?” Styx demanded.
“In front of your lair.”
Styx hissed in outrage. What demon had the balls to kidnap a vampire beneath the nose of the Anasso?
A dead one.
Grimly he resisted the urge to push his fist through the wall. Now that he was king he had to pay for repairs. It was insane what a good carpenter could charge.
“What was the vampire doing here?”
“He doesn’t remember. All he can recall is leaving his home two nights ago to hunt for his dinner and being attacked by two Weres who held him down and injected him with something. The next thing he knew he was chained in your dungeon.”
“Darcy doesn’t like the word dungeon,” Styx reminded his companion, his thoughts distracted. Had the vampire been kidnapped because he was coming to see Styx? Perhaps he knew something about the troubles plaguing the city. Or had he been kidnapped just because he happened to be near Styx’s lair. Like a warning shot?
Impossible to know for sure.
“Holding center for disobliging guests,” Xi offered in dry tones.
“If you say.”
Styx shrugged. He didn’t understand his mate’s distaste for the word dungeon. There were cells that locked and guards to keep watch. You could call it the Four Seasons Resort if you wanted, it didn’t change what it was.
“He was sure it was Weres?” he asked his companion.
“Positive. And I could smell the scent of dogs when I went to interview him.”
Styx continued to tap his finger, his mind seething. Could the Weres be behind this relentless attack? The thought made his stomach clench with dread.
“I need to have a word with Salvatore.” Salvatore was the King of Weres and Styx’s brother-in-law. Yep, he could write the book on dysfunctional families. “Then I’ll question our disobliging guest.” He reached to touch the massive sword strapped to his back. For the past couple of weeks he never left his bedroom without it. Some people had therapy animals. He had a big, pointy weapon that could slice off a troll’s head. Hey, it gave him comfort. “I might be able to prompt his memory.”
“I’ll continue to dig for information on the other disturbances,” Xi offered, his expression even more stoic than usual. A certain sign that something was bothering him.
Xi frowned. “What?”
Xi hesitated. His emotions were always hidden, but they ran as hot as lava beneath his icy composure.
“The accidents could be random,” he finally said.
Xi shrugged. “But I don’t believe in coincidences.”
“Neither do I,” Styx agreed. “See what you can find out. But be careful.”
Xi arched his brows. Styx grunted, not having to guess why his guard seemed surprised. He sent his Ravens to deal with the most challenging, most dangerous tasks. They were a brutal weapon that he wielded without mercy.
He certainly never patted them on the head and told them to be careful.
Styx twisted his lips. “There’s a funky feeling in the air,” he muttered.
Xi’s brows arched even higher. Styx rolled his eyes.
“Go do your job,” Styx growled.
A faint smile skimmed over Xi’s lips before he turned and silently disappeared from the room.
Brigette was on the hunt.
Gliding through the darkness, she crouched low to the ground as she followed the two intruders. She’d picked up their scents long before they’d actually entered the desolated grounds that surrounded her lair. A benefit of spending time alone in this remote part of Ireland.
Night after night she prowled through the village that was nothing more than shattered foundations and sorrowful ghosts. Or along the barren cliffs, listening to the waves crash against the jagged stones and breathing deeply of the salty breeze. She had nothing to distract her.
Well, unless you counted the thousand regrets that haunted her.
Regret for having betrayed her pack to join with an evil beast who’d nearly destroyed her. Regret for having driven her wolf into hibernation. Regret for having wasted her opportunity to re-write history.
She was lying in the ruins of her parent’s cottage when she detected the icy power of an approaching vampire. With a fluid speed she was on her feet and racing over the decaying ground to circle around the intruders.
Following behind them, Brigette took inventory of the two demons who were attempting to sneak along the edge of the cliff.
The vampire was a tall, slender female with pale blond hair pulled into a long braid. She was wearing a black turtleneck sweater and tight black slacks that made her look like she was stepping off a runway, not trudging through the tough heather and climbing over rocks.
The sight was annoying as hell.
Not only did she hate leeches, but she knew in contrast she must look like crap. She was still wearing the same robe that had been given in the dungeons beneath mer-folk castle. Oh, she’d washed it, but it was threadbare and stained and should have been burned weeks ago. Plus she hadn’t brushed her hair since… Hell. She didn’t even know.
Long ago her hair the color of crimson had been her pride and joy. She’d brushed the fiery curls until they tumble down her back like a river of fire. Now she could barely bother to eat, let alone worry about the sheen of her hair.
Silently cursing at her stupid distraction, Brigette turned her attention to the vampire’s companion.
A male Were.
Surprise, surprise. There might have been an uneasy truce established between the vamps and the pureblood Weres, but as far as she knew it was rare for either species to tolerate each other, let alone willingly working together.
Her gaze skimmed over the male. He was large with a shaved head that was currently coated with a fine mist. His body was bulked with muscles that strained against his flannel shirt and jeans. He had on a pair of hiking boots that crunched loudly against the stony ground and she could catch the scent of metal. He was carrying a gun. Maybe more than one.
It was hard to make out his features in the thick fog that shrouded the area, but she sensed he was younger than her. She also sensed that he didn’t possess her strength. Not unless he shifted into his wolf. Something she didn’t intend to allow.
Coiling her muscles, Brigette soared through the air, landing in front of the Were. The male snarled, but before he could react, Brigette had her silver dagger pressed over his heart.
“If you so much as twitch I’ll slice open your heart,” she warned.
The male stiffened, his eyes smoldering with a golden fire as his musk blasted through the air.
“Careful, female,” he snarled, baring his teeth. “Or I’ll take a bite out of you.”
She pressed the knife hard enough to slice through the flannel shirt and draw blood. “You wanna make this into a pissing contest, bruh?”
“Don’t mind him, he’s an idiot,” an icy female voice drawled.
