Lothaire Read online
In the streets below, screams rang out. Thunder rocked the entire kingdom, echoing until rubble quaked. The unknown threat Hag spoke of.
"Calm yourself, Valkyrie!" He grabbed her shoulders, giving her a jostle.
She thrashed against him harder, and two more bolts speared down in rapid succession. Like detonations. She could topple the castle!
"Phenix, calm yourself!" He lifted her into his arms to trace her away-
At once, the lightning ebbed. Seconds passed. A muted scream here and there. Disaster averted.
"Phenix?" she whispered up at him. "No one calls me that but you. Everyone who used to is dead. Theyre all dead. "
He exhaled a gust of breath. "They always die before us, dont they?"
"Without fail. "
"When was the last time you slept?"
"Not since I saw you on the island. "
That had been several weeks ago. "Why? The shrieks at Val Hall keep you up?"
"I like to drift off to the sound of shrieks. No, its because someone always needs my help. Loreans are incessant, skulking around the manor, with their languishing hearts and unfulfilled desires. I can feel them ache, like a bad tooth I can never yank free. "
"You need a male to keep those beings at bay. "
"You have no idea. "
He muttered a curse, then said, "You may rest here this eve. " Tracing to the sitting room couch, he gently laid her down. "Ill keep the Loreans away for one night. "
"It is blessedly peaceful here, high in this castle. White queen and black king can call a draw for a time. . . . "
My enemy, my onetime friend. Why had she continued to help him? With a brusque "Good night," he tossed a blanket over her.
But she said, "Stay. Just till I fall asleep. "
After debating a few moments, he sank down, resting his back against the couch, his arms stretched over his bent knees. "Why do you want me here?"
She yawned widely, as the young did. "We can watch each others backs in shifts, as we used to do. "
Though it did feel like times past, he said, "You still cant trust me. Im considering cutting your hair when you sleep, just for keys past the Scourge. "
"Naturally. Talk to me about other things. "
Another exhalation, then he spoke his mind. "I feel . . . old. " He knew she could sympathize. When theyd been friends, hed once confessed to her, "Phenix, you are the only one who understands the truth: Eternal life alone is naught but an eternal punishment. "
"Lothaire, Ive met dirt younger than we are. "
He scrubbed his hand over his face. "I didnt feel old when I was with Elizabeth. I felt like a young vampire, just starting out with her. The world was ours for the taking. "
"I envy you that feeling. "
After several heartbeats, he admitted in a low voice, "Id go back to the grave if it would force Elizabeth to love me. "
"Oh, Lothaire," she sighed, patting his shoulder. "I tried to help you with her. I watched out for her at Val Hall. I showed her that she could walk in the sun. "
"Was she excited?" He twisted around to face Nix. "What did she say? Did she mention me?" Though Lothaire had long sworn never to bestow a gift with no thought of a return on his investment, he finally had. I gave Elizabeth the sun. Hed wanted her to know that happiness, even if he, himself, could not-
"Ellie was . . . sad. "
"Sad?" he bit out. Hed never understand females! "Did she never speak of me?"
"In the weeks that you ignored her, humiliating her with every day that you didnt retrieve her? Honestly, Lothaire, if shed brought you up to anyone . . . awkward. "
He glowered at the ceiling. Silence reigned.
Damn it, Nix was going to fall asleep and leave him alone and unsettled, wondering how hed made Elizabeth sad-and whether he should give his Bride another one of his black hearts in penance.
With a scowl, he gruffly said, "Im not a pussy, you know. "
"Then dream her memories," Nix whispered, before drifting off.
After several days back in her childhood home, Ellie still hadnt acclimated.
As she mended socks, she gazed around the trailer, trying to see it through Lothaires eyes.
Mama was at the stove, frying up chicken for when Ephraim and the others got home from the mine. A singing Big Mouth Billy Bass was proudly mounted on the wall. Porcelain dolls that screamed "QVC Christmas Sale" lined a shelf. Two lazy hunting dogs, Bo and Bo Junior, dozed at her feet.
Lothaire probably hated animals. Hed find it all tacky and shuddersome.
She shrugged. Even compared to the luxury of the apartment and the grandeur of Val Hall, she liked it best here. Though it no longer felt like home.
Because Lothaire isnt with me.
Mama glanced over at her. "If youre hankerin for that vampire, you just cut it right out, Ellie Ann Peirce. "
"I believe my last name is Daciano, actually. "
"The hell you say! I could kill that monster for what he did to you. "
"Hes not a monster, Mama. I think hes just misunderstood-"
Josh came bounding inside, running straight for Ellie. "My fort is the best, Ellie!" he told her, clambering over her onto the couch.
Hed been playing in the tree house shed built him-the one constructed in less than forty-five minutes without a hammer. Shed used her thumbs to press nails into unwittingly donated lumber.
Initially, Josh had been wary of his long-lost sister, as if hed sensed she wasnt right in some way. Though Ellie didnt suppose she appeared all that different-as long as she wasnt hungry or upset-the boy had been standoffish.
Now she couldnt pry him away. Not that she would ever try to. Since hed taken to latching on to her at all times, shed had to seriously accelerate her crash course in vampire strength control.
"Josh, I still cant get over how big you are!"
When he made a muscle with his right arm, she curbed a grin and looked dutifully impressed.
"Uncle Ephraim said Im gonna be over ten feet tall. "
"Well, maybe if you eat your greens. "
"And Mama said you came back to the mountain cause you got a dee-vorce, and if any man comes round askin for you, Im sposed to tell him youre dead, then spit on his boots. "
With an arch look at her mother, Ellie said, "A divorce? Did she, then?"
Ellie turned to Josh. "Why dont you get cleaned up, and Ill make you a PBJ. "
"Depends on how the finances are doing, honey. " At his raised brows, she said, "Ellies kidding. No crust, promise. "
Once he was gone, she told Mama, "Im going out tonight. " For the last week, shed continually thought about ways she could break into Lothaires apartment and steal those jewels.
Shed come up empty.
In lieu of that, she intended to go cat-burgling later, anything to get her family out of the mine-
The trailer rocked, grease sloshing out of the fryer. Just as Josh came running wide-eyed from the bathroom, a loud boom followed.
Ellie and her mother locked gazes, knowing only one thing that could set off an unplanned explosion like that.
Thered been another mine collapse.
Lothaire drifted off shortly after Nix, his head slumping forward, his eyes darting behind his lids.
At long last, he began to witness a stream of Elizabeths memories.
He feared what he would find, but heedlessly opened himself to her past. . . .
When her father had died, Elizabeth had been grief-stricken, but shed allowed herself little time to mourn him. Instead, shed worked tirelessly to scrabble together a better life for her mother and brother.
Lothaire observed example after example of her using her wits to make strides, with work, with school. And shed known successes, gaining momentum.
Until Lothaire and Saroya had devastated