Lothaire Read online

Page 15

Page 15


  "So perhaps Im not completely evil?" He gave a humorless laugh. "Most of the time Im the one who manipulates creatures into desperate positions. For instance, Ill fatally wound a loved one, then offer to save her. "

  "Those targeted names are in for one hell of a surprise, huh?"

  Elizabeth was cleverer than hed initially deemed her. "Precisely. "

  He dragged his gaze from the pages to her face, inspecting it as he might a painting hed found superficially appealing only to discover layers, nuances.

  He shook his head hard. No, if Saroya were at the fore, hed be feeling this desire, this fascination even, for her alone.

  "What do you usually demand of them?"

  "I dont often collect on these. " His debtors always assumed hed demand their firstborn. Like Im fucking Rumpelstiltskin? What would Lothaire do with countless squalling babes? Raise them in a kennel? "But when I make my move to take my thrones, their accounts will come due. "

  And the world will quake.

  His lips curled as he reviewed some of the newest entries: two royal members of the Lykae Clan MacRieve; the sea god Nereus; Loa the voodoo priestess; Gamboa the demonic drug lord; Rydstrom Woede, king of the rage demons.

  "All that work to get those thrones?"

  "Yes. Anything for them. " Hed fought side by side with a Valkyrie he hated when all hed wanted to do was exact revenge on her. Hed aligned with various demonarchies, convincing some that he was the devil incarnate, dedicated to leading them back to hell.

  Hed sworn fealty to a vampire king-one whod sat upon Lothaires own throne.

  "If your kingdoms are so important, then whyd you lose them in the first place?"

  "I couldnt expect you to understand the political machinations of vampires. "

  She tilted her head at him. "None of your debtors ever welsh?"

  "Vows to the Lore are unbreakable. "

  "Then Im surprised they dont just try to kill you. "

  "Oh, they do, constantly," he said. "And now theyll be coming after you, thinking to trade you for their debt or to cash in on a bounty. Then, of course, there are the retribution seekers, bent on avenging whatever murders Ive committed. " He leveled his gaze on her. "Ive committed

  many. "

  She didnt look away. In fact, he got the uncanny impression that she was studying him.

  The insect wants to understand the magnifying glass.

  "Is that why youre called the Enemy of Old?"

  "Partly. Also because I show up like a plague every couple of centuries, killing masses of beings before disappearing. " Sometimes disappearing involuntarily.

  "Theres an actual bounty on my head?"

  When Lothaire found out whod posted it, blood would run. "My Bride would already be target number one in the Lore. Now thousands will fight for the reward-and theyll believe that you are mine. Theyll be using oracles to track your movements. So if somehow you were able to escape this boundary, youd be abducted in seconds. They would do terrible things to you. "

  She raised her brows. "I can only imagine how bad something would have to be for you to call it terrible. But if theyre offering death, dont forget that I want to die. "

  "Some foes would take your life. Most would keep you. An anatomically incorrect sea god would love nothing more than to plumb your depths and steal your virginity. My vampire enemies would keep you alive for food, piercing you nightly for decades. Demons would consign you to their notorious harems, where youd be whored out for all the many creatures whod pay handsomely for a chance to humiliate Lothaires Bride. Youd learn to polish demon horns in the most degrading ways. "

  She swallowed. "Harems and whoring and horns, then?"

  "Suddenly the fate I have planned for you doesnt seem so egregious?"

  She returned to the settee, sitting less stiffly than before. "Just to be clear. My fate, as you intend it, goes like this: In one to thirty days, youll send my soul packing-to wherever souls go-and my family will never be harmed by you. "

  "Approximately," he replied, using one of his favorite go-to words. The girl would assume he addressed the number of days. Actually, he spoke of the "soul packing" portion. Her soul would be extinguished-

  "By approximately, do you mean the one to thirty, or the rest of it?"

  Little witch. "The question you shouldve asked is why the days are so variable. "

  "Lothaire. Why are the days so variable?"

  "Ive told you I need a special ring to make Saroya a vampire. The same ring will free your soul from your body. " Not a lie. "It might take me weeks to locate it. "

  "I see. Not that Im complaining, but if youre supposed to be searching for something, then why were you trying to sleep tonight? Isnt this pretty much your nine-to-five? Shouldnt you be out tracing the pavement even now?"

  She made him sound lazy.

  No one worked harder than he did on his seven little tasks: find the ring, dispose of the humans soul, turn Saroya into a vampire, kill La Dorada, claim the Horde crown, find Serghei to burn him alive, conquer the Daci.

  He took no pleasure from life, enjoyed no amusements. Everything served his Endgame.

  Wearied just to think of all that work, he leaned back in his chair. And again, he got the feeling that she was studying him. "Sleep and work are one and the same now. "

  "I dont understand. "

  "When I drink blood straight from the vein, I can harvest my victims memories. I see his recollections in my dreams, reliving them when I sleep. I feel the bite of cold on his skin, the pain of his injuries, even his death at my hands. Recently, I drank from a man who knows where the ring is. Now I have only to get at that memory, but its easier said than done. I have to wade through a lot of them. "

  She ran her fingertips over the graze on her neck. "Will you dream mine?"

  "Likely. Cannot wait for fond remembrances of squirrel stew around the trailer hearth. "

  She parted her lips, no doubt to deliver a cutting retort, then stifled it. "How do you know whats a regular dream and whats from someone elses life?"

  "I dont dream anything but memories, and only theirs. "

  "No wonder youre crazy. But I affect your sanity, dont I?"

  "Saroya affects my sanity. Youre merely a placeholder. "

  "So if the ring equals my death, then every time you sleep means Im closer to dying?"

  "Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes. "

  Finally she gazed away, saying quietly, "Would you give me advance notice?"

  "No. No more than you would those deer you hunted. "

  "They were animals!"

  "Are you much more?" he asked in a thoughtful tone. "And what would you do with your advance notice?"

  "Id want to write to my family. "

  "Ah, Ellie Anns last letters. How touching. But theres no room in the Lore for sentimentality. " When he folded his arms over his chest, she seemed to be making a mental note of it.

  Hed actually felt a jot sentimental earlier when hed realized that Chase might die-and with him, Lothaires sole hope of a vampire line. Am I to leave nothing of myself behind?

  Long ago, Lothaire had created vampires on occasion, but they always predeceased him. Hed lost his taste for it.

  Everyone died before him. And now am I to be maudlin, feeling my age?

  Elizabeth asked, "Have you ever done anything for another without expecting something in return?"

  "Ill cast my mind back. Further . . . further . . . Ah, yes. During the Iron Age, I came upon a dying mortal warrior on a battlefield. He wanted me to get a message to his wife and children. I was in a whimsical mood. Give her the message yourself, I told him, and turned him into a vampire. When he reunited with her, she ran to him, tears of joy streaming down her face, their children trailing her. As their offspring rejoiced, he swung her up in his arms, squeezing her to his chest. Such a poignant moment, such emotion-until she popped like a grape. "

  Elizabeth was aghast.