Ren’s gaze followed mine. “Cosette, why don’t you go join the others?” She bolted from the couch.
I frowned, suddenly aware of the cloak of darkness that covered Ren and me in the solitary corner of the nightclub. “You didn’t have to send her away.”
“Are you afraid to be alone with me, Lily?” His voice looped over me like a rope, pulling me toward him.
I tried to sound strong. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Anything?” he asked. “That’s an impressive claim. Even for an alpha.”
“Are you suggesting there is something you’re afraid of?”
My chest tightened when Ren flinched.
“Yes, one thing.” I could barely hear his murmured response.
His retreat drew me forward. “One thing?”
When he looked at me, his troubled expression faded.
“That would be my secret. I won’t give it up without getting something in return.”
His hand slipped over my shoulder beneath the cascade of my hair, his fingers pausing to cup the nape of my neck. He pulled me close; the strength of his arms set my blood on fire.
I twisted out of his grasp. There were Keepers everywhere. “You can keep your secrets.” As much as I wanted his touch, I didn’t trust him yet. I’d heard too much about his other conquests. Besides, he knew better. The alpha female was supposed to be pure at the union. And that meant no romance before the ceremony.
As if he’d read my mind, Ren’s mouth slid in a wicked grin, eyes fixing on my curves. “Be honest. Can you breathe in that thing?”
My nails dug into the sofa cushion.
Watch yourself, Ren. Two can play hardball.
“So you and Sabine?”
“Huh?” He lounged back into the cushions, drawing away from me into the shadows.
“Oh, I see. Do all the Bane girls suck on your neck as a matter of course?”
“What?” His face twisted, angry. “No. Efron has a thing for Sabine. Favors her. Something about her attitude he finds appealing. He gave her some X when we got here. She’s been rather, um . . . playful since she took it.”
Her attitude? You mean Efron enjoys spiteful bitchiness?
He began to slide his arm around my waist.
I locked my fingers around his wrist, stopping the progress of his hand.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” But my skin crackled at the renewed touch.
Heavy footfalls nearby announced the approach of a massive Bane elder. We jumped apart.
“Efron’s asking for you.” The guard stared at Ren. “He’s in his office.”
“Of course. I’ll be right down.” Ren glanced at me. “You want to find the others? I don’t know how long this will take.”
Efron’s guard shook his head. “He wants the Nightshade alpha too. Both of you.”
Ren wrapped both his arms around my waist and I didn’t resist.
What does Ren’s master want with me?
“All right.” Ren swallowed hard, gesturing for me to follow him. “Let’s not keep him waiting.”
The elder Guardian grunted in approval and faded into the darkness.
Ren led me along the edge of the shimmering dance floor and back to the staircase. I gripped his fingers hard until I could feel each heartbeat throb in my veins. Efron Bane. The name made my spine curl up. I was trusting Ren to keep me at a safe distance.
We snaked through the claustrophobia-inducing crowd of humans on the first floor of the club until he stopped in front of a tall wooden door. The face of the oak surface had been intricately carved. I stepped back to examine the image. It depicted the archangel Michael barring a downtrodden Adam and Eve from entering the Garden of Eden.
“That’s an interesting choice.” I jerked my chin toward the door.
“Efron has an unusual sense of humor.” He squeezed my hand and the icy chill on my skin thawed a bit.
He rapped sharply on the wooden door. A moment later it opened and I blinked in surprise.
Lumine Nightshade stepped back from the door, beckoning us to enter. “Welcome, children. So lovely to see you.”
The air smelled of cigar smoke and sherry. Wall-length murals hung throughout the room. Each painting depicted a scene from Dante’s
I quickly looked away; the images of hell were much too graphic for close scrutiny.
Lumine turned her eyes on the Bane alpha. “Renier Laroche. It is such a pleasure to meet you. I’m Lumine Nightshade. Efron has nothing but praise for you, dear boy.” Her smile was like a string of pearls.
Ren inclined his head. “Thank you, Mistress Nightshade.”
“There is someone newly arrived to Vail that Efron and I have been eager for you both to meet.” Lumine led us toward two high-back leather chairs and a couch that faced a roaring fireplace. “Efron. They’re here.”