Brigette glanced toward the leech, careful to keep the knife poised to strike the killing blow.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Maryam.” The female pointed toward her companion. “And this is Roban.”
“A pureblooded Were and a vamp traveling together.” A humorless smile curved Brigette’s lips. “Has hell frozen over?”
Maryam’s pale, beautiful face was set in grim lines. “Not yet, but it’s coming.”
“Really?” Brigette shrugged. “I didn’t get the memo.”
“I’m here to deliver it in person.”
Maryam glanced toward the Were. “Can you release Roban? He’s bleeding all over the place.”
Brigette glanced toward the male, realizing she’s stuck the knife in deeper that she’d thought. The wound wasn’t going to permanently injure him, but the silver in the blade kept him from healing. Which meant that the blood continued to seep through his shirt and dribble down his jeans. And, as a bonus, the silver would keep the Were from shifting into his wolf form.
“I could.” She glanced back at the leech. “I won’t, but I could.”
“Even if I assure you that we come in peace?”
Brigette snorted. The leech sounded like a character from a cheesy horror film. “Especially if you assure me you come in peace.” She pressed the knife a quarter of an inch deeper. The Were grunted in pain, droplets of sweat joining the mist coating his bald head. Brigette wrinkled her nose. He was all moist, and not in a good way. “I’m not asking again. Why are you here?”
Something flashed through the female’s icy blue eyes. Probably fury, maybe heartburn. No. The Were was the one with heartburn. The leech was definitely furious.
Still, Maryam made a commendable effort to control her emotions. “I was looking for you.”
Brigette scowled. There’d been a few brave souls who’d come to the remote village after she’d returned Chaaya and Basq back to Vegas, along with Levet to the mer-folk castle. She didn’t know if they were there to pin a medal on her chest or chop off her head. And she wasn’t going to stick around and find out.
This time, however, she was curious. She wanted to know why this odd couple had invaded her home.
“Did Ulric send you?” she asked.
“No. Although, your cousin is the reason I decided to make you an offer,” Maryam told her.
Brigette narrowed her eyes. “Is it one I can’t refuse?”
The vamp shook her head. “Nothing so dramatic.”
“What’s the offer?”
Maryam glanced toward the Were who grimaced before nodding his head in some sort of silent agreement. The vampire turned her attention back to Brigette.
“I belong to Chiron’s clan,” she revealed.
“You’re a Rebel?”
“Yes. I traveled with Chiron and Ulric after we were banished by the former Anasso,” Maryam told her. “I considered them my family.”
Chiron was a vampire who owned Dreamscape Resorts, a successful chain of human casinos around the world. He’d also taken over a clan of vampires who been banished by the former Anasso when their leader, Tarak, had disappeared. Tarak had recently escaped his prison and there was a new Anasso, and supposedly they’d all come together in one big Kumbaya moment.
Ulric was Brigette’s cousin who’d been taken by the goblin raiders that Brigette had led to the village and sold into captivity by the former Anasso. Chiron had rescued him and they’d formed an unbreakable bond that had last the past five hundred years.
The fact that Maryam was a Rebel, however, did nothing to ease her suspicion. If anything, it intensified her distrust. Ulric had more reason than anyone else in the world to want her dead.
Ah, families… So much fun.
“Is there a point to this?” Brigette drawled. “Or are we just reminiscing about the good old days? I’ll warn you, my good old days included lots of blood and screaming.”
“I want you to know that I consider Ulric my friend.”
“Good for you. He blames me for destroying our pack, so if that’s all—”
“For centuries the Rebels enjoyed the freedom to live as we please,” Maryam overrode Brigette’s words. “We didn’t have a king and we didn’t need one.”
Brigette rolled her eyes. A part of her had followed the intruders with the hope they might provide some entertainment. There was only so long a poor female Were could brood alone in the wilderness.
“That’s your point?” Brigette didn’t have to pretend her disappointment.
“I’m rapidly getting bored.” Brigette tightened her fingers on the hilt of the dagger. “And when I’m bored, things die.”
The Were growled and Maryam hastily lifted her hand in a gesture urging restraint. “You asked me to explain why I’m here. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Brigette was pleased that the two obviously took her warning seriously. They should. She would kill Roban without a second thought.
“You’re not explaining very well,” she warned.
There was a distinct chill in the air and a hint of fang as Maryam struggled to contain her irritation.
“As I said, we were all doing fine without a king and then Chiron betrayed us.”
Brigette arched a brow. “Betrayed?”
“He bent his knee to the new Anasso.”
There was a bite in the female’s tone. As if Chiron had slaughtered babies instead of simply acknowledging Styx as the King of Vampires.
“We’re now under the yoke of a power-hungry despot.”
Brigette released a startled laugh. “Power-hungry despot? That’s a little drama queen, don’t you think?”
The air went from chilly to frigid. Maryam obviously didn’t find any humor in her tragic overreaction.
“It’s the truth.” Her tone was stiff. “I have proof that Styx is plotting to enslave the Rebels.”
Brigette frowned. Over the past centuries she’d been more or less trapped by the evil beast who’d threatened to destroy the world. But there had been times when she’d traveled away from her village. And in all those times, she’d never heard anything that would imply the new Anasso was evil.
Indeed, most of the demon-world had celebrated when the old king had perished and Styx had taken the throne.
“Why would he do that?” Brigette demanded in genuine confusion.
“To punish us.”
“Punish you for what?”
“For being rebels.”
“Hmm.” Styx could have punished the rebels the moment he’d become the Anasso, so why wait? She kept the question to herself. Instead, she turned her attention to Roban. “Why are you here?”
He bared his teeth, but she still had the silver dagger stuck in the center of his chest. “Because we’ve also discovered a plot to enslave the Weres,” he grudgingly answered.
“That’s a lot of enslaving.”
