Book 7: UNTITLED
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28
“What will you do now, witch?”
Goliath’s grip was a vise; Persephone’s arm was going numb.
It seemed true that Menessos had released him from the Maker’s bond between them.Without it, she could not tap into the soul-pieces shared between her, Menessos, and Johnny to coerce Goliath to release her. She had the option to strike him with the power of a ley line—but such action would cost her.
Not only in a physical sense, either. Sure, she would be ousted as court witch, banned from the haven, and relived of the protective perks that came with membership. She could live without those. But this was where Beverley had to live for now. She wasn’t going to lose her access to Beverley.
“What would you have me do, Haven Master?” As the words crossed her lips, there was a mostly unintentional note of sarcasm in her tone as she said his title. Hearing it, she knew that mocking cadence was going to bite her in the ass.
He reached slowly to her face, caressed her cheek, and whispered, “Bleed for me.”
With the last word, Goliath struck. A flick of his wrist he sliced her—a small wound—with a sharp nail. She spun away, neck stinging, but Goliath yanked her into an intimate embrace.
Recognizing that he was doing everything she would loathe him for, she considered that he might be trying to force a specifically–bad-for-her-situation in order to gain her resignation as court witch.
His lips touched her ear. He breathed deep and mmmm-ed. “Your lavender-scented shampoo lingers…but your blood, Lustrata, is more fragrant.” When he spoke, the vibration of his voice incited an erotic sensation that pulsed downward through her body.
This close, she couldn’t avoid smelling his scent, like gun oil with a hint of that sickly-sweet odor of rot. He was a dangerous, cocky vampire who had no fondness for her and even less appreciation for the attention his Maker had showered upon her.Their minimal interactions had done little to foster goodwill between them, let alone trust.
So why do I want him to taste me?
It wasn’t all about the need to resolve this situation, either. Wondering at the root of this odd yearning, she mentally replayed the last few moments. His confidence. His quiet authority. The untamed threat of his unpredictability.
All were qualities she found desirable.
Menessos had them. Johnny had them. Hades had them—well, his authority wasn’t so quiet. Each of these men were all uniquely themselves, but carried these common threads. Even her old college boyfriend, Michael LaCroix had those traits. For it, she had been, or was, attracted to them.
She stood in Goliath’s arms, scarcely breathing, anticipating the tip of his tongue seizing the red offering he had drawn forth.
“Take it,” she whispered.
The heavy drop crawled down her neck like a dawdling insect. Heartbeats later, it remained unclaimed.
Frustrated, she repeated, “Take it!”
“Are you my witch?”
He won’t make me resign. I won’t give up my right to this haven. “I am.”
“And what am I to you?” His whisper trembled with all the restraint of a predator at war with his savage instinct. “Tell me.”
Those two words resonated inside her head. Gooseflesh rose on her arms. “My Haven Master…and an ally I hope to keep.”
“Ally? You would use me to service your own goals!” He shifted, hands gripping her arms tight.
A pained squeal escaped her lips. One arm was already bruised from this abuse; the ache provoked anger. She knew he was working toward this goal, so she let it through just a little. Bitter words tumbled from her mouth. “Can you claim you wouldn’t use me? At its core, my position is one meant to service your every whim, Haven Master, yet you act as if my having an expectation of reciprocation is insulting.”
“Whatever typical behavior is for a court witch, it won’t be typical of me.”
“That is precisely the problem. You feel that my authority doesn’t apply because you’re the Lustrata! You say you will honor the requirements of membership for my court in one breath, yet you demand your autonomy in the next. I don’t believe you can be loyal to two masters and every second you remain in that role, I take the chance that my haven bears the brunt of being the second choice in my witch’s order of allegiance.”
She smiled a nasty little smile at him. Finally. The true issue. “But it’s nice being the one Haven Master in the world with the Lustrata on your roster, isn’t it?”
He shook his head and his grip tightened even more. “Your recusant actions are insupportable.”
The fingers of Seph’s right hand were deadened, the left were getting close to the same. Holding his gaze steadily she said, “I’m not a Beholder. I’m breakable and you’re hurting me.”
He glowered for a long moment then his grip loosened.Though his hands vanished from her arms, he did not retreat.
She paused, opening and closing her hands until some sensation returned. “The duality of my role is, for you, an issue of diplomatic skill. Like I pointed out earlier, if you don’t give me commands that interfere with the greater scope of what I must do, I won’t make you look bad.”
Goliath sneered, showing fang. “I already understand your position. You do not yet understand mine.”
