Juan Carlos was proud of me.
I returned my attention to Shane, swallowing the icky feeling of having done something to please the surly conquistador.
“What was your payment to be?”
“You will forfeit the payment for this kill, and for the next. You are lucky I’m not having your hands ripped off.” I said it so matter-of-factly I gave myself a chill.
Shane opened his mouth, likely to protest, but I waved one freshly manicured hand towards the door and turned away, telling him he was no longer of concern to me. The bounty hunter stomped over to the big double doors, and as he jerked them open, I couldn’t resist a famous Tribunal parting shot.
“Oh, and, Mr. Hewitt?”
Shane turned, and he must have been mad because he made the mistake of meeting my eyes, something a smart hunter would never do with a vampire unless they wanted to risk being enthralled.
“Don’t disappoint us again.”
The night air was bracing, cold enough that I’d look insane for not wearing a coat, so I was bundled in a chic Burberry plaid trench I’d splurged on after Christmas. There was one decided bonus to being elevated to a Tribunal seat—a black American Express card with my name on it and no pesky questions about what I chose to buy.
I’d had the card for a few months, and I still tried to avoid using it whenever I could rely on my own money instead. But now that I was no longer hunting rogues, my major source of income had gone up in smoke.
And the coat was so pretty.
Trotting down the steps of the council headquarters, a huge building which mirrored Grand Central Terminal in style and scale, I stopped at street level where my escort awaited.
Holden Chancery could stop my breath in my throat and make any lady with a pulse trip over a few heartbeats. His dark hair was slicked back and teased his nape with its length. The tight set of his chiseled jaw told me he wasn’t in a great mood, and the blazing intensity in his dark brown eyes expressed a deeper emotion he wouldn’t let show on his face. He was pissed.
“Who peed in your plasma?” I asked, standing in front of him, my hands tucked in the pockets of my coat.
He glowered at me, nostrils flaring with barely concealed rage.
What the hell?
“Let’s go,” he snarled.
The sentry could be grouchy at the best of times and was prone to more mood swings than a group of sorority sisters whose cycles had synced up. For once, though, I was certain I hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
He was already a half block away, which made him pretty poor protection. Personally I didn’t think I needed a bodyguard everywhere I went, but I’d been glad to have the option of choosing Holden as my escort instead of any of the warden lackeys Sig could have given the job to.
When I’d first been appointed to the Tribunal, Sig had several warden guards follow me at a discreet distance. I’d subsequently put the kibosh on that system and now it was only Holden who kept an eye on me. I thought he’d been happy with the arrangement, but maybe I should have asked him.
He stopped walking but didn’t turn around or come back. Even though chasing him wasn’t on the top of the list of things I wanted to do tonight, it looked like I didn’t have much choice. I cleared the distance at a jog, admiring how well the Jimmy Choo’s kept up. I’d taken my Choo’s through some pretty rigorous drills, and they never ceased to amaze me.
For six hundred bucks a pair, I should hope I could jog down a block and kill vampires in them.
When I was standing in front of him again, it was my turn to look pissed.
“What the hell is going on?”
“It’s nothing. I’m here. Let’s just go.”
“No.” I stood stock-still and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Don’t you have some sort of date I need to get you to?” His tone was cold and sarcastic but not angry. Under other circumstances I would have assumed he was jealous because I was going on a date with Lucas, the area werewolf king, but his voice indicated that wasn’t the problem here.
“Lucas can wait. What’s your problem?” Okay, so it sounded snippier than it could have, but if patience is a skating rink, I tend to stick to thin ice.
Holden grumbled and wouldn’t face me, which was unusual for him even when he was being a grump. He stared out at the bustle of SoHo, the streets teeming with life in the midst of a cold February night.
“It’s Rebecca,” he said at last, huffing out the name as if it tasted bad on his tongue. Rebecca was a council elder, one of the highest-ranking vampires other than Sig, Juan Carlos and myself.
She was also Holden’s maker.
“Okay?” I responded, still not sure what his vampire-mother had to do with his surly demeanor.
“She wants me to demand a favor.” He gave me a pointed look, making me wish he’d kept avoiding my gaze. “From you.”
“Why didn’t she come to see us? We held open audience today. She could have asked us—”
“No, Secret. She doesn’t want a favor from the Tribunal. She wants one from you personally.”