The blue in Maryam’s eyes frosted over. “It’s been done before.”
The leech had a point, Brigette silently acknowledged. Throughout the endless years there had been countless tyrants who’d used their powers for evil. Including her former mistress.
Still, it all seemed sketchy to Brigette. “Where’s your proof?”
“Join us and I’ll show you.” Maryam stepped closer, holding out a hand. “I swear no harm will come to you.”
Brigette growled. It didn’t matter that her wolf had turned its back on her. She could still do serious damage. Maryam froze before slowly and deliberately taking a step back.
“What do you want from me?” Brigette demanded.
“There are rumors you have the power to defeat even the Anasso.”
Ah. Brigette felt a ridiculous pang of disappointment. She didn’t know why. The only reason anyone could possibly seek her out was to kill her, or in the hopes they could use her evil powers.
Powers that she no longer possessed.
Brigette struggled to keep her expression calm. “Presuming the rumors are true, why would I use my powers to defeat the King of the Vampires?”
It was Roban who answered. “He intends to return the Weres to our prison camp in Italy. We nearly became extinct the last time we were trapped.”
Brigette stifled a yawn. “And?”
The green eyes once again smoldered with the golden power of his wolf. “You don’t care about your people?”
Envy seeped through her like poison. Christ, she missed her animal.
“I massacred my own family, what do you think?” she snapped, preparing to carve out the male’s heart.
“Brigette, don’t,” Maryam protested, genuine fear in her voice.
In contrast the male merely glared at her, refusing to react to the dagger that was a breath from puncturing his heart.
“I told you this was a waste of our time, Maryam.”
“It was worth trying.” A tight smile curved the female’s mouth. “I’m sorry you won’t join us,” she told Brigette. “If you’ll release Roban we’ll leave and you can return to…” She waved a hand around the village that was grindingly bleak. “Whatever you were doing before we interrupted you.”
If the leech had threatened her, or physically tried to rescue the Were, Brigette would have destroyed them both. End of story. Instead she found herself plucking the knife out of the male’s heart and stepping back. She half expected the two to attack her, instead they turned and started to walk away.
Just like that.
Brigette scowled. She should let them go. She had no interest in their crazy fear that Styx was trying to enslave them. As long as people left her alone, the world could go to hell, right?
Besides, she couldn’t give them what they wanted. Once the evil beast had been locked back in her dimension, the dark powers had been stripped from Brigette. Now she was just a Were who couldn’t call on her wolf.
“Wait!” she called out.
Maryam halted, glancing over her shoulder. “What?”
Brigette hesitated. She felt as if she was poised on the edge of a knife. Or maybe standing at crossroads. One decision would turn her life in a different direction. So far, her decisions had been utterly shitty. The first had caused the destruction of her family. The second had left her alone in this grim, desolate place.
Ah well. A wry smile twisted her lips. Three times was the charm, wasn’t it?
“What’s in it for me?” she demanded.
Maryam slowly turned to face her. “What do you want?”
“What I’ve always wanted. Power,” Brigette admitted.
Maryam studied her with a narrowed gaze. “Your own pack?”
“Yes.” Brigette smiled as Roban whirled around with a snarl of disbelief. “And money,” she added. “Lots of money.”
The leech nodded, ignoring her companion who did nothing to hide his gut-deep disgust toward Brigette.
“That can be arranged.” The female promised.
“It want it up front.”
Maryam gave a lift of one shoulder. “You have to wait until we get to Chicago.”
“If this is a trick…”
“It isn’t,” Maryam interrupted Brigette’s warning, holding up a slender hand. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Oh, you’ll be hoping to die if you double cross me.” Brigette strolled forward to join them, blowing a kiss toward the snarling Were. “That’s my promise to you.”
It took Levet a full hour to at last track down the Queen of the Mer-folk. The castle beneath the ocean was surprisingly large, but that wasn’t the reason it was so difficult to find Inga. It was because she wasn’t like a traditional queen.
She hated sitting on the massive throne, surrounded by marble and the exquisite murals she’d painted on the walls. Or in her private chambers that looked like they’d been decorated by the architect who created Versailles. Only on steroids. Massive amounts of steroids.
Perhaps it was because Inga hadn’t been raised to become the rulers of the mer-folk. She hadn’t even known she was a mer-folk. She’d taken after her ogre father with a large body that stood over six foot and broad enough to plow through a horde of trolls. Her hair was red and grew in amazing tufts that refused to be tamed by a brush. Her teeth were pointed and her brow heavy. Only her eyes spoke of her mermaid mother. They were a pale blue, although they had a tendency to flash crimson when she was annoyed.
Which was most of the time.
Or perhaps it was because the mer-folk still hadn’t fully accepted her as their leader. Unlike many other demon societies, the throne wasn’t passed down from the mer-folk king to one of his children. It was the large trident that Inga was clutching in her hand that chose the current leader. The magic of the Tryshu not only revealed the king or queen, it possessed the power to make the leader invincible. At least until it decided to choose a different leader.
The mer-folk were stuck with Inga, but they didn’t have to like it. And there were many in the castle who enjoyed causing trouble for the current queen.
Following her scent into the weapons room next to the dungeons at the very bottom of the castle, Levet waddled across the bedrock. Around him a hundred tridents, shields, and the armor made out of strange iridescent fish scales were stacked against the wall or hanging from the low ceiling. It wasn’t until he passed through a narrow door, however, that he at last found his quarry.
“There you are, ma belle.”
Inga whirled around, the blousy material of her tie-died muumuu floating around her like a psychedelic tent.
“Oh. Levet.” A relieved smile
Levet would usually assume the smile was because she was pleased to see him. Granted there were a few odd creatures who didn’t appreciate a three-foot gargoyle with dazzling fairy wings and stunted horns, but overall the females adored him. And why not? He was charming, his magic was awesome, and he was a knight in shining armor who spent his nights saving the world from disaster.
