But such magic would not go over well with the Vampire King, who maintained a strict hold over his kingdom. He was the iron fist in the velvet glove that no vampire in their right mind would dare go up against.
Charles had little choice. He was what he was – had been born that way. Wraythe understood this. Long ago, he’d taken him under his wing and shown him the way. Malachi taught Charles everything he knew, and it was this forbidden knowledge that Charles’ many shields kept from his king’s incredible perception.
Of course… there was a chance that D’Angelo knew anyway.
D’Angelo knew everything. That was what they said.
The king’s eyes were more keen than any Charles had ever peered into. They were dark, the absence of light, as if all knowledge was sucked into them and hidden in fathomless depths, never to be released again. He had a way about him, a way of seeing things that weren’t quite there and hearing things that no one had yet said. Where magic was the sixth sense, Roman D’Angelo possessed a seventh.
Nothing escaped him.
This was how Charles knew that D’Angelo had played the primary role in Wraythe’s demise. D’Angelo had never liked the Warlock King. He’d forbidden his people from working with him and those closest to him. He didn’t like Wraythe’s daughter, the vampire princess, and it was well known in Offspring circles that D’Angelo had a particular problem with the way Wraythe had more or less enslaved his wife, the Akyri queen, Olivia.
Rumor was that D’Angelo was responsible for the vampire princess’s murder. Shortly afterward, when Wraythe himself was killed, Charles was on a mission personally assigned to him by D’Angelo. Why?
It was as if the Vampire King knew that Charles would attempt to interfere. But for this to be true, D’Angelo would also have to be aware of Charles and Wraythe’s friendship.
And it was for this reason that despite the precautions Charles had taken before coming to the mandatory meeting of the members of the king’s court, he now sat down a polished wooden table from the enigmatic, powerful man and feared that D’Angelo knew something anyway. That he could read his thoughts.
And that he would realize Charles planned on killing him.
“Mr. Ward,” D’Angelo suddenly spoke softly, his incredibly charismatic voice carrying the power of ages behind it.
Charles almost jumped. But that would have been too obvious, so instead, he licked his lips and attempted to meet his king’s gaze. It was nearly impossible. There was no gaze on Earth like D’Angelo’s.
“Yes, my lord?”
“You seem troubled,” D’Angelo said, his calm completely unruffled, his dark eyes wholly unnerving. “Are you not well?”
“I’m hungry, that is all,” Charles said. “Please continue.”
They’d been discussing the werewolf community and the effects of the reversal of a four-thousand-year-old werewolf curse. Up until a few weeks ago, male werewolves had held all of the cards in their particular society. They were the ones with superhuman strength, the ability to heal from most wounds, an aging rate that was half to one-third that of mortals and much more. Each male werewolf alpha was born with a certain power that set him apart from the others. But their female kin possessed none of these traits or abilities. Most detrimental was the fact that female werewolves were not capable of producing werewolf children. Because of this, male wolves had been forced to hunt down special women, women who could produce werewolf children – women known as dormants. These dormants had become essential to werewolf survival.
Until now. Several weeks earlier, with the death of Malachi Wraythe and a sacrifice made by a dormant now known throughout supernatural circles as the “Curse Breaker,” came the end of the black-magic curse that had forced the powers of werewolf females into nonexistence. Now the women were just as strong as the men in every possible way. More importantly, werewolf females were suddenly revealing that they were a few weeks pregnant.
These sudden and intensely imperative changes were having major repercussions that spread like shockwaves across the supernatural societies of the world. The population of viable werewolves had basically doubled overnight. Where there had been perhaps five thousand, there were now ten.
The vampire hierarchy, also known as the “Court,” had joined in this meeting in order to discuss what should be done on their end to deal with these changes and the havoc they were wreaking.
“Two hundred women in New York suddenly woke up and had the powers their brothers or fathers have always had,” said one of the men at the table. He had shoulder-length dark blond hair, incredibly broad shoulders, and piercing blue eyes. His name was Saxon, and though there was no human position like his, the closest comparison would be to say that he was the general in D’Angelo’s vampire army.
“You can imagine what kind of an effect that had,” Saxon finished. Charles could feel that the Vampire King’s eyes were still trained on him and had yet to focus on Saxon. D’Angelo was suspicious of something, and that suspicion was nearly palpable.
“You don’t have to imagine it,” said another vampire at the table. She had bright red hair that had been cut into a razored bob, a small up-turned nose, and pretty, fairy-like features. Her name was Samantha, and to Charles’ knowledge, she was the single most brilliant techno geek carrying vampire blood. She was also the youngest vampire he knew of, at just twenty-five human years. “I’ve been scrubbing YouTube of impromptu videos for the last three days. A fist fight in a high school parking lot saw a rather mousy young woman nearly break the neck of her much larger opponent with a single punch. And don’t get me started on the sudden sightings of wolves where they’re supposed to be extinct.”
