CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ "BLOOD TIES!!"
“I need to see Jareth. Now!”
Marcia, Jareth’s secretary (who used to work for Magnus and is decidedly the most annoying vampire in the known universe) looks up at me over horn-rimmed glasses. (I assume she wears them in an effort to give off that whole “sexy secretary” vibe, seeing as even the most nearsighted human gets twenty-twenty vision once they become a vampire.) She frowns.
“The Master has asked not to be disturbed,” she announces snottily before turning back to her romance novel.
“Oh, he means by other people, I’m sure,” I say quickly. “Not me. He’ll be happy to see me, I promise.”
Marcia makes a big show of looking up from her book again, as if I’m some pesky fly she can’t manage to shoo away. “Ecstatic as any mortal or vampire might be at the announcement of your illustrious arrival, the fact remains, I was told not to disturb him. And, I can assure you, there were no ‘except that weirdo Goth chick I’m hooking up with’ caveats to that order.”
I roll my eyes. She is so ridiculous. Is this what poor Sunny had to go through every time she wanted to meet up with Magnus? Well, sadly for Marcia here, I’m not my sweet little sister, respectful of authority and proper procedure and all the rest.
I start toward the office exit. Then I make a big show of looking down the hallway to my right. “Oh wow. I didn’t realize Race Jameson was coming in today,” I remark casually.
“Wait, what? Race Jameson?” Marcia stammers, her face turning beet red at the name of everyone’s favorite vampire rock star. She scrambles from her seat to take a look for herself.
It’s all the opportunity I need—dashing past her desk and pushing open the door that leads to Jareth’s office. Behind me, I can hear the secretary screaming bloody murder as she realizes she fell for the oldest trick in the book. Seriously, they should probably start administering IQ tests before turning people into vampires.
“I’m sorry, Master!” she cries, bursting into the room behind me. “I tried to tell her—”
But Jareth waves her off. “It’s okay. Thank you Marcia.”
“You want me to drag her out on her ass?” the secretary asks hopefully.
Jareth chuckles. “I don’t think that will be necessary. But I appreciate the offer.”
Marcia scowls. I shoot her a big smile. “Can you get me a glass of O-negative?” I ask sweetly. “Extra sugar? I’m sooo parched!”
The secretary glowers at me and slams the door behind her. I plop down into the chair across from Jareth’s desk. He gives me an amused look. “She’ll probably spit in it, you know,” he says.
I shrug. “That’s okay. I’m not thirsty anyway. Just wanted to make sure she felt useful and valued in her current position.”
“As always, Rayne, your thoughtfulness to the well-being of others simply astounds.” Jareth replies drolly. Then he turns serious. “So to what do I owe this visit? Not that I don’t love seeing you, but I am a bit busy this afternoon.” He sighs, looking down at the mounds of paperwork on his desk. “Sadly, being Coven Master isn’t as glamorous a job as it might seem.”
“I bet,” I say sympathetically. “And this isn’t going to make your day any better, I’m afraid.” I toss the envelope with my assignment down onto his desk. He picks it up and pulls out the paperwork, his pale face growing pinker and pinker as he reads.
“Those bastards,” he growls, crumpling the paper in his hands and tossing it across the room. “I should have suspected something like this.” He groans loudly, then looks at me. “You turned down the assignment, of course.”
“Well, not exactly . . .” I hedge. “It’s complicated.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Turning down an assignment to slay your own sister is complicated?”
“Well, kind of. I mean, look, I know you’re not a fan of Slayer Inc., but . . .”
“Not a fan?” Jareth repeats incredulously. I wince, realizing my bad choice of words. “Not a fan? Rayne, they murdered my whole family in cold blood.” He scowls. “Or did you happen to conveniently forget that little trivial fact about your precious employer?”
I sigh. Here we go again. God, at this point I can’t even count on both hands the number of times we’ve had this argument. In his mind Slayer Inc. is evil incarnate, out to destroy the world. And maybe they were, once upon a time. Hundreds of years ago under completely different management. (Unlike vampire political organizations, which have no term limits and whose rulers can live a thousand years or more, mortal Slayer Inc. officials tend to take the cushy retirement plan when they hit sixty-five.)
But how can you argue semantics with someone whose own sister and brother were targeted for annihilation for no reason at all, except for the unfortunate fact that they’d been turned into vampires as children. (The vampire who turned them had only wanted to save them from the deadly plague that had consumed much of Europe. But to Slayer Inc., child vampirism was—and is—an abomination.)
“I’ll never forget that day,” Jareth says, staring down at his desk, looking miserable. “The day we were asked to vote on whether or not to let Slayer Inc. in as an official police force for the vampire community . . .”
He trails off, but it doesn’t matter. He’s told me the story a thousand times before. How the vote was split right down the middle. How he was forced to become the tie-breaker. How his vote effectively established Slayer Inc. into the role they still hold today.
Of course he could have never known the consequences of his actions . . .