All in all, an amazing creature.
But he sensed Inga’s smile was simply relief that he wasn’t one of the mer-folk. He stepped further into the cramped space that was more a closet than an actual room. “Are you hiding again?”
A flush crawled beneath Inga’s cheeks. “Hiding? Don’t be ridiculous,” she scoffed, using the Tryshu to point toward the nearby shelves. Levet ducked, nearly knocked in the head by the butt of the massive trident. “I’m doing an inventory of our weapons.”
Levet wrinkled his brow. “Is that not Rimm’s job? He is the captain of your guards.”
“He’s in charge of the regular weapons, but I have turned this closet into a vault to hold Rivan’s collection.”
“Ah.” Rivan had been the former king who’d used a magical artifact to trick the Tryshu into naming him leader so he could rule with an iron fist. He’d been a collector of powerful magic. Most of it evil. “I thought your mother was studying them?”
“She has gone to speak with the ogres.”
Levet widened his eyes. The ogres had not only killed Inga’s father, but they’d tried to murder Inga when she was just a baby.
“After what they did?”
Brigette shrugged, although her eyes flashed crimson. “The ogres seem to think that my blood means I’ll be willing to give them a favorable trade deal.”
“Trade for what?”
Levet snorted. He’d never liked ogres. He liked them even less after he’d discovered how they’d hurt Inga.
“Did you tell them to stick the trade deal up their hot toddies?”
She blinked. Then blinked again. “Patooties?”
Levet waved a hand. “Same thing.”
“I wanted to, but my mother convinced me that we can’t afford to turn our backs on the potential allies.”
Levet pursed his lips. There were times when he forgot that Inga was a queen who had people who depended on her to make adult decisions.
“I suppose that makes sense,” he grudgingly conceded.
A rare smile touched Inga’s lips. “My mother is the wisest person I’ve ever known.”
Levet reached to touch her arm. For centuries Inga had believed she was a stain on her family. And that she’d been sold into the slave trade by her own mother. Now she knew that had been a wicked lie, and that she had a family who adored her. It was the one good thing that had come from discovering she was the queen.
“That doesn’t explain why you are hiding in this smelly place,” Levet said.
“I’m not hiding.” Inga heaved a sigh. “Well, not entirely. I’m ensuring that no one has tampered with the magical items.”
“Who would tamper with them? This castle is a fortress.”
“A fortress?” Inga snorted. “Have you forgotten that just a couple months ago Brigette managed to escape from my dungeons and that crazy druid priestess opened a portal in my throne room?”
“True,” Levet was forced to concede. He’d been kidnapped by Brigette and taken to a bizarre dimension where they’d nearly been killed. More than once. It’d been a grand adventure. “Is anything missing?”
“Not that I can tell. I really need to have mother make an itemized list so I can be certain that we keep track of everything. Most of them are quite dangerous.”
Levet stepped closer to the shelves. He could easily detect the sparkles that floated in the air, revealing a magical barrier to protect the items.
“Did you attempt to use any of these?”
Inga moved to stand next to him, the soft scent of an ocean breeze wrapping around him. Levet sucked in a deep breath. He loved how she smelled.
“My mother has.” Inga pointed toward an object on the top shelf. It was hard and black with a luminescent sheen. Like a black pearl. “This one forms a protective bubble that is impervious to everything but lava.”
“Impressive.” Levet nodded toward the large, golden medallion that was hanging from a leather strap. There were strange marks etched into the gold he’d never seen before. “What about this one?”
“So far all we’ve discovered is that it smells awful.”
Instantly enchanted, Levet reached up a hand. “Really?”
Inga grasped his horn and tugged him back. “Absolutely not.”
Levet didn’t argue. He was already distracted by a delicate figurine that looked like a diamond chiseled into the shape of a swan.
“What about the sparkly one?”
“We’re not sure. My mother could sense tremendous power, but she couldn’t ignite the magic.”
Levet pointed toward an object that looked like a plain pebble on one of the lower shelves. “I know what that one is.”
“It is a doulas stone.”
“What does it do?”
“It—” Levet was interrupted as there was a knocking in his head. There was no other way to explain what he experienced. “Oh.”
“Someone is wanting in.”
“In?” Inga’s gaze darted toward the door, as if expecting an attack. “In where?”
Levet tapped a claw against his temple. “They wish to speak to my mind.”
A portion of Inga’s tension eased. “Who is it?”
“I’m not certain.”
“I thought you could only speak telepathically with those who you’ve made a mental connection with?”
He absently nodded. Inga was right. He had to have established a relationship with the creature who wished to mentally contact him. A good thing. Otherwise every Tom, Dick and Larry…no wait, hairy? Harry? Anyway, they would all come a knocking on his brain.
“It is familiar,” he murmured. “And yet strange.”
Inga looked worried. “Don’t answer it.”
“I have no choice.” Levet shuddered. “It will not stop. Thump. Thump. Thump. As if my poor head is a drum.” Closing his eyes, Levet concentrated on the presence reaching out to him. “Bonjour?”
“At last.” A female voice echoed through his mind.
“What do you mean at last?” Levet mentally protested. “You are fortunate that I answered at all.”
“Levet, I don’t have time for your babbling.”
“Babbling?” Levet furrowed his brow. The rich, powerful voice was familiar, but it wasn’t until the female used that particular word that Levet realized who was speaking. “Oh, Brigette.”
Levet’s wings fluttered with relief. Most people assumed that Brigette was evil, and she had done terrible, awful things, but Levet had glimpsed into her heart. The female Were genuinely regretted what she’d done, and now spent her life punishing herself for her sins.
He’d been quite worried about her.
