Lothaire Read online

Page 6


Page 6

 

  Ellie slowly turned to him, eyes widening at the sight of the chains in his hands.

  When hed disappeared, shed thought to escape. Now she trudged to the couch and sank down on it, inwardly pleading, Dont chain me, dont chain me. . . .

  "Do you fear me, human?" He fingered the links.

  Of course she did! He had supernatural powers, hed just killed, and for some reason this maniac had fixated on her.

  But Ellie usually had a good sense about people, and she suspected he would respect mettle. So she answered honestly, "Right bout now, Im pretty scared. " Her accent had grown more pronounced, a mountain twang that thickened whenever her emotions ran high. "But I reckon Ill work through it. "

  "And you fear these shackles?" His every movement spelled menace.

  This devils playing with me. "Yessir, I do. But you dont want to be

  chainin me. "

  He raised his brows. "I dont?"

  "What if Saroya wakes? Im sure shed be pissed to find herself all trussed up. And you dont want to ruin your . . . reunion. " She could barely say the word. What would they do together?

  Surely hed want to make love to his queen at last. Because, for whatever reason, he never had before. Ellie was still a virgin. Which meant that Saroya had never taken a lover when shed gained control.

  After an endless moment, Lothaire let the shackles drop to the floor. The concession didnt feel like a victory to Ellie, more like a baited trap.

  But with the immediate threat averted, she dragged her gaze from him to evaluate her surroundings.

  The room was multiple times bigger than the entire trailer shed grown up in. The furniture looked rich but modern, like from one of those design magazines. The curtains were drawn so tight, she couldnt tell if it was day or night. "Where am I?"

  He crossed his arms over his broad chest. "New York. "

  "New York," she repeated dumbly. Shed never been outside of Appalachia but had always wanted to travel. Now everything was too surreal. "Why have you brought me here?"

  "Because this place is mystically protected-inescapable and impenetrable. "

  Mystically