Lothaire Read online

Page 18

Page 18


  Elizabeth yanked her hand away from him, chin raised.

  "Shes a feral little human, isnt she?" Hag said.

  "Elizabeth has not yet comprehended her place in the grand scheme of things. " He gave the girl a measured shove toward the kitchen counter. "Sit down, shut up, and touch nothing. "

  She hesitated before sitting on a barstool, still bristling.

  "What brings you here today?" Hag asked.

  "Ive come for a potion. I need to clear my mind to get to my memories. " My Endgame is so close. Then hed have everything hed always wanted.

  Then Ill finally understand the incomprehensible. . . .

  "I need to focus. " On something other than Elizabeths allure.

  Hag slanted doe-brown eyes at him. "Do you wish to discuss business in front of her?"

  He shrugged. "Shell be gone soon. But she does need to eat until then. "

  Hag told her, "Go into the back room and look for a green chest decorated with leafy vines. Open the top and tell it whatever you wish to eat. Do not open the black chest decorated with spiderwebs. "

  When Elizabeth merely narrowed her eyes, Lothaire said, "Do as she commands. You should follow her orders just as you will mine. "

  Elizabeth rose with a huff, then sauntered into the back room. He heard a creaking hinge, then her enunciating, "Fun-yuns. "

  A second later in that country drawl: "Get the hell out!"

  Over his shoulder, he ordered, "Eat something nourishing. "

  After a rebellious pause, she said, "Blo-berry waff-els. May-pole see-rup. " Then she cried, "Hoo!" Excellent.

  She returned with a laden plate and silverware, sitting at the nearby dining table. Now that shed regained her equilibrium, she acted unconcerned by all this, but he knew the wheels were turning, could see that calculating glint to her eyes.

  Yet I cant predict what shell do.

  She cautiously took a bite of her breakfast, murmuring, "Oh, my God, thats good. "

  Another bite, and another. She relished her meal in an almost sensual way. He wondered if shed be like that in bed, savoring the taste of his skin. As Id savor hers.

  Hag was telling him something and he wanted to concentrate, but he kept hearing Elizabeths fork on that plate, her little noises of enjoyment. He found himself rapt as she twirled a bite of waffle in syrup.

  "Are you enjoying your vittles?" he grated to her.

  "Prison grub tastes like trench foot. So, yeah, you could say Im liking this. " With a smug air, she added, "Plus, Im enjoying the fact that I can do something you cant. "

  "Cant I?" He traced to the seat beside her.

  With a challenging lift of her brow, Elizabeth held up a forkful of waffle. "Wanna bite?"

  "You have no idea. "

  "Of waffle. Oh, but youre a bloodsucker. " She gave an exaggerated frown.

  He found it imperative to wipe that look off the mortals face. Though he knew Hag was gazing at him in bafflement, he didnt give a damn. He grasped Elizabeths wrist and took the bite.

  At once, his taste buds screamed wrong! He hadnt masticated in ages and was clumsy with it, but eventually he could swallow the food.

  Elizabeth cast him a surprised half-grin. "Youve got syrup on your lip. Here. " She licked her thumb and reached forward to smooth the syrup away.

  The air between them was electric as he debated tapping her wrist for a drink to wash it all down-

  Hag cleared her throat. "The ring, Lothaire?"

  Reluctantly, he rose. "You still havent seen it in visions?"

  She made room for him to sit at the counter, stowing a pile of what looked like bird skulls. "Ive had no more luck than you. Its hidden, with some very strong magics. Every time I try to uncover its location, I weaken my ability. "

  I can feel the mortals gaze still on me. Which meant he was having difficulty keeping his eyes off her. He shoved his fingers through his hair. "Can you aid my concentration?"

  "Possibly. But we have other concerns as well. La Dorada. "

  The Sorceri Queen of Evil. A few weeks ago, hed located her slumbering in a hidden Amazonian tomb. Shed been half-dead, mummified for centuries in a sarcophagus, with the Ring of Sums on her thumb.

  Though shed had protection spells attached to her, including one guaranteed to wake her, Lothaire had ripped off her crusty thumb and stolen the ring.

  And possibly hed flooded her tomb with a tidal wave.

  Perhaps I oughtnt to have brazenly stolen her most beloved possession off her body, waking her and potentially heralding the apocalypse?

  I mightve left her thumb. . . .

  "Ive seen Dorada in visions, have sensed her," Hag continued. "The Queen of Evil will stop at nothing to punish you. "

  A "Queen" was a sorceress who wielded more control over something than any other sorceress. When Dorada was fully regenerated, she could control evil beings-including Lothaire.

  But he hadnt been concerned about her power, figuring that with the ring he could defeat her easily enough. Yet just when hed been about to slip it on his finger, hed been captured by Declan Chase.

  "Ill deal with her once Ive found the ring," Lothaire said. "Weve got some time. Just seven days ago, I managed to cast her into a fiery chasm. " When all hell had broken loose-or rather, when all the immortal prisoners had broken loose from the Orders holding cells-her zombie Wendigos had attacked him as a pack.

  Hed defeated all of them, a particularly noteworthy feat considering hed been starving, recovering from torture, mystically weakened, and unable to trace. Then hed turned his hate-filled gaze to Dorada. . . .

  Hag fiddled with a smoking flask. "The sorceress is already coming for you. "

  "Risen so quickly, has she?" After dispatching the Wendigos, hed leapt over a crevasse to reach Dorada, casting her down. But shed caught his leg. As theyd dangled, hed done what anyone would in his situation-booted her in the face until her skull caved in and an eye popped out.

  In the end, shed plummeted into an abyss hundreds of feet deep.

  "Yes, Dorada is rebounding from the injuries you inflicted-and from her mummified state. Lothaire, if you barely prevailed against her last time, and she is regenerating now . . . ? Her control over all evil creatures will be absolute in a matter of weeks, maybe even days. "

  Then she could command him to greet a noonday sun in an equatorial desert, which would kill even him.

  Elizabeth coughed, hiding a grin behind her fist.

  "Why are you amused?" he demanded.

  "Sounds to me like you almost got your ass spanked by a chick. I dont know who this Dorada is, but Im wishing her all the luck in the world. "

  Hag gasped. Lothaire slammed his fist onto the stool beside him, smashing it, splinters flying.

  As he and Hag watched in astonishment, the mortal calmly picked them off her plate and out of her hair, then ate another bite of waffle.

  Chapter 18

  Several realities had become apparent to Ellie as the immortals had talked in front of her like she was an oblivious toddler in a high chair.

  One: Lothaire was having difficulty finding the ring that equaled Ellies death.

  Two: His concentration suffered when he went round the bend.

  Three: Ellie needed to make him go round the bend as often as possible.

  Four: She risked dying with every attempt. And that was okay. Win-win.

  Yet now his forbidding expression was doing a number on her courage. To bolster it again, she reminded herself that she was already as good as dead.

  Ellie had once read an article about wartime post-traumatic stress disorder. She remembered one particular army officer would tell new front-line soldiers, "You died the day you signed on for this war. Youre already dead. So why not be brave now?"

  I died the day Saroya landed in me. So why not take Lothaires sanity down with me?

  His voice vibrating with rage, the vampire said, "Id been tortured and deprived of blood for wee