“How are you? Non. Wait. Where are you?” Levet demanded. “I have tried to search for you, but—”
“Levet, just hush up and listen to me.”
Levet stiffened. “Rude.”
“Oh, Christ.” Brigette abruptly laughed. “I’ve missed you.”
“I have missed you as well,” Levet assured the Were. “Is there a reason you wished to speak with me?”
“I need you to get a warning to Styx.”
“What has happened?”
“There’s a group of rebels who are plotting a coup against him.”
Levet frowned. Why would the vampires be plotting a chicken house against the Anasso? That didn’t make sense. Oh, no. That was a coop. A coup was something to do with lopping off the king’s head, right?
“Not Chiron?” he asked in surprise. He’d heard that the Rebels had made nice with Styx and they were all one big happy family.
Well, as happy as a bunch of arrogant, ill-tempered blood-suckers could be.
“No. They’re not a part of the Rebel clan, they’re just rebels. They hate Chiron as well.”
“It’s some vampire who calls herself Maryam and a pureblood Were named Roban,” Brigette told him.
The names weren’t familiar, but Levet preferred to avoid leeches whenever possible.
“Where are they?”
“In a section of tunnels beneath Chicago.”
Levet jerked in shock. Styx’s lair was in Chicago. Not to mention his besties Viper and Dante. Three of the most powerful vampires in the world.
“That is bold. And rather…”
“They have hundreds of warriors signed up for the cause.”
A dozen questions buzzed through Levet’s mind, but he forced himself to concentrate on the most important one.
“I’m just here for the sightseeing,” she instantly denied a loyalty to the traitors.
Levet breathed a sigh of relief. “What do you wish me to tell Styx?”
“They’re plotting something big.”
“Big? That is it?” Levet shuddered, easily able to imagine Styx’s thunderous reaction. The Anasso was not only the leader of the vampires, he was also the most ill-tempered. “Could you be more vague, mon amie?”
“It’s all I’ve got. At least for now.”
“You are staying with them?”
“I don’t have anything better to do.”
Levet wasn’t fooled. He might not understand how or why Brigette was with these new rebels, but he did know it wasn’t because she was bored. Or at least not entirely. Now, however, was not the time to question her motives.
If there truly was danger in Chicago then he had to get to Styx to warn him. Not that he cared about the overbearing leech, but Levet adored Styx’s mate, Darcy. He would do whatever necessary to ensure she wasn’t harmed.
“Be careful,” he warned Brigette.
The presence of the female Were abruptly disappeared, leaving Levet momentarily disoriented.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
Slowly Levet opened his eyes, discovering Inga staring down at him with a sad expression. He grimaced.
“It is my duty.”
She nodded. Duty was the one thing that this female understood. “You’ll come back?”
Xi moved through the tunnels like a whisper. Barely stirring the air, he moved from shadow to shadow, observing the numerous demons who gathered in the massive cement tunnels that had once been a part of Chicago’s reservoir plan. Logically the vast cement passages would seem to be a perfect place to convert into lairs. They were dark and damp and well hidden from the crowded streets of the city. But most vampires preferred natural caverns. They weren’t fans of the stark industrial stench of cement and rusty iron.
That reluctance might explain why there was so much rubbish tossed around. A vampire’s meticulous habits could be damaged when they were stuck in a nasty environment. Or maybe the layers of trash was caused by hundred or so demons that moved in and out of the tunnels. The gargoyle’s warning had indicated that there was more than just a couple rebels living beneath Styx’s feet. Xi, however, hadn’t expected such a diversity among the demons. It wasn’t just vampires and Weres. There were fairies and brownies and several mongrels.
Why would they interest themselves in vampire business?
It was a question that Xi wasn’t going to be able to answer by lurking in the shadows.
After a full twenty-four hours of watching the various creatures who lived in the hidden liar, Xi at last went in search of the female Were who’d sent the warning. He’d easily picked her out from Levet’s description.
Watching her interact with her fellow rebels, he’d determined that she was kept at a distance by most of the demons, as if they hadn’t yet decided whether or not to trust her. Or maybe they resented her presence because of her past. It was no secret that she’d sacrificed her pack and nearly overrun the world with a tide of evil to gain power.
Whatever the case, she didn’t appear to be a beloved member of the group.
Moving in silence, he entered the side tunnel she’d claimed as her own. It was far enough from the others to offer the illusion of privacy. He glanced around the cramped space that held a mattress tossed on the hard ground and a few clothes piled on a chair. That was it.
With his usual caution, Xi stepped into the space, already prepared for rush of heat as the hidden Were leaped forward to press a silver dagger against his neck.
“Stop right there,” Brigette warned.
Xi turned to glance at the female who was glaring at him with smoldering eyes. And promptly froze in shock.
He’d seen her, of course, as he’d spied on the rebels. And a part of him had been captivated. Not by her slender curves or the pale perfection of her face that was framed by a tumble of lush, crimson curls. Or even the dark eyes that contrasted sharply against her smooth skin. He was a vampire, not a human with an obsession with surface beauty. No, he was far more intrigued with the powerful grace of her body beneath her jeans and chunky ivory sweater. She had a bold, in-your-face attitude that gave her a swagger as she moved past the disapproving gazes. It revealed a fierce spirit that was far sexier than the shape of her slender nose or the plush softness of her lips.
But seeing her at a distance and having her up close and personal were two different things.
Two VERY different things.
The eyes weren’t just brown, but a rich, velvet darkness that lightened to gold at the center. And her skin wasn’t pale, it was as creamy and soft as the petals of the chrysanthemums that he remembered from his homeland. Even her hair was more vibrant, with shades of copper and bronze and gold mixed with the red.
And her scent…warm and spiced with heather.
She was a sensual wonderland of erotic temptation.
For a long moment they simply stared at one another, as if they were both knocked off guard by the meeting. Then the spell was broken as Brigette narrowed her eyes. Obviously she was angered by her reaction.
