Here it is! Chapter two of this vampy prequel! And hmmmm what new mysteries do we have now?
Despite the nagging feeling of being watched, Soren finished his tour of the city without any other puncture wounds. Without any answers and a fuckton more questions, but those were part of the job.
He didn’t let down his guard until he made the final turn toward his new home. Even then, he waited for an assassin to jump out of the shadows and try to finish the job. The prickle on the back of his neck never left and he didn’t trust the word of anyone slinging around talk of the Void.
The Void. Fucking hell. Bunch of insanity. It started as fae thinking they were talking to their ancestors on a different plane of existence, then morphed into those unseelie bastards listening to the whispers for a murder list for the good of the future. Too bad those targets tended to be the ones who’d wronged the listener.
And now he had some fae-smelling human sucking down the vapors and pulling names out of a hat? Gods, he hoped she was working alone.
Home sweet home.
The place was surprisingly modest when held up next to the pain and misery caused by the previous residents. Even in terms of other fae courts, the Salem house was more subdued and blended in with the surrounding buildings. Large, yes, but still more home than palace.
A fountain sat in the middle of a circular drive that deposited new arrivals near the front steps. Four chimneys rose from each of the corners, though none puffed any smoke into the air. Brown bricks made up the sturdy walls, and each bright white window frame was bordered by dusky green shutters. Hedges were trimmed back into neat little balls to give the windows of even the lowest level more scenery than twigs and leaves.
Unsurprising, the land was the real attraction. Swinging away from the driveway, the same brick that made up the house guided travelers through thickets of trees and deeper into the lot. Winter kept back most of the wild blooms, but what remained through the freeze appeared largely unchanged from the chaotic gardens he remembered from when he’d last been in the city over twenty-six years ago. Fae loved their earthen pleasures, and Roderick had evidently kept the plot tended.
The house bordered a large, open square which, at that moment, was relatively clear of gawkers or regular folk out for a stroll. The lights of his nearest neighbor cheerfully lit up another fenced and guarded yard. He’d need to pay the human resident a visit, but that trip could wait. No doubt the mayor would appreciate clothes without blood on them.
Soren ground his teeth together and marched for the gate. He barely made it ten steps before the guards posted on either side stirred.
“Stop,” one ordered in a bored but expectant tone. “Not another step closer.”
Soren fixed them each with a glare. The one who’d issued the command stiffened with recognition, then ducked his eyes.
“Apologies, sir,” he said. “We weren’t expecting—”
“Such little fanfare? I’m not one for red carpets and bugling arrivals.”
Or advertising his position to anyone who wanted him dead. Not that his secretive arrival had done any good.
Soren gave them a wry smile and shifted his gaze to the home. Luckily, they got the idea and moved to let him through the gate.
Staff. That was something he’d need to get used to having. One snap of his fingers to summon, a glare to dismiss, and not a damn moment of peace except when he fell into bed before dawn.
The lordship felt more like punishment with every passing minute of the night.
He mounted the handful of steps, head tilting back to study the decorative lintel above the door. Nymphs and satyrs danced and drank in their carved positions. Yet another reminder of who had owned the place—and nearly the whole world—before.
The door swung wide before he could even palm the handle.
Soren schooled himself to stillness. His side still ached, which soured his mood. The surprise of a gorgeous woman wet and waiting for him would have been unwelcome in that moment, and the creature lifting and lowering his eyes was certainly not that.
He stood shorter than Soren by a head. Thinner, too. Dark of hair, dark of eyes, there was something familiar about him that—like the scent from the alley—he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“My lord!” the man exclaimed, dropping his eyes again and shuffling aside. “What are you doing out on the street? Did you find the car we sent not to your liking?”
Soren stepped into the foyer. A chandelier dangled above his and the man’s head, styled to look like vines curling upward and topped by blooming lights. Doors hung open on either side of the hall to reveal twin parlors, each one furnished with expensive seating. Glorified waiting rooms in this day and age.
“I arrived early,” he said absently. “You are?”
“Faust, my lord,” he said in a rush. His body jerked in the poorest bow Soren had ever witnessed. “I belong to the house.”
Stone. That was the odd scent in the air. He smelled like stone. Cold like winter air, but devoid of the crispness of snow or wood of trees.
Not many of those around any more. Salem had more surprises than he’d expected.
Surprises could wait. Right then, all he wanted was to settle in. Change into a fresh shirt, wipe away whatever blood remained on his body, and figure out his next move. Roderick’s killer needed to be found and he needed to stamp out that Void nonsense. If luck existed, he’d solve both problems when he wrapped his hands around the throat of one dark-haired woman.
He strode past Faust and paid no mind to the ruffled noise the gargoyle let off. Ahead, past the stairs leading to the second floor and columns decorating a ballroom that ran the width of the house, a set of double doors stood slightly ajar.
Footsteps caught up to him as he crossed through the ballroom. “There’s someone—”
Soren pushed through the doors without really hearing the gargoyle.
“There you are.”
Once again, he stilled in place. Faust’s hasty words echoed in his ears like a taunt.
“Theo. I didn’t expect you.”