A man sat on the couch, one arm draped along its back; his other hand clasped a snifter of brandy. He had pale skin and the same golden halo of hair that graced his son’s head.
“It’s good to see you, Renier.” Efron took a sip of brandy. “And the lovely Calla. We meet at last.”
He stretched his hand out, hooking a finger at me. I hesitated, but Lumine pushed me toward the couch. My body went cold the moment Ren’s fingers were wrenched from my own. I tried to keep from shaking when the Bane master took my hand in his, pressing my fingers to his lips. His eyes mirrored the bright amber of the flames that leapt in the nearby fireplace. My chest contracted and it took every ounce of my self-control to keep still.
“Please take a seat.” He kept my hand in his grasp and pulled me onto the couch.
I cast a desperate glance at Ren, who wore an agonized expression.
Lumine touched Ren’s shoulder. “Why don’t you join them.”
It was one of the only times I remembered feeling grateful to my mistress.
Ren came to my side, and I sidled closer to him, trying to put as much distance between myself and Efron as possible, which was difficult considering he wouldn’t let go of my hand.
“Come now, children,” Efron chided. “We’re all here to have a good time, aren’t we?” He released my hand, but only to run his fingers along my collarbone. My mind reeled.
Efron has a thing for Sabine. Favors her.
I pressed closer to Ren. He put his arm around me, glaring at Efron, who only raised an eyebrow at his alpha.
“You’d best remember your place, Renier.”
“And you should remember yours, Efron. Let her be.” Lumine’s silky voice cut toward her counterpart. “Calla belongs to me for another month. If Logan doesn’t object to your dallying with his pack, then so be it.”
“Logan?” Ren’s head whipped around to face my mistress.
She nodded curtly.
“Yes.” Efron snipped the tip of a cigar. “It has been determined that Logan should inherit the new pack. He’s just come of age. I couldn’t be more pleased; such an appropriate gift for his eighteenth birthday. My son will be your master after the Rite of Union.”
“It’s true. But the decision didn’t rest with us.” Lumine leaned over Efron, lighting his cigar with a flame that jumped from the tip of her fingernail. “It came from—”
Her words cut off and her eyes flew to the office door, which had abruptly swung open.
A tall, elegantly dressed man swept into the room. He had his arm around the shoulders of a weary-looking teenage boy. I almost fell off the couch
. I must be dreaming; this cannot be happening.
My nails dug into Ren’s thigh.
“What?” He kept his voice low, turning toward the door. “Ugh, not this kid again.”
Shay Doran appeared as shocked as we were. He halted, staring at us until the tall stranger guided him forward and gestured to one of the leather chairs opposite the couch.
“Have a seat.”
Efron rose and Lumine bowed to the newly arrived man.
“May I get you anything?” She smiled sweetly.
He looked at Efron’s glass. “A brandy would be fine. Thank you, Lumine.”
The man unbuttoned his suit jacket, settling into the leather chair. When I met his eyes, they were an inhuman shade of silver that pierced my body like a sword. My hands began to shake.
“Thank you for inviting them to join us, Efron,” he said.
“Of course.” Efron bobbed his head.
Lumine returned with a crystal snifter of brandy.
“Ah, good.” He took a long whiff of the liquor. “Fine indeed.”
The two Keepers hovered near the man, watching his every gesture intently. I followed their movements with increasing alarm.
The stranger leaned forward, smiling. “Renier, Calla, my name is Bosque Mar. Your families and mine have a long history, though I’ve been away for some years now. I asked my dear friends to bring you here this evening so I could introduce you to my nephew.”
He gestured to Shay, who still stared at us in mute bewilderment.
Bosque Mar had aquiline features, olive skin, and deep brown hair that was slicked back helmet-like against his head. Like Efron’s, his eyes danced as though alive with flames. My gaze moved to Shay. The boy’s golden brown hair and tawny skin bore no resemblance to the man who claimed to be his uncle.
Why would the Keepers have a human child living among them?
Shay looked from his “uncle” to the other Keepers, then he glanced at me. He met my befuddled gaze, offering an uneasy smile.