“Who are you?” she snapped, pressing the dagger until he felt the silver sizzle into his flesh.
Too smart to try and jerk away from the lethal blade, he instead held himself perfectly still.
“I’m Xi, one of the Ravens. Styx sent me.”
The dagger bit deep enough to draw a drop of blood before Brigette was lowering her hand and stepping away.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“I don’t rush into situations.” He glanced around to make sure that there was no one hiding in the shadows. Once assured that they were alone, he turned his attention back to the female. “The Anasso wants to speak with you.”
She held the dagger loosely in her fingers, but she didn’t put it away. A less than subtle warning.
“Then why didn’t he come?”
“He assumed it was a trap.”
She blinked, as if surprised by his blunt honesty. “If I wanted to trap him I’d be a little more creative than mysterious rebels lurking in dark tunnels beneath his city.”
Xi shrugged. “He’ll meet with you at his lair.”
Her brows pulled together and he assumed she was going to argue. Most demons had an independent streak. And female Weres had a streak a mile wide.
But she surprised him, by slowly nodding her head. “First I want to get something.”
She headed out of the side passage. “Follow me.”
He reached to grasp her arm, spinning her back to meet his frown. “Not until you tell me exactly where you’re going and why.”
Her jaw tightened as she jerked away from his touch, but with a visible effort she maintained her temper.
“The leader of this merry band of misfits has a stack of scrolls she claims were recently sent from Styx. She has them locked in her office.”
Well, that wasn’t what Xi had been expecting. “Scrolls?”
“Pieces of parchment with writing on them and rolled into cylinders. Some even have pretty ribbons.”
“I know what they are.” He did his own share of temper maintenance. “I also know that Styx has never used a scroll in his very long existence.”
“How can you be sure?”
It was a legitimate question. It wasn’t as if he’d spent every minute of every day with the Anasso. Xi, however, was confident that his master had an aversion to communication that could be traced by an enemy. Letters, texts, emails. And most certainly scrolls.
“If Styx has something to say to someone, he does it face to face. It avoids any misunderstandings.”
“All the more reason to get the scrolls so he can see them for himself.”
Xi considered her words. He didn’t think it was a trick. He’d been watching her long enough to have sensed a potential snare. But the night was swiftly passing, and as a vampire he had a lethal aversion to the dawn. He wanted to get this female to Styx’s lair as soon as possible.
His gaze skimmed over her face, taking in the stubborn line of her jaw. She wasn’t leaving here without those damned scrolls. He waved a hand toward the opening.
“Lead the way.”
Holding the dagger in a light grip, Brigette headed out of her private space and entered the large tunnel. They traveled a short distance before she crawled through a narrow vent that opened into an annex tunnel. This one wasn’t nearly as large as the others and worse it had a groove running down the middle of the cement floor that was filled with stagnant water. The walls were covered with a greenish mold that filled the air with a pungent scent and the ceiling was low enough to brush the top of his head, forcing him to walk bent over.
It was dank and cold and unpleasant, but walking directly behind Brigette, Xi found himself wrapped in the warm scent of heather. Suddenly the tunnel wasn’t nearly unpleasant.
A delicious shiver raced through Xi.
He’d never been so vibrantly aware of another creature.
It was oddly exhilarating.
And dangerously distracting, he sternly silently reminded himself.
They walked in silence, both aware that voices would echo through the long tunnel. Even through the thick cement he could hear the sound of voices seeping from other parts of the underground maze. At last she reached another vent and with a gesture to follow her, Brigette squeezed through. Xi swiftly followed, finding himself in a dark space that was filled with rubble. It looked like a dump space for the humans who’d constructed the tunnels. There was also a rusty set of rebar steps leading toward a heavy hatch in the ceiling. An emergency exit? Probably.
Brigette glanced over her shoulder. “Wait here.”
She made a sound of impatience. “This isn’t a trap.”
“I wouldn’t have followed you if I thought it was.”
“Then why are you being a pain?” she snapped.
Xi shrugged. “I don’t want you disappearing.”
“Why would I disappear?” she asked in confusion. “I called to warn you guys, remember?”
Deep inside, Xi knew he wasn’t being entirely reasonable. It wasn’t like she could evade him. Now that he had her scent he could track her anywhere in the world. But he couldn’t shake the strange compulsion to keep her in sight.
“I’ll go with you.”
His tone was reasonable, but it was blatantly obvious he wasn’t going to compromise. Brigette clenched her teeth, looking like she wanted to throat punch him.
With a toss of her glorious hair, she turned to cautiously push open a door that had been carved into the cement. She paused, no doubt ensuring there was no one nearby before she stepped into the dark room. Xi was less than an inch behind her, his gaze quickly skimming over the large space.
There was a heavy mahogany desk in one corner along with several file cabinets and wooden shelfs that were stuffed with books. A large map of the world had been pinned to a bulletin board. There was also a heavy steel safe set next to a pile of weapons that ranged from wooden spears to AK-15s. Something for anyone, he wryly acknowledged.
“This is Maryam’s office,” Brigette absently explained, heading toward the safe. “Make yourself useful and keep watch while I open the safe.”
During his earlier sweep Xi hadn’t managed to get this deep in the tunnels. The female vampire had been wise enough to travel with a full battalion of guards, including her pet Were, Roban. It hadn’t been worth the risk of exposure. Now he realized he should have suspected that Maryam would have a hidden exit. A leader would have to be stupid not to have a backdoor for a quick escape.
Now he curiously watched Brigette punch in a series of numbers on the electronic pad. “You know the security code?”
The female concentrated on pulling open the door of the safe. “I was in the room when Maryam opened the vault. A sloppy mistake.”
Xi arched a brow. “You memorized a key code with fifteen symbols after seeing it once?”
