Lothaire Read online

Page 20


Page 20

 

  Ellie was about to exhale a pent-up breath when she remembered an old cops trick. "Straight face, Hag. Hes coming right back. "

  Chapter 20

  Theyre up to something.

  Lothaire returned to Hags home seconds later to catch them sharing a confidence, a look of relief. . . .

  Hed made himself invisible, but he merely found the fey stirring her pot while Elizabeth continued to drum her nails on the counter.

  With narrowed eyes, Lothaire returned to his task. Yes, up to something. But he didnt have the time-or the clarity-to delve.

  Over the last few hours, hed covered miles, racing outward from Rioras empty temple through an ancient forest.

  Since he could only trace to places hed previously been or places he could see, he had difficulty covering large amounts of ground. It was almost as easy to run, following the trails animals made as they fled his presence. Even other predators fear me. . . .

  Though this task could help him complete his Endgame, he found his thoughts drifting to Elizabeth yet again, this time to the look of longing on her face as shed stared at the sea.

  His satisfaction over that had proved curiously less than hed expected.

  Why couldnt he stop thinking about her? Or how shed melted for him earlier at the apartment?

  Because even I look like an option.

  Hed never had trouble with females before. Now two had come into his life, as if solely to plague him.

  One didnt seem to desire him; the other did, but only because shed been deprived of any male. That mouth of yourn feels so good. . . .

  What would he do if Saroya still hadnt risen by tonight? Betray his Bride?

  Lothaires need to be faithful wasnt for sentimental reasons, but for logical ones. Hed studied the truly great kings and queens in the Lore, and historically, royal couples who amassed power together did not sleep with others.

  The males didnt take concubines. The females didnt secretly slip into others beds.

  The pair presented a united front to the world, with no cracks in their foundation for enemies to worm their way into. Each demonstrated utter loyalty-only to the other.

  Lothaire couldnt argue with facts.

  Hed expected this unity with Saroya, had planned for it. But technically, Elizabeth and Saroya were one and the same. If his Bride didnt see the difference, then perhaps he shouldnt scruple over it. He could enjoy Elizabeth and still be faithful-

  He tensed, catching the shifter packs scent. He tracked it to a den entrance, then plunged inside.

  Into the earth. Stay focused. Five ash vines. In. Out.

  He followed a tunnel to a vaultlike cavern-their central gathering place, with offshoot passageways in all directions. Around a fire, bedding covered the ground, and stone benches lined the walls.

  Roots dangled from the ceiling like grasping fingers. The earth grinding over me . . .

  Block out that memory. Or stare into the abyss. Block it out. Focus!

  He scented mortals somewhere deeper in the cavern. Their slaves.

  The shifters began to emerge from other tunnels. Dozens surrounded him, all in their human forms, but tensed with aggression.

  The largest one, the alpha, said, "A vampire dares to enter our territory, trespassing near our women?"

  "There is little daring to it. " Only a madman would enter a shifters den? Lothaire was beset with boredom. How many packs had he faced and slaughtered? Incalculable. "I seek ash vines. Give them to me, and Ill spare you all. "

  "Who the hell are you?" the alpha demanded.

  "Im the Enemy of Old. "

  Alphas eyes went wide. "You killed my father and three older brothers. "

  Lothaire drawled, "Never heard that before. " Apparently, hed killed so many family members that he must have significantly affected the Lores population. Doing my part for the environment.

  A burly no-necked male said, "The leech targeted an alphas line? Now hes going to die. "

  Broken record.

  "Lets leave him be," a more cowardly-or wise-shifter advised. Others murmured in agreement.

  "Are you all crazy?" Alpha glowered. "Theres thirty of us. One of him. "

  Out of the corner of his mouth, the coward insisted, "But . . . but its the Enemy of Old. " Then to Lothaire, he said, "Were out of the vines, and our supplier wont have them for weeks. I vow it to the Lore. "

  "Shut the fuck up!" Alpha ordered.

  No vines. Lothaire should trace away, not risking his bloodlust, ensuring he didnt drink any of these animals in the heat of the fight-

  "Look at that," No-neck said, "hes going to trace away, run back to his

  king. Oh, wait-your king got killed, just last spring. Assassinated in

  his own castle. "

  The king Lothaire had served. The king hed failed.

  The death I both mourned-and celebrated.

  A quiet rage simmered inside Lothaire. His mind grew tunnel-visioned. Everything around him slowed until even their racing heartbeats sounded ponderous, like clocks ticking in oil.

  The alpha will slash with the claws of his dominant left hand. Ill slice off his arm with my right, use my left to sever his jugular. Coward will hesitantly attack from behind. A kick backward will connect with his chest and crush his rib cage. No-neck will snatch up a stone bench, swinging while I punch through his chest and remove his heart.

  The rest will react uncontrollably, shifting and attacking as a pack.

  "Youve erred for ill. " Lothaire bared his fangs. "Now you all get to die. "

  Chapter 21

  So whats my reward for saving your fey ass?" Ellie asked when Hag returned to the kitchen.

  Shortly after Lothaires last suspicious pop-in, Hag had excused herself, saying she needed to check on something. Now that shed returned, she stared at Ellie with a strange intensity.

  "Go to that bookshelf. " Hag pointed out a rickety set of shelves. "Look for a very old tome entitled The Living Book of Lore. Its a self-updating encyclopedia of our world. "

  "Encyclopedia?" Score! Ellie found it, cracking open the musty pages. The words were handwritten in an old-style script, but legible.

  "If Lothaire returns and finds you with it, Ill deny pointing it out to you. "

  "Ten-four. " Moments later, Ellie reclined with the book on a deck lounge chair under the nearly full moon.

  At once, she searched for a "goddess of blood" or "Saroya" or "soul reaper," but came up empty. Discouraged, she turned to the Vampires entry. Now there was information for the taking! She began reading intently about the vampire factions.

  Lothaire had sneered to her, "I couldnt expect you to understand the political machinations of vampires. "

  Therefore it was imperative for Ellie to understand them.

  The Forbearers were a relatively new army of turned humans led by a natural-born vampire named Kristoff the Gravewalker. Theyd vowed not to drink blood straight from the flesh-to forbear. Their eyes were clear, their minds strong. Kristoff ruled them from his castle on Mt. Oblak.

  The Daci were supposedly another faction, thought to be the first vampires. They were rumored to exist in an underground kingdom-with a fabled black castle that no one in the Lore could find. Nor could any prove their existence.

  The Horde was the main vampire kingdom, populated mostly by the Fallen-red-eyed vampires like Lothaire whod killed as theyd drunk their prey. They were led by Tymur the Allegiant, so called because he served whatever king sat upon the throne.

  Even if his previous master had been slain by his new one.

  Since King Demestrius death the year before, Tymur and other loyalist vampires had held Castle Helvita, the royal seat, as they waited for the next heir to come forward. They would only accept a legitimate royal heir who held sacred the Thirst-the need for vampires to drink from the flesh.

  Lothaire certainly had no problem drinking from others. So was he illegitimate?

  From what sh