“Yes I do. Look, I’m sure you’re ready to be a haven master and the seriousness and…possessiveness…which you’re showing is a testament to your leadership drive, but you’re no Menessos.” Seeing his expression grow colder, she added,“That’s not an insult, so don’t take it as one. He’s been honing his finesse for centuries.”
“This isn’t about finesse,” he said through clenched teeth.“It’s about command. Allowing your openly insubordinate actions to go unpunished undermines the respect other haven members have for my authority. If you disobey without repercussions, why would they think they’re any different?”
She crossed her arms. “They aren’t the Lustrata.”
He crossed his. “Are you my court witch or are you the Lustrata?”
Firmly, she said, “Both.”
“Prove it.” It was his turn to flash a nasty little smile. “As my court witch, you must accept that in the capacity as my witch, I have the authority to dole out discipline as I see fit.”
Feeling the trap, Seph arched a brow. “What discipline?”
“I will not be responsible for your safety.”
“I’ve called Zhan Hong and Mountain back to the haven. Let the witches or the wolves guard you, if they will. Let them tend your menagerie. Or, better still, do it yourself, Lustrata. I see no reason why She Who Walks Between Worlds can’t shovel the dung of her own pets.”
It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. As the seconds ticked by, though, this hurt, but not for herself. “Mountain grew up on a farm. He felt displaced in the world, and he felt displaced in this haven. His tending the animals had less to do with what was convenient for me and more to do with what was actively good for him.”
“I know this. But his services carry a different perception. Just now, it seems that, diplomatically, it must look like you are being punished. Is that enough finesse for you?”
She wouldn’t lose access to Beverley. She wouldn’t lose the right to seek sanctuary within these walls. And Goliath retained the Lustrata as his witch, a fact that would bear weight with any older vampires that might think to challenge him for his rule.
Goliath looked down his long nose at her with slitted eyes. “I hope you never have to decide which of your two masters’ distress calls to answer first, Lustrata.”
Her chip lifted. “I hope you’re never in distress, Haven Master.”
There came a knock at the door. He immediately rounded the desk to take his seat. “Come.”
Silhouette entered. “Master.” She acknowledged Seph. “Erus Veneficus.”
As she approached, Seph said to Goliath, “If we’re done, I’d like to see Beverley.”
He did not respond, but was all eyes for Sil. “What news?”
“I spent two hours at the radio station recording fifteen- and thirty-second ads for the grand opening. The exterior spotlights will be delivered tomorrow for installation. And, I managed to secure Lycanthropia to play.I offered him a handsome figure, but the Domn Lup seems to think you owe him a favor on top of that, though I told him such negotiations were between you and he.”
Seph waited, impatient but thinking, Do not tap your foot. As court witch, she could take her leave only when dismissed.
“Also, Risqué has asked to see you.”
When Sil told Goliath that, he faced Seph. “Let’s all go see her.”
Persephone was relieved that she was not led to the infirmary. She’d heard that Risqué sustained a deep stab wound, along with several cuts and bruises, while defending Beverley from the shabbubitu, Ailo.
The half-demon’s quarters were not far from the haven office, but back a few turns in the twisting hall. Sil walked at the lead, and knocked politely before opening the door. The aroma of burning coal was strong and entering was like walking into a summer heat wave.
Sil gestured Goliath inside. After giving Seph a scathing expression, she stepped in behind him and, in the room, blocked Seph by standing at Goliath’s right hand. It was the place where the court witch was expected to be.Assuming this was part of her punishment as well, Seph took her place at his left.
The decadently dark décor was no surprise. The walls were copper tiles, broken by two rows of heavily lacquered black shelves. The top shelf held uniform lines of small black candles. The lower shelf held geodes, dragons, and snake figurines placed amid a variety of studded leather collars, chains and whips.
Red-hot coals flickered in eight iron cauldrons that sat in each corner of the octagonal room. The ventilation system reminded Seph of a giant spider, eight black legs rising, bending to join a large spherical unit centered on the ceiling. More of the black candles graced the copper chandelier laced with strings of hematite and rubies in round beads and larger teardrops that hung from that sphere and directly over the circular bed positioned in the middle of the room.
Risqué laid under layers of thick covers, the uppermost a deep purple color. She sat up stiffly and sucked air through her teeth as she attained a sitting position. True to her usual custom, she was barely clothed—if at all. The blankets dropped low to reveal her red-tipped breasts and the taped bandage on her lower front-left ribs.