Theo Mouzalon leaned back in the seat behind the desk and laced his hands over his stomach. Dark hair curled around his ears and the low light of the room made the hollows of his cheeks even more prominent. A Byzantine prince, if rumor was to be believed, though Soren didn’t put any stock in where he’d come from. The blood forced them all to begin again in the dirt and chip away at the years. In that, they were nearly equals.
One eye opened to take in Soren before sliding closed again. “Hm. Indeed.”
Soren let the door fall closed behind him, then leaned against the wood. With Theo occupying his rightful seat, the other options were to stand in the middle of the room like a schoolboy being reprimanded or fall into one of the other chairs in the office. Sitting across from Roana’s man made him the subordinate; collapsing into one of the cushy leather seats near the fireplace gave off the air of a petulant child.
Theo played the game well, he had to give him that. Expected, too, from his years at court. Living, and dead.
His motives were more questionable. Did he visit at the queen’s behest or his own?
“Roderick’s death was a blow to us all,” Theo said with a sigh. Pushing to his feet, he rounded the desk and swept past Soren to the bar. He poured himself a drink, then turned and leaned against the liquor cabinet, absently swirling the liquid. “Though I wonder…”
He let the words dangle in the air, but Soren refused to take the bait. Fucker had already intruded on his territory, lounged behind his desk, and helped himself to his liquor. After meeting the sharp end of a silver knife, he was in no mood for whatever games Theo played.
Pushing off the door, Soren made his way to where Theo stood. He locked eyes with the other vampire and reached for the decanter of blood-infused whiskey, and marked up a point of victory when Theo stepped aside.
The win didn’t last long. Theo made himself at home in one of the chairs in front of the empty fireplace. Soren tried to bargain away his irritation with the fact that his desk was now clear, but no amount of silent convincing changed the fact that he felt led around like a dog on a leash.
Keeping his face smooth, he took a seat across from Theo and waited.
He didn’t have long before Theo lifted his glass and studied the red liquor inside. “Perhaps it would be best to simply let sleeping dogs lie.”
Soren eyed him over the rim of his drink. Surely he wasn’t suggesting…?
Theo gave a nonchalant shrug and continued, “A great vampire is dead. Pouring all your thoughts into something that cannot be changed seems such a waste. You should be celebrating your promotion, not chasing your tail your first days in office.”
Setting his glass at his side, Soren drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. Possibilities forked ahead of him. Tell Theo no, and make an immediate enemy. Agree, and potentially bring hell down on his head because he refused to seek out justice for the dead. Do nothing as suggested, and see others die like he’d almost done that very night. Keep searching, and watch them fall anyway.
The political currents washing around his feet were determined to carry him out to sea. He needed to consider his every step and measure each move.
Starting with Theo.
Why would he make the trip from the queen’s side? What did he gain by ending any investigation into Roderick’s death before it truly began?
“If that’s what you think is best,” he stared carefully. With a tilt of his head, he flashed a brief smile. “You’ve been at this longer. I know when to listen to experience.”
He’d already taken one knife that night. He wasn’t about to turn and let Theo plant the next firmly in his back.
“Perfect.” Theo swallowed down the last of his drink and set it on a table at his side. “That’s exactly what Roderick would have done. You’re like him, you know. Always willing to listen before acting. That’s why I recommended you for this job. You’re going to do well here, I think.”
Soren matched the other vampire’s pleased smile, cursing him the entire time. That was one answer. Roana gave the order, but Theo spoke through her mouth.
The queen might have ceded control to her handlers, but he wasn’t a fucking puppet. Theo could make all the assumptions he pleased. He’d listen, sure, and he’d still rip the head from any body that deserved it.
“One can only hope,” Soren murmured into his drink.
Theo watched him for a long moment before throwing back the rest of his blood whiskey. He set his glass on the table and clapped his hands together, letting his eyes roam over the office. “Well,” he said in a booming voice, “I’ll let you get to it. Long nights ahead. Heavy is the crown, and all that.”
Soren pushed to his feet and shook the other vampire’s hand. His pleasant expression fell away as soon as the door closed behind him.
Unease sat heavily in his gut. Roana wasn’t in control of her own court, that much was certain. How many other Theos were giving orders and moving pawns into advantageous positions?
As destructive as the unseelie forces had been, they’d at least united vampires against a common enemy. Too many years without a real challenge made them bored. Bored brought out bad habits.
A prickle ran up his spine and he turned his head to find Faust stepping away from the stone hearth.
The gargoyle cleared his throat. “Sir, if I may?”
“Ah, yes, well, perhaps it would be wise to set a watch on Master Theo?”
“See it done,” he told the gargoyle. “And Faust?”
“Sir?” He paused with his hand on the hearth.
“I trust you won’t tell anyone else about this?”
Faust looked mildly offended as he ducked his head. “I belong to the house,” he said stiffly. “The house belongs to you. Your word is my command.”
At his nod, Faust once again placed his hand on the stone. His entire frame seemed to shimmer and harden as he stepped closer and melted into the hearth.
Soren swept a look around his office. The fireplace was the only stone in those four walls, but there were three other hearths that he knew of. How many other homes had stone for their fireplaces, their driveways, their front steps? How many buildings were built with brick?
Gargoyles were rare, but Faust served as a reminder of eyes and ears everywhere. He’d do well to keep that at the front of his thoughts.
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