Lothaire Read online

Page 41

Page 41


  As if wed want you.

  "My connection to the Order is terminated," Chase said. "Just keep the ring out of that vampires hands. Amazingly, I trust Lothaire with it even less than I do you. "

  Words hurt, Chase.

  "Youre truly going to ally with miscreats?" Webb demanded. "Have you forgotten that those abominations tortured and killed your parents? Tortured and nearly killed you? I saved you from them!"

  "I am one of those miscreats, Webb. A born berserker. "

  Shaking off the Orders brainwashing, are we, Blademan?

  Though Webbs face was flushed with rage, his tone remained fatherly, concerned. "Son, your minds unclear. That female has swayed you. "

  "Im not your son," Chase snapped. "And that female is going to be my wife. Better Regin sway me than you. "


  "I reported to the Order that you died on the island," Webb said. "And Ill stick to that, but only if you stand down against our mission. "

  Chase replied, "You told me I was either on your side or theirs. You were right. Harm any among my allies, and Ill retaliate. " Click.

  The Blademan rises a notch in my estimation.

  As soon as the call ended, Lothaire said, "Ah, was that Chase warning you against me? Shame. If only hed done so sooner. "

  The commander whirled around, firing a charge thrower at him.

  Lothaire laughed as the electrical stream passed through his torso. "Half-tracing, Webb. You cant touch me. But I can touch you. " He briefly materialized to knock the gun from Webbs hand, breaking the mortals arm with a satisfying crack.

  Webb yelled with pain, his other hand darting for a button under his desk.

  "Ah-ah, dont touch that alarm. " Lothaire secured the mans hand in his own fist. Giving the lightest squeeze, he shattered Webbs bones like a crushed walnut.

  As the man bit out a scream, Lothaire smiled down, knowing how terrifying he looked-the face of death. "Now you have two choices, human. If you tell me the combination to your safe and reveal what countermeasures are in place, I might spare your life. Or I can torture you for the information, then drink your memories so I can find and punish your family as well. You have one hidden somewhere, dont you?"

  "Never. Never will I tell you!"

  "Very well. Ill enjoy it more if you struggle. . . . "

  Ultimately, he tortured Webb until the man begged to divulge all. After a while, Lothaire let him.

  "And one last question," Lothaire said, rising above the mans mutilated body. "Who gave the Order my name? Who put me on Chases capture list?"

  Blood bubbled from Webbs lips as he laughed brokenly. "Vampire . . . deep down . . . you know. "

  At that, Lothaires composure faltered. Hed had a suspicion, of course, but it couldnt be correct. "Not possible. "

  Between choking coughs, Webb grated, "You know . . . who gave you to us. "

  He had to be lying. Only one way to find out for certain.

  Lothaires gaze dropped to the mans neck. Would this be the victim that sent him into the abyss? Could he stop short of drinking Webb to the quick?

  Must risk it. "Im going to drain you now. " Lothaire hauled the man to his feet. "Do resist. It adds something. " Then he pierced Webbs jugular, grimacing at the blood.

  The commander tasted like sewage compared to Elizabeth. But the impending kill teased Lothaire, beckoned him to suck harder as Webbs flailing body grew lighter and lighter from blood loss.

  When the man fell limp, Lothaire dropped him, staggering back. Whats in his blood?

  A narcotic haze shrouded him. Raw, potent. Lothaire was high from it, too high to ponder why. He slid his back down a wall, closing his eyes against the spinning room.

  As Webb took his last rattling breath, images began to stream through Lothaires mind at light speed. He fell into a quasi-sleep, immersed in the mans twisted memories.

  What felt like hours passed before Lothaire could seize on the memory he sought. . . .

  The commander hadnt lied about Lothaires betrayer.

  Bile rose in Lothaires throat, a spike of pure hatred reviving him. He slitted open his eyes. Everyone hed ever trusted had died-or betrayed him.

  Elizabeth can still do one. Or both.

  Forever betrayed. Stefanovich, Serghei, Fyodor, Saroya, even the one being Lothaire had called friend. . . .

  But not Elizabeth. Never her.

  He lumbered to his feet, kicked Webbs lifeless body-good riddance, prick-then started for the safe.

  Now to disable all the safeguards. Press a button there, enter a false code, turn the lever once. Enter the real code.

  Puzzle moves. If Lothaire didnt have so much on the line, he might have enjoyed this.

  With a hiss, the safe door opened. There. A black velvet pouch.

  He slipped the ring from it. As he donned the plain gold band, he felt an unfathomable power radiating from it.

  Wasting not one second, Lothaire twisted the ring, making his wish. Go back in time to undo my vows to Saroya the Soul Reaper.

  Nothing. Lothaire felt no surge of power as he had in the past with other lesser talismans.

  Maybe the ring forbade time-travel. He amended his wish: Erase my vows to Saroya.

  Again, nothing. Dear gods, the ring had denied him; the vows remained sacrosanct. The pull to destroy his Bride grew overwhelming.

  Death was the only move left on the chessboard. Elizabeths or his own?

  He gazed out the study window. The sun was rising, rays of light erupting over distant mountains.

  Like clutching fingers. His instinct was to go to ground, to evade their grasp.

  Could he sacrifice himself for Elizabeth? Part of him could scarcely believe that Lothaire-the black-hearted Enemy of Old-was even contemplating this! To spare her, would he render himself to ash?

  As Ivana had all those years ago to protect him . . .

  He told himself he was considering this only because Elizabeths death would alter him. How could any vampire go on living without his Bride? He tried to convince himself that his heart held no sway in this decision.

  But it did. Little mortal, youve changed everything. . . .

  Before Ivana had gone to meet her death, Lothaire had asked her, "How can you do this?" At last he understood her answer.

  Because anything that is worthy in me began with Elizabeth.

  He rubbed his hand over his chest, startled by the ache he felt there. I wish I could have seen her one last time. . . .

  Shoulders back, he traced outside to meet dawn, challenging an enemy hed eluded all his life.

  An enemy he now prayed would defeat him.

  Chapter 46

  Its happening," Ellie admitted to Balery as she sipped a Coke. "Im falling in love with him. "

  She and the fey were on the deck watching the sunset as Ellie anxiously awaited Lothaire. Hed been missing all day.

  As hed set off, Ellie had again told him she wouldnt worry. So much for that.

  Earlier Thad had visited. For hours, he and Balery had tried to distract her, but her sense of dread had grown steadily throughout the day.

  At four in the afternoon, shed demanded that Balery roll her bones. Whatever the fey had seen had leached her face of color, had wrested one gasped word: " . . . burning. "

  Yet once shed collected herself, Balery had pasted on a fake smile and deemed that roll a "dud. " No matter how much Ellie wheedled, shed refused to offer more on the subject.

  Now Balery said, "I could tell, just by the way you look at him. Have you told him?"

  Ellie muttered, "Not yet. " Holding on to a thread of her formerly stubborn self, shed backed herself out of her vows. Never falling in love with Lothaire had turned into not telling him I love him first. . . .

  "Elizabeth," Balery began in a pained tone, "theres something you need to know about Saroya and-"

  Lothaire appeared; Ellies jaw dropped.

  He was burned in dee