Authors: Sierra Dean
A boy who appeared to be no older than twelve or thirteen years old assessed me with a quizzical expression, fingering the tattered lining of the casket and nibbling at his lip with a tiny fang.
“Madam, are you quite all right?” he asked, his voice soft and carrying a French accent. “You seem to have destroyed your chamber.”
I swiped my arm across my brow to keep the sweat in check, and my gaze darted around the unfamiliar room. No offense to the kid, but a small French boy wasn’t going to put me at ease. Alexandre Peyton looked seventeen at most, and his angelic face made him very misleading. This stranger could easily be one of Peyton’s minions.
The room we were in was lovely. Modern without being too cold, elegant without being too stuffy. The walls were painted a warm gray, and the furniture was accented in shades of violet and charcoal. My coffin was placed near a king-sized bed, and the rest of the room was a suite built to invite comfort. Large chairs and couches were set in front of a slate fireplace, and beyond that was another bedroom, where I could see a coffin identical to my own.
The lid was open, but there was no sign of the vampire sentry anywhere, so I repeated my question. “Where is he?” When the boy didn’t answer straightaway, I switched into the French my
had drilled into me as a child. “
Où et Holden?
I must not have butchered the pronunciation too badly because the boy’s smile broadened, and he began chattering away in mile-a-minute Parisian French. My
was Creole, and I’d been raised in the Canadian prairie. The French I spoke was a bastardization of Quebecois and Bayou. It certainly wasn’t the soft, eloquent language this kid had perfected over a century or more.
Désolé, mais mon français n’est pas très bon. Pouvez-vous parler un peu plus lentement, s’il vous plait?
” I hoped he wouldn’t be offended I’d spoken to him in French and was now asking him to slow down.
He frowned but appeared more disappointed than irritated.
“Your accent is atrocious,” he commented.
“Isn’t it though?” I offered him a halfhearted smile. My heart was pounding, and he would definitely be able to hear it. So much for playing down my mortal side.
“How interesting.” He tilted his head to one side, eyes narrowing, and looked at me as if I were a piece of art he was having trouble capturing the meaning of. “We were told you were…unique, but I suppose I didn’t believe it until now.”
Perhaps I should have taken his fascination as a compliment, but him gawking at me just added to my nervousness. I still didn’t know where I was, or
he was. The presence of Holden’s coffin calmed me slightly, but not as much as having the actual vampire present would.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying a different tactic since he still hadn’t told me his name.
, my apologies Tribunal Leader McQueen, I have forgotten my place entirely.” He did a half bow, holding his hands at the small of his back. His shoulder-length brown curls tumbled forward to cover his face briefly, and when he righted himself, I looked at his eyes. They were a lovely color of green, not the solid black of a vampire itching to feed. “My name is Maxime.”
“Hello.” I raised my hand in a limp wave, and in spite of the fact he clearly knew who I was, I added, “I’m Secret.”
“Yes, of course.” He bowed again. “Do you prefer Tribunal Leader Secret?”
Lord have mercy, I was going to have to deal with a whole new group of people addressing me with the longest title known to man. But I knew from over a year with the East Coast council it was pointless to try getting them down to a first-name basis.
“Tribunal Leader Secret is fine.” At least it was less formal than McQueen.
“I will be your valet during your stay in Los Angeles, and I do hope if you have any needs or requests, you won’t hesitate to approach me with them. I sincerely apologize, as well, for treating you in such a common manner earlier. I beg your forgiveness.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
worried because he continued to gnaw at his lip. He didn’t feel old to me, ignoring the youthful mask of his appearance. “Are you quite certain I cannot make amends in some way?”
“Really, Maxime, it’s fine. I’m used to much stranger responses than that. No apologies necessary.”
If he’d been breathing, he might have let out a sigh of relief, but his shift in demeanor was obvious nonetheless. His expression softened, and a smile curved his cupid’s-bow lips upwards.
“How old are you?” I asked him.
“One hundred and seventy-three.”
He would have been turned sometime in the mid-1800s, not long after Holden had been. And he was French, and beautiful, and assigned to me. My own tentative smile faltered.
“Who is your maker?” I’d been told once by Sig it was common practice for Tribunal Leaders and Council Elders to send their progeny far away to avoid conflicts of interest. I had a feeling I knew exactly whose spawn was my new man-in-waiting.
My jaw clenched, and I gritted my teeth, biting back a growl. “Well then, Maxime, you
do me a favor.”
“Yes, of course. Anything.”
“Tell me where your brother is.”
Maxime guided me to a set of oak doors not unlike those leading to the subterranean Tribunal chamber in New York. He bowed again—something he had a lot of practice with it seemed—and scurried away before I had a chance to go in.
The uneasy feeling I had still lingered, making me wary to waltz into any unfamiliar rooms, but since I was in a city I’d never been to, all the rooms would be unfamiliar. I didn’t bother knocking because I figured anyone inside would have heard me coming, and why give them any extra heads up if they meant me harm?
From what I’d gathered during my short chat with Maxime, I was likely at the West Coast council headquarters, but he hadn’t said anything during our walk to confirm my suspicions a hundred percent, and I hadn’t outright asked. If we were where I suspected we were, I was going to sound like an idiot for asking, and idiocy wasn’t the impression Sig wanted me to make.
I opened the doors and stepped backwards rather than straight into the room. When nothing fired at me and no one lunged to attack, I decided it was safe to continue and went in with my head held high, projecting an air of authority I didn’t necessarily feel.
“You look well rested.” It was Holden’s voice, but I couldn’t find the man to match it.