“It’s actually much more complicated,” said another woman at the table. She was older than the red-head, perhaps forty to forty-five, and starkly beautiful. Her thick black hair fell in waves over her shoulders and down her back. Her green eyes were piercing and highly intelligent. Her broad lips were seductive and perfect. She looked pointedly at each of the individuals at the table before she went on. “Many female born werewolves who have grown up without powers and never believing they would have powers have married mortal men and have given birth to mortal children.” She paused, allowed this information to sink in, and then continued. “They’re now having to somehow break the news of their real ancestry to their husbands, who might at any moment catch their wives performing incredible feats of strength or even flashing into wolf form.”
“There’s also the matter of beta wolves,” chimed in yet another vampire. Charles turned to look at him. David Cade was a soft-spoken man with the looks of a movie star and the brain of an eccentric genius. He was shy and perhaps overly sensitive and mostly kept to himself, and Charles was fairly certain that he was one of D’Angelo’s most trusted bosom companions. He was also deceiving. He may have been on the quiet side, but Charles knew that Cade could take charge of a situation with incredible speed and acumen.
“Beta werewolves who had never planned on having werewolf children because they couldn’t win a dormant for a mate are now capable of having werewolf children of their own,” Cade said softly, his intelligent, bright hazel eyes looking down at the table as he spoke. “What are they going to tell their mortal wives?”
“That’s the least of our worries,” Saxon said, though his tone was not disrespectful, only concerned. “If enough female-borns mess up in public to expose the werewolf population for what it truly is, it paves the way for the exposure of every other supernatural race on the planet. Hunters will have a field day with us all then.”
“They’re certainly having a field day now,” said Samantha. “If we thought that Gabriel Phelan was as bad as it could get, we were dead wrong. The Hunters’ new leader is ten times worse and apparently he’s backed by some kind of magic. He’s been able to organize the Hunters like never before and their numbers are growing, not dwindling. They’re listening in on police scanners and following ‘wolf’ sightings to their targets, among other thin
gs.” Sam shook her head and sat back in her chair. “The blood bath continues.”
“These issues and more are being dealt with by members of the werewolf community as we speak,” D’Angelo said, his calm and low voice once more overriding everything else in the room. “And the way in which said issues are dealt with will have an undeniable effect upon not only their community, but ours.” D’Angelo leaned forward, folded his hands on the table, and allowed his presence to be truly felt. “It can be safely assumed that werewolves will be much stronger players in the game now. Whether they are allies or opponents is up to us.”
Silence stretched over the inhabitants of D’Angelo’s meeting room. The king’s point had been clearly made. It was up to the Offspring society to help wherever and whenever they could.
“Court is adjourned,” D’Angelo said then, his voice so soft it was nearly a sigh. He backed up his chair and stood, exuding grace with every tiny movement he made. The rest of the vampires at the table followed suit until everyone was standing. D’Angelo excused them all and the eight of them began to leave the room. Charles glanced over his shoulder as he exited through the meeting room’s massive double doors. David Cade remained behind; the other vampire was watching him. For a brief moment, their eyes met, and a thrum of fear went through Charles. Cade was a very smart man. Did he know something? Had he figured something out?
Luckily, Charles’ magic would hide any subliminal signs of nervousness. It was up to Charles to hide the rest. He forced his expression to remain neutral, turned away from the room, and left the mansion.
“He has a darkness about him,” Cade said. “I don’t trust him.”
Roman gave David a side-long glance. The corners of his mouth turned up in the slightest of smiles. David Cade was not only highly intelligent, but incredibly astute. “Neither do I,” Roman admitted softly.
David turned away from the open doors through which the members of the court had disappeared and gave Roman a long, searching look. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” he questioned.
“Let me know if you need my help,” David offered as he then made his way through the double doors himself. Roman knew he was talking about Charles Ward and not the werewolf situation. He nodded, just once, and David returned the gesture before disappearing entirely.
Now alone once more, Roman waited a moment in the hollow emptiness of the room. Then he turned, flicking his wrist as he faced the hearth against one wall. The double doors swung gently shut behind him. Flames erupted in the empty fire place, at once crackling to life and filling the room with a welcome glow.
Roman closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he pressed his palms to the mantle and leaned forward to drop his head.
He’d known she was there. It was the reason he’d started the fire; her old bones preferred the warmth – and he preferred her company. “My sleep has been troubled,” he said softly without looking up and without turning around.
“I thought vampires didn’t need to sleep,” Lalura said, both genuine curiosity and a hint of teasing in her slightly gravelly voice.
Roman’s lips cracked a smile. He lifted his head and pushed off of the mantle to turn and face the old witch. She wasn’t looking at him. She was eyeing the tall wooden-backed chairs at the meeting table with obvious disdain. Lalura Chantelle preferred much softer seating accommodations.
Roman spoke a few arcane words and zeroed in on the table and chairs. A soft, glittering glow began to emanate from their surfaces. That glow spread, intensified, and then flashed bright white. When it was gone, so were the mahogany table and the unforgiving wooden chairs.
In their place rested the set of double-stuffed love seats Lalura seemed to favor from Roman’s study. Between the two seats sat a small glass coffee table, upon which waited a steaming tea pot and two empty mugs.