A knot formed in my throat, and it hurt to swallow. I wish I could say Rebecca was out of line asking me for a personal favor, but the fact was I should have expected this a long time ago. It had been over two years, but I’d killed one of her children, and I was a fool if I thought she’d forget my execution of Charlie Conaway, sanctioned or not.
My partner, Keaty, had once told me every vampire death is a burden to their society, and the rogues I killed were part of someone’s family. Charlie had been Rebecca’s family, Holden’s family, and now I was going to be held responsible for his death. She couldn’t punish me, or call me out. I outranked her, and unless she wanted to challenge me in a fight to the death, she needed to be diplomatic about her actions.
So she got to me through Holden.
“What does she want?”
“It seems her consort is unhappy.”
“And I can correct this how?”
“I believe you know Genevieve Renard.”
The queen of the were-ocelots and entrepreneur extraordinaire. Of course I knew Genevieve Renard. Everyone knew her. I was aware she was involved with Rebecca, but I hadn’t realized it was so serious.
“What happened to Genevieve?” My tone grew serious. More than being acquainted with the ocelot queen, I also liked her immensely, and she was one of the rare exceptions where I believed she felt the same. If there was something I could do to help her, I’d do it without being forced by her vampire girlfriend.
“Rebecca was less than forthcoming with the details. She asked that I secure your assurances and—”
“Yes.” I could feel him building up to a big spiel, and I didn’t have the time for it.
He shot me a disappointed look, scolding me with his eyes for my impatience.
“What?” I replied to his unvoiced disapproval. “You came here to make a request on behalf of your maker. Request granted. Can you stop being such a grumpy bugger now?”
“Oh, Secret.” He hefted a sigh.
“Tell Rebecca I’ll help Genevieve, and I’ll do it without any demand of payment. If I can help her consort, we’re even. Understood?”
“I don’t speak for her, but I suspect that’s the arrangement she had in mind.”
I puffed up, grinning. Man, I was getting pretty good at this vampire political stuff. First, I’d cut our hunter down a few pegs, and now I was bartering over the redress cost of a vampire’s life. My grin faded, and the knot in my throat doubled in size.
God. Who was I becoming?
Holden seemed to notice the change in my demeanor because he forced a smile and put an arm around my shoulder, pulling me in for a hug that felt awkward, especially when he patted me on the back twice, two hard thumps.
“Don’t worry. It’s not like you’re selling your soul,” he crooned, as if he’d read my mind. “You’ll help the cat queen. It will be like one of your old cases.”
Yeah, Keaty was famous for being a fan of pro-bono cases that put us under the thumb of a vampire elder.
I sighed. What was done was done. I’d agreed to take on Genevieve’s case, and I would help her. The implications could be dealt with later. For now I would file the whole thing under helping a friend in need so I could think about it without getting dizzy.
This time it was my turn to say, “Let’s go.”
A wave of bodies surged forward through the main doors of Madison Square Garden, and I was caught up in the swell. I wasn’t a fan of crowds at the best of times, so Lucas had to know I was making an effort when I agreed to meet him here to see a Rangers game.
I’d grown up in Canada, so a love for hockey was as second nature as breathing, but I liked to watch it from the safety of my living room, or on the TV at a downtrodden sports bar. The only reason I’d agreed to come was that it was a late-night charity fundraiser game, and I hadn’t expected it to be busy. Turns out I know nothing about crowd mentality when it comes to hockey. This many people all crushed together, their adrenaline pumping, their pulses twitching with the vigor of their collective excitement…
My gums ached, and my breath hitched.
Stupid wolf king and his bright ideas. We’d be lucky if I got to the second period without singling out the old and the weak. I was already scanning the crowd for easy targets.
I didn’t feed on humans. It was one of those rules I had etched in stone, a line in the sand I would never step over. My blood came from donor bags and was stored safely in my fridge at home. But just because I didn’t allow myself to feed on people didn’t mean the urge wasn’t there. I was half-vampire, and the siren song of blood could sometimes crash into me with a demanding frenzy, like a heroin junkie aching for one more fix.
If I didn’t get hold of myself, I was going to be in trouble. I could feel my sharp canines throbbing against my gums, begging for release, and I had no doubt my pupils were swelling to take over my brown irises.
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