“I didn’t see it, I heard the beeps. They’re very distinct,” she muttered, clearly distracted. “And I remember most things. Unfortunately.”
Xi was impressed. That was the sort of talent that could come in handy. With a faint smile, he moved across the room to pull open the door that led to the main tunnel. He couldn’t sense any demons in the area, but he didn’t intend to be taken by surprise.
He heard the sound of rustling papers and caught the scent of parchment before the safe was being closed with a soft click. A minute later, Brigette was standing at his side.
“I’ve got them,” she murmured in a soft voice, holding up the lacquered wooden box she held in her hands. “How did you get in here?”
He released his powers, muting his presence. It would also help to disguise Brigette’s scent as long as she stayed near him. Then, heading down the tunnel, he led her to a side passageway.
She touched his arm. “Are you sure?” she whispered. “I’ve searched these tunnels and this is a dead end.”
“I have a portal waiting for us,” he assured her.
She snorted. “Handy.”
Xi continued through the labyrinth of tunnels, at last pausing as they reached the blank cement wall. There was nothing there to indicate a portal. At least not to him. Vampires had no ability to detect magic. But he’d made a precise mental note when he’d stepped out. He had no intention of fumbling to find his escape route. Not when he was in enemy territory.
Xi reached to grab Brigette’s hand, despite the fact that she could no doubt see the opening. He didn’t care. He wanted to touch her. It was that simple.
And that complicated.
Stepping forward, they were encased in darkness. Usually traveling through the portal made Xi itchy. He hated magic. Any kind of magic. This time, he barely noticed the darkness, or the weird prickle that crawled over his skin. The petty irritations were utterly overwhelmed by the explosive heat that seared through his skin and raced through his body.
He told himself that the intoxicating warmth was the result of touching a Were. They ran hotter than any other creature, including humans and fey. But that wasn’t it. He could have shoved his hand in an oven and it wouldn’t have caused such an intense reaction.
In the blink of an eye they were stepping out of the darkness and onto the empty street in front of Styx’s lair. Brigette tugged her hand free, but it was slow, almost reluctant. Had she been enjoying the contact as much as he had?
He thought he detected a faint shiver race through her body, but she hastily turned away from him, inspecting their surroundings.
“Where are we?” she asked, a hint of suspicion in her voice.
Xi didn’t blame her. The elegant neighborhood with ginormous homes and yards that looked like football fields wasn’t what most demons expected for the King of Vampires.
Xi nodded toward the largest mansion that rose from the surrounding gardens like a brick and mortar behemoth.
“That’s the Anasso’s lair.”
She sent him a startled glance. “It must be nice to be the king.”
“Not really. It’s usually a pain in the ass.”
Xi spent most evenings dealing with potential threats. Not only to Styx, but to the vampires in general. He’d recently returned from a remote island where a rare breed of sylphs were capturing vampires and sacrificing them to their god of fertility. It’d taken time, but he’d at last convinced them that the future of their small tribe depended on finding another way to have more children. But he’d been around Styx enough to know that his evenings was usually filled with tedious complaints from vampires who acted more like petulant children than masters of the night. Along with demands that he perform miracles.
Brigette shrugged. “Why are we out here? Why not open the portal inside his lair?”
“Styx doesn’t allow magic in his house.”
“Is he afraid?
“You can ask him yourself.” Xi headed toward the mansion. “Although I wouldn’t suggest it.”
Brigette stupidly assumed nothing could shock her. Not after the savage destruction of her pack, the bleak years as a servant to the evil beast, and then being captured and thrown into the mer-folk dungeons. That didn’t even include her last adventure traveling through various dimensions in search of a magical means to ease her guilt. But Xi had proven her wrong.
Wrong on an epic scale.
The second the tall vampire had stepped into her private space she’d been…rattled. She’d thought it was because she hadn’t been able to sense him. No scent, no icy power, not even the sound of a footstep. He’d simply appeared as if by magic.
But it wasn’t confusion or surprise that thundered through her as she’d taken in the stark perfection of his face, and the fascinating tattoos onto the side of his skull. It wasn’t even lust. She’d felt her first stirring of desire when she’d encountered the male Jinn a few months ago. Kgosi had managed to remind her that she was still a young female in her prime.
Nope, it was pure stupefaction.
There’d been something about the dark eyes. There were like deep pools of mystery. Yeah, it was hokey. But they really were deep pools. The sort that made female hearts flutter. Including her own. And the way he studied her, as if he was seeing the parts of herself she kept fiercely hidden. She was being stripped bare, and yet she hadn’t felt exposed. Instead, she’d been…comforted. As it he’d seen her tainted soul and accepted her without judgement.
Then they’d stepped through the portal and she’d been blasted by his icy power. It was like flipping a switch. One minute there’d been nothing and the next…bam. His energy had vibrated through her, sending shockwaves of awareness detonating through her.
Suddenly her breath had lodged in her lungs and the most ridiculous certainty settled in her heart. It whispered that something fundamentally important had just occurred. As if her life could be divided in two. Pre-Xi and post-Xi.
Which was stupid, of course.
Nothing had happened, she sternly chided herself. The King of Vampires had finally condescended to meet with her and sent one of his flunkies to collect her.
End. Of. Story.
She fiercely held onto that thought even as she trailed far behind Xi as he led her across the manicured lawn and through a side door into the house. No use being distracted by the searing sensation of his icy touch. Or the evocative scent of cedarwood. Right?
They moved through wide corridors with sparkling chandeliers and priceless works of art nailed to the walls. And by the time they reached the private study, Brigette was wondering if there was any marble left in Italy. There had to be acres of the stuff zigzagging through the endless hallways. Like a marble maze studded with gold.
No doubt most creatures would find the place beautiful. And it was. But to Brigette it felt like a monstrous trap.