Lalura didn’t hesitate and she didn’t at all seem surprised. Instead, the tiny, bent woman with long, thick white hair and piercing blue eyes harrumphed as if to say, “That’s better,” or “Damn straight” and made her way around one of the seats before plopping unceremoniously into it.
She shut her eyes for a moment, sighed to herself, and then pinned the teapot with her blue, blue eyes. “This got the milk in it already?” she asked as she leaned forward and picked up the tea pot.
“Of course,” Roman replied. He found that the smile she’d placed on his lips moments ago had only grown.
Lalura proceeded to pour the contents of the tea pot into each of the mugs, and then picked hers up and waved it under her nose. Roman waited, feeling oddly tense as she seemed to consider the tea. And then she nodded, more to herself than anyone else, and took a tentative sip.
Roman relaxed at once and made his way to the love seat opposite her. He sat down, leaned forward, and placed his elbows on his knees. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Lalura?” he asked.
Lalura eyed him steadily, her expression hard and unreadable. “Give me a break, Roman, I’m ancient, and I’m growing older by the second. You know damn well why I’m here.”
Roman’s brow lifted. He sat back in the seat and cocked his head to one side. If he’d wanted to, he could have read her thoughts, but he’d always considered it rude to do so without permission or probable cause, and Lalura was the most respectable – and respected – individual he’d ever come to know. To break the trust he had with her would rub him very wrong.
And in this instance, she was right. He knew why she was there. He took a deep breath and said, “I’m dreaming of her.”
“I figured,” Lalura said. “When you said your sleep was troubled.” She paused. “I’m also assuming you’re not talking about Ophelia.”
Roman turned away from Lalura to gaze out the window across the room. As did all of the windows in his mansion, this one looked out over an inner courtyard. At the center of the courtyard stood a marble fountain, its middle statue of a beautiful woman who gazed longingly up at the night sky.
Two hundred years ago, Roman had been engaged to a young London socialite. She had been very lovely and very sought after. But of all of the men who courted her, she chose him.
Before they could be married, disaster struck. The papers that morning read that a carriage’s horses were spooked and the young beauty was killed.
It was so long ago….
“No,” he said. “Not Ophelia.”
“How long now?” Lalura asked. Roman turned back to her. She was watching him intently over the rim of her steaming mug.
“Since well before your cryptic warning last week,” he said, meeting her gaze head on.
Lalura lowered her mug a touch and lifted her chin. She seemed to hesitate.
Just after the death of the Warlock King and the lift of the werewolf curse that was now causing so many changes in their society, the old witch had paid Roman a visit. And just before she’d left, she’d told him something….
“I know you were playing chess with my pieces again, by the way,” she accused.
Roman nodded, just once. “She needed my help.”
“Indeed,” Lalura agreed. “And on that note, Roman,” she said as she raised her hand and prepared to snap. Always the drama. “Someone else out there needs your help more.”
And then, with the typical smoke and pixie dust that was Lalura Chantelle, the witch had once more disappeared to leave Roman to his solitude.
Now the Vampire King settled his unsettling gaze on his ancient companion and allowed the seriousness of his emotion to find its way into his calm, deep voice. “Perhaps you should let me in on the joke, Lalura.”
Lalura sighed and set down her mug. “I would if I could, Roman,” she told him frankly. “The truth is, I know nothing more than you do.” She shrugged. “I know that you’re meant to help someone. How? When? I haven’t a clue. I know that she will play a very important role for you in the days soon to come.” She slapped her hands
onto her lap. “And that’s about the whole enchilada.”
Roman considered this and leaned back once more into the cushions of his seat. He thought of the dreams he’d been having. They were indistinct, fractured, and troubling. And in all of them, he saw a set of pain-filled eyes that both mesmerized and infuriated him. He wanted to take their pain away. He wanted to find their owner. He wanted to do things he hadn’t thought of doing in ages.
When he awoke, it was always the same. He was angry and he was hungry. He’d been feeding more often of late because of it. If things didn’t change soon, he would have to make a kill long before he should have to.
“My advice to you, your majesty,” said Lalura as she slowly pushed herself up on to her rickety legs, “would be to get off of your royal ass and try to find that girl.”
Roman watched as the witch hobbled around her seat to an open spot in the room. She brushed her robe-like clothes straight and glanced back at the coffee table. The half-full tea pot still steamed, forever magically warm. She eyed it greedily, pointed a magic finger at it, and watched it disappear.
“I’ll return the pot later.” She nodded, as if to herself, and then sighed. “Time’s running out, Roman. That much, I do know.”
With a grand flourish, the old witch waved her arm above her head. The air began to stir and fill with the vibration of time and space magic. Roman stood. It was customary for a gentleman to stand as a lady entered and left a room.
Lalura looked back over at him and went still, her arm poised ready over her head. “And Roman,” she said.
He waited, almost dreading what was about to come.
“It smells like black magic in here.”
With that, she snapped her fingers. This time, the air filled with pink crackling, the sound of static, and an unmistakable zap of a transportation spell. Moments later, Lalura was gone.
The Vampire King Page 2