I scanned the room and took in my surroundings as I searched for him. The space wasn’t at all what I expected from a vampire stronghold. For one thing, the floor-to-ceiling windows were out of step with protecting vampire safety.
The massive space reminded me a great deal of the top floor in Lucas’s penthouse, where one half of the entire area was dedicated to a big lounge-style living room with an unbeatable view of New York. Only here the view wasn’t of my beloved hometown, it was the glittery oasis of Los Angeles.
We must have been outside of the L.A. city limits because I could see most of the city sprawled out before us like a carpet of stars. What New York had in height, L.A. had in distance, spreading wider than I could see without shifting my position.
I hadn’t expected to like L.A.—that was the snobby New Yorker in me—but there was something beautiful about it, lit up orange in the early night sky. What I didn’t enjoy was discovering we weren’t in the city proper. Judging from the vantage point, I gathered we had to be up in the Hollywood Hills somewhere, and my extensive research with
magazine told me that would put our neighbors at a distance.
Far enough away it would be difficult to get help.
Not that humans were all that helpful.
I sighed and continued to search the room for Holden. I found him nestled in a leather wingback chair near the fireplace—did every room in this building have a fireplace?—with his feet kicked up on an ottoman and a glass of whiskey in his hand.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” I snapped, unable to keep the irritation from my tone. I’d been well-behaved with Maxime, but I didn’t need to be polite to Holden. It might not have been nice of me, but my blood pressure was running sky-high, and I needed to project my anxiety onto someone. He was the best target because he’d still love me when I finished yelling at him.
“Well, it’s only a ten-year-old blend, but aside from that I can’t complain.” He swished the amber liquid around in its lowball glass and smirked at me. We’d done this song and dance before, and apparently he didn’t feel the need to cower before my rage anymore.
That took half the fun out of it.
“Did you think it might be a bad idea to leave me on my own, locked inside a coffin when I woke up?” I crossed my arms, my gaze drifting from his smug facial expression to the drink. Damn that whiskey looked good.
So did his face, but I wanted to think about something
than how handsome he was. It was hard to be mad at someone if you were busy musing over how pretty they were.
“Want some?” He held the glass up to me, and I took it, swallowing some of the booze. The whiskey burned a friendly welcome glow from my throat down to my belly, soothing the savage beast within.
“You knew how I felt about being in there,” I reminded him, my voice low and soft to keep any tremor out of my words.
“Did you freak out?”
I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me or honestly wanted to know. “I did.”
“I’m sorry.” For once he didn’t phrase it like a question. He sounded genuinely apologetic. “I didn’t plan to be gone long, and when I went back, Maxime said he had it under control.”
“Ah, yes. About him…”
“Don’t worry about Max.”
“No offense, Holden, but ever since I killed Charlie I haven’t been Rebecca’s favorite person.” Never mind that Charlie Conaway had been a homicidal jackass, using his thrall to murder innocent girls. He’d also been Rebecca’s favorite based on her treatment of me following his death.
“Max is different.”
“How is he different?” I sat on the leather ottoman in front of him, our knees touching. He made a move like a flinch when I sat, but it seemed as though he wanted to move closer, not farther away. He reclaimed the glass from my hand and settled back into the chair.
“I know you don’t like Rebecca much, but it’s clouding your opinion of her progeny. Have you forgotten she made me?”
“Did you ever consider you’re the reason I have a negative bias about her spawn?” I countered, but couldn’t keep from smirking.
“Now, now, Ms. McQueen. Keep talking like that and I’ll think you’re secretly in love with me.” He tried to smile, but it faltered, making the guilty feelings I thought I’d left in New York swell up all over again.
What was I going to do with these boys? Why couldn’t we just have a nice, totally unrealistic, three-way live-in love relationship where Desmond cooked, Holden tidied and I brought home the bacon by bossing around every vampire on the East Coast.
Was that too much to ask?
I guess the fact vampires and werewolves hated each other, and my boys
hated each other, wasn’t going to help make my fantasy pipe dream a reality. If I tried to imagine what living with them both would be like, it was a horror movie and a television sitcom all rolled into one. Holden would constantly be making dog jokes, and Desmond wouldn’t ever stop reminding me Holden was dead. Not the most romantic scenario.
And I only had myself to blame.
Three months earlier I’d found myself in the unique position of being able to pick—once and for all—which of them I’d bind myself to for the rest of my life. I’d been human, and it was a clean slate. I could have spent my life with Desmond, a nice mortal life in the sun with babies and daylight and all the stuff I’d dreamed about having as a child.
Or I could have let Holden bite me. I’d have been a real, full-blooded vampire, no longer a freak of nature to the Tribunal, and I could have spent eternity with the beautiful man sitting in front of me.
So what did I do?
I made a Devil’s bargain with the fairy king to be returned to my old self. Meaning I was back to square one and no closer to knowing which of them I
I was like a kid in a candy store being told to pick between two delicious treats when I desperately wanted them both.
“Sorry,” I whispered, not sure if I was apologizing for spacing out or loving him. I just felt the need to apologize. “You were telling me about Maxime.”
“Why should I trust him?”
Holden gave the whiskey a thoughtful sniff. “Why should we trust anyone, really? I mean, what is trust but a leap of faith?”
“I like to think of it as more of a currency.”
“I trust him. Is that enough for you to invest?”
I stuck my tongue out at him, having had my own analogy used against me.
Holden continued, “I think Charlie gave you an unfair opinion of my siblings. You can’t let one insane movie star taint your entire perception of Rebecca’s offspring.”