“Perhaps you’ve already seen each other at school?” Lumine watched me expectantly, her tongue running over her ruby-painted lips.
“Yeah. We have a couple of classes together.” I spoke carefully as I kept my eyes on my new classmate. I could barely hear myself over my shrieking nerves. “Hello, Shay. I hope you’ve had a good first week at school. Sorry we haven’t had the chance to be properly introduced
I’m Calla Tor.”
I could see a question forming on Shay’s lips. I glared at him and his mouth snapped shut.
My mistress smiled, exposing her bright white teeth. “Excellent. We wouldn’t want poor Shay to be isolated, now, would we? Life can be so hard for transfer students.”
I stared at Lumine.
“The Mountain School is a tightly knit community.” Efron leaned casually against the mantel, cigar smoke curling around him. “We just want to be sure that you know Shay is part of our family. You should keep an eye out for him, the way you would your own.”
Ren watched his master, though he spoke to Shay. “Of course. You can let us know if you need anything.”
A dry laugh escaped Shay’s throat. “Thanks.”
“If you’ll excuse our brevity, I have more friends at the party I’d like my nephew to meet.” Bosque took another sip of his brandy and then handed the glass back to Lumine.
“Shay.” He rose, gesturing for the boy to follow. Shay glanced at me once more before trailing after his uncle. I watched them go, wishing I could follow and puzzle out Shay’s place in my world.
Who are you?
An imposing ebony grandfather clock in a corner of the room began to chime. Midnight. Efron’s lips hooked upward.
“Ah, the witching hour. Best time for dancing. Go enjoy yourselves. I’m sorry I can’t join you.” He winked at me and my blood went cold. “Lumine and I have some business to discuss.”
Ren grasped my arm, drawing me from the couch. I fought the urge to run from Efron’s office. When the massive oak door had closed behind us, I convulsed with the shudder I’d been holding back.
Ren glanced at me. “Are you all right?”
I rubbed my arms, trying to shake the creeping discomfort from my skin. “I think so.”
He placed his hands on my shoulders, turning me toward him. “I’m sorry about Efron. I didn’t think he’d be that way with you—since you’re a Nightshade.”
“I’d heard about his habits but never took the rumors seriously,” I said. “I can’t believe Sabine encourages him.”
“You shouldn’t judge Sabine.” Ren’s hands dropped. He started to walk away.
“Why not?” I called, chasing after him through the tangle of bodies on the main dance floor. “Ren, wait!”
He finally paused at the bottom of the staircase, but he didn’t look at me. “Sabine keeps Efron entertained so he won’t go after Cosette. Cosette is young and terrified of our master. Sabine is very protective of her, and she’s sacrificed a lot to keep Cosette out of Efron’s sights—so she’s jaded. I’d say it’s understandable.”
His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. “She can help Cosette . . . in a way I can’t.”
“Oh God.” My stomach rolled over. “I’m sorry, Ren. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly. “You couldn’t have known.”
He started up the staircase. “I’m just glad you’ve been under Lumine all this time.”
When we reached the second floor, Bryn darted from the crowd. “Calla!”
Ansel followed just behind her; he was beaming.
“Where have you been?” She wrapped her arms around my waist. “You’re missing such a great party.”
She caught the expression on my face. “What’s wrong?”
I can’t seem to keep Ren at bay even though I have to, I’m terrified of Efron Bane, and I can’t stop thinking about a boy who’s even more of a mystery now than before I knew his name.
I plastered on a smile. “Nothing. We’ll talk later.”
She hesitated, unconvinced.
I hugged her. “Come on, Bryn. Just show me a good time! Do I have to get my brother to dance with me?”
Ansel grinned, took my hand, and dragged me to the center of the pulsating crowd. He lifted me up, whirling us in rapid circles. When my feet touched the floor again, I spun on my own, letting the frenzied pace of the music push away everything else.
Fog filled the room, swirling at our feet. It wrapped silk-like around my limbs and shimmered in a vivid kaleidoscope of colors. It smelled sweet, like honeysuckle and lilac. A pleasant melting sensation traveled through my body.