“It didn’t take them long to come after us,” he says in a hoarse whisper and I wonder suddenly if he even remembers I’m still in the room. “We held out for days in our family’s castle—trying to outlast the siege. But the blood ran out and our hunger overtook our good senses. We tried to fight our way out. But they were too strong.”
I walk around his desk, trying to put a hand on his arm—in an effort to comfort him. But he shakes it off, rising to his feet, his body seething with anger.
“I will never forget the look on my sister’s face as that damned slayer struck her in the heart with his stake.” His voice cracks. “She looked straight into my eyes, condemning me for what I had done—blaming me for her death.”
He stands silent for a moment, fists clenched at his sides, in such agony I can’t bear it any longer. I grab him, holding him tight against me, fighting his attempts to shake me away. Finally, his body slumps, as if in defeat, crumbling against my own, soaking in the strength I so willingly try to give him.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I can’t imagine what that would have been like.”
Half of me still wants to argue my case. That the Slayer Inc. of today has introduced so much good into the world—keeping the peace and saving so many lives. With their donor program, for example—which allows humans to be compensated for donating blood to vampires, rather than murdered as twisted cattle to satisfy the beastly hunger we vampires share.
But I know in my heart Jareth cares little for the thousands of mortal lives saved by my employer. He thinks only of those lives they have ended. His sister’s and brother’s—for a crime they didn’t commit. His parents—for trying their best to protect them. I guess I can’t really blame him for feeling as he does.
He looks down at me with bloodstained eyes. “And now they want to take away your sister,” he says slowly. “Just as they once took mine.” His face twists with rage and he shakes free of my grasp. “I won’t let them do that. I won’t be responsible for another innocent death!”
I squeeze my eyes shut in frustration, then open them again, entreating him. “But Jareth, you don’t understand,” I try. “Things are different now. Slayer Inc. doesn’t want to slay Sunny. Or Magnus, for that matter. They know Pyrus is a tyrant and they want to bring him down as much as we do. They’re on our side this time.”
“I will never, ever be on the side of Slayer Inc.”
I give up, walking around and slumping back into my chair. How can I argue with a vampire who holds a 700-year-old grudge?
“Look, I’m not asking you to sit around the campfire with them, singing ‘Kumbaya,’” I remind him. “Just let me work with them for now. Let Pyrus think I’m on the job. And in the meantime, Slayer Inc. can work to build their own case against him and his reign of terror. I mean imagine if they were successful! We could get rid of him forever. Magnus and Sunny could come back home. The Consortium could return to a democracy. These are all things I know you want, Jareth. And Slayer Inc. is the only one right now that can give them to us.”
My boyfriend rakes a hand through his blond hair. Considering vampires never age, he’s suddenly looking kind of old. I guess stress can do that to you.
“I see what you’re saying,” he says at last. “I can’t make a move against Pyrus while still running the Blood Coven. If he suspected disloyalty, he’d have me removed from power—leaving the vampires in my protection in danger.”
“Exactly,” I say, rising from my chair, excited he’s finally seeing the point. “So why not let Slayer Inc. do the dirty work instead? After all, that’s what you hired them for in the beginning, right?” I hold my breath, waiting for his reply.
“Right,” he says at last. “But I still don’t like the idea of you involved in any of it. It’s dangerous. And don’t think for a moment Slayer Inc. won’t throw you under a bus if it allows them to keep their cover. Are you prepared to deal with that possibility?”
I nod my head resolutely. “Absolutely. If it means saving my sister and Magnus—not to mention the Blood Coven.”
He stares at me for a moment and I stare back, my shoulders squared and my chin held high. Sure, I’m scared as hell, but he doesn’t need to know that right now. He needs to see my dedication to the mission ahead. He needs to know I’ll do whatever it takes to save my family. Just as he once tried to save his own.
And then he’s on me in a movement so quick I can scarcely track it, pulling me into a hot embrace, burying his face into the top of my head. I find myself melting into his arms, rejoicing in the feel of his strong body, pressed against mine. God, I love this vampire so much, it hurts sometimes.
“You’re so brave,” he whispers in my ear, stroking my hair with trembling hands. “So fierce. I wish I were more like you. Maybe then I would have been able to save my family, too.”
I open my mouth to protest, but he places a finger to my lips. “I don’t want to talk any more about the past,” he whispers. “I just want you to listen to me now.”
I nod slowly, meeting his beautiful eyes with my own.
“I love you,” he says. “And I trust you more than anyone in the world. If you say Slayer Inc. can help us—well, then I will respect your judgment and not interfere.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, knowing how hard it must be for him to make such a promise.
“And I will do anything I can—within my limited capacity—to help you keep your sister safe.” He pauses, then adds, “No matter what it takes.”
A chill trips down my spine at his words and I throw my arms around him, not wanting to let go. “I love you, Jareth,” I murmur as I cover his face with kisses before finding his lips with my own. “And I won’t let you down.”
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