Because Risqué always sported a healthy tan, Seph was stunned to see her so ashen. Her pouty lips were colorless and her blonde ringlets were nearly straight, and it looked as if someone had snuck in with scissors and chopped off a handful at chin level on the left. Menessos and Beverley both had enchanted necklaces made with strands of Risqué’s hair, but taking hair for such a purpose wouldn’t usually be done in a manner that compromised her style. However, it was her eyes that were most startling. Normally red, they now had a too-wide ring of black around the outside of her irises.
“You look like Hell,” Goliath said cheerily.
“No I don’t,” Risqué countered, but her usual feisty tone was absent from the words. “If I did, it would be a good thing. The bitch poisoned me.”
“I was told she stabbed you.”
“There was poison on the blade?”
“I had hoped to discuss this with you privately.”
Silent for a long moment, Goliath turned to Sil. “Will you excuse us?”
Seph leaned forward, saw Sil’s eyes widen a fraction in irritation before she turned on her heel and left. Looking to Goliath’s face, she waited to be dismissed as well.
The door opened, shut. Sil’s high heels clicked down the hallway. Goliath remained silent.
Risqué glanced at Seph. “Perhaps I should have used the word ‘alone’ instead of ‘privately’.”
“My Erus Veneficus is well versed in herbology, therefore I believe she may be able to offer something of value in this situation. She will stay.”
“If herbs could cure me, I’d have asked the doctor for them.”
“What may I offer you that the doctor could not?”
“I need brimstone.”
“Hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide?”
“Gases? Neither. I need pure sulfur. The odorless crumbly yellow kind.”
“That shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain. There are scientific suppliers in the area. I’ll have Sil find some immediately. How much do you need?”
“A lot.” Risqué considered. “A pound. Or two.”
“Done. Delivered tonight?”
“That would be fantastic,” she said mirthlessly. “But there’s more.” She licked her lips. “I need to heat it to eight-hundred-thirty-one-point-two degrees. Fahrenheit. And it’ll take a while. It doesn’t conduct heat well.”
“You’ll need a Bunsen burner, a beaker or something that can handle the heat, tongs…anything else?”
“I’ll have to take it in doses, so I need someone to handle it for me, too. I’m not exactly up to playing science lab for the next twenty-four hours.”
“Done. Anyone you’d like to request?”
Persephone got the feeling he was giving Risqué facial cues to indicate she should ask for Seph’s assistance.
“The doctor is the only one who’s had enough chemistry to have my trust.”
“Fine. Why that temperature?”
“That’s when it’ll turn black and viscous. That’s when it’ll be ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“To be put into my wound.”
“Sulfur is normal in both the environment and the body cells of demons, as plentiful as hydrogen atoms are for humans. I’m burning through my own natural supply to maintain temperature, fight the poison, and stay alive. I need more.”
“I wasn’t questioning your need, Risqué, only the temperature.”
Persephone had known that Risqué was a half-demon. The red eyes gave that away, though most people thought she wore contacts for effect. But that last detail revealed a most disturbing fact.
She’s a Daughter of Hell. That meant her mother was a witch, her father a Phlegethonian demon—one from the flaming fluid of the Underworld. Regardless of the debatable nature of it as a ‘lake of fire’ or a ‘river of flames’ depending on the religious point of view, it was a sinister place. That river was the only thing that flowed in and out of Tartarus, the region of trapped Titans, as far from the Land of Hades as the Land of Hades was from the mortal realms of Earth.
Risqué has deep connections to Hades.
Seph wanted to anywhere but here right now…and she wanted to rush Beverley far, far away.
But she could not leave Goliath’s side without being dismissed. And it was unlikely that he would go against Menessos’s wish and allow Beverley to be moved.
Tuning out the pair before her as they discussed the finer points of where to cook the sulfur, Seph began making plans. Then she heard Risqué say, “I am well protected.”
It jolted Seph’s focus back to their conversation. Her chin snapped up and she locked eyes on the half-demon who blinked and met that look with a crooked half-smile.
Before she could react, however, the door thrust open and Menessos raced the room. Seph rarely saw him in a hurry, let alone breathless from running.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said, focused on Persephone. His gaze shifted to Goliath. “Haven Master, I beg your indulgence. We must go.”
“We who? And where?”
“You, me, Persephone…and every vampire you can spare.” He panted. “The wærewolves den is under attack.”
I hope you all have a blessed holiday with the people you love most near with you, enjoying good food, hugs, and laughter.