Life had taught her that nothing came for free. The cost this place must demand on a soul wasn’t worth paying. At least not for her.
At last she was standing in front of male she’d been trying to reach for the past two days.
“So you’re the King of Vampires?” Brigette allowed her gaze to trail over the Anasso.
He was an impressive sight. His six-foot five frame was incased in black leather and his black hair was woven into a braid that fell to his lower back. His face was lean and bluntly carved, with eyes that held an ancient wisdom. At the moment, that face was lined with a weariness she assumed had something to do with Maryam and Roban’s constant attacks.
“I am,” he admitted in a deep voice.
She tilted back her head. At six foot, she rarely had to look up at anyone. Still, she wasn’t going to let him intimidate her.
“I thought you would be bigger,” she drawled. “With horns and a tail.”
The ground trembled as Styx released a portion of his legendary power. Behind her, Brigette thought she heard Xi mutter something about stubborn idiots in low tones.
“And I thought you would be smarter. It’s not the wisest decision to show your face after you tried to destroy the world.”
Brigette’s smile remained, although she covertly balled her hands into tight fists. She would endure endless torture before she’d reveal her raw regret for the past.
“Well I’ve never been over-burdened with brains,” she assured him.
Styx narrowed his eyes, but before he could continue the unpleasant conversation, there was a scent of granite and a tiny shape appeared in the open doorway.
“Mon amie.” Levet moved forward, his fairy wings shimmering and a charming smile adding a beauty to his lumpy features.
Genuine joy melted Brigette’s heart. This gargoyle was the only creature in the entire world who treated her as if she was more than a traitor who should be destroyed.
The gargoyle waddled forward, gently touching her arm. “I am so delighted to see you. I feared you might never leave that moldy village.”
“Neither did I,” she admitted.
“So why did you?” Styx asked.
Brigette had given some thought to her reasons. Her only conclusion was that it was complicated.
A part of her had been curious, a part had been aggravated, and another part of her had been bored and seeking a distraction from her self-imposed exile. Why not travel to Chicago and discover what was happening?
Then, after she’d arrived, she’d become caught up in her role as spy. For the first time in five hundred years she was thinking about something besides herself. And it’d been…exhilarating.
She chose the easiest answer. “I don’t like people intruding into my territory and assuming they can manipulate me into using my evil powers for their benefit.”
Levet frowned. “You no longer have evil powers.”
Brigette shrugged. “That’s not the point.”
“If you were pissed you could have run them off,” the Anasso said, his voice edge with suspicion. “Or killed them. There was no need to travel all the way to Chicago.”
“I wanted to see for myself what was happening. They claimed that the new King of Vampires not only intended to enslave the vampires, but the Weres as well.”
Styx grunted, as if her words had caught him off guard. “Why the hell would I enslave anyone?” He waved a hand around the office that was stripped of most of the frou-frou nonsense that filled the rest of the house. “If it weren’t for Darcy I wouldn’t even have servants. I would live alone in my caves.”
Brigette shrugged. “Roban also said you were going to send the Weres to Italy. Something about their old hunting grounds.”
“They should be so lucky,” Styx muttered. “Salvatore has done nothing but bitch and gripe about the weather in Kansas City. He would love to return to Italy, although I doubt he’d be willing to be confined to his old hunting grounds.” Styx paused, as if struck by a sudden thought. “Still, I might consider the possibility. The mangy fur-bag too often forgets that I’m at the top of the food chain.”
There was a glint in the Anasso’s dark eyes. As if he was deliberately trying to provoke her. A wasted effort. She had no loyalty to Salvatore, the King of Weres. She’d never met the male and had no interest in being a part of a pack. She’d given up any right to a family.
“Maryam has proof,” she told the towering vampire.
Brigette held out the wooden box. “In there.”
“Oh.” Levet’s wings fluttered. “A mystery box. Can I open it?”
Styx took the lacquered container, then with a mocking smile, he shoved it toward the gargoyle. “Knock yourself out.”
Levet wavered, clearly torn between his insatiable curiosity and the realization that there might be something dangerous hidden inside.
Folding his hands behind his back, Levet wrinkled his snout. “On second thought, you should have the honor.”
There was a whisper of a chilled breeze as Xi stepped past her, in full Raven-mode. Taking the box from his master, he flipped open the lid. Styx leaned forward, peering inside.
Brigette rolled her eyes at his puzzled tones. “Why are vampires so baffled by scrolls? My uncle devoted endless hours reading and creating them.”
“Only a fool writes down his private thoughts or secret plans,” Styx informed her with an arrogance that set her teeth on edge.
“Really?” Brigette drawled. “Then why do they have your signature? And your fancy-ass official seal.”
Xi took a scroll from the box and studied the wax seal before he unscrolled it. Was that what you did to scrolls? Unscroll them?
Whatever you called it, Xi handed the opened scroll Styx. “She’s right.”
“Thanks Captain Obvious,” Brigette mocked.
Xi merely regarded her with a steady gaze, but the Anasso released a warning growl. “You do know I could kill you and no one would care?” the king demanded.
“I would care,” Levet promptly protested.
Warmth stole through her heart even as Styx made a strangled sound of irritation. “You don’t count, you chunk of granite,” the vampire snapped.
Levet stuck out his tongue, but Brigette was already turning away. She’d finished what she’d come there to do. She didn’t have to stick around to be insulted by a leech.
“Let them burn the world to the ground, I don’t care,” she said. “Enjoy the Armageddon.”
She glanced over her shoulder, her steps never slowing. “You’re not the boss of me.”
The harsh words brought Brigette to an astonished halt. Slowly she turned to confront the massive vampire.
Styx looked as if he’d had a lemon shoved in his mouth. Or maybe up his ass. He was definitely puckering.
“I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately. It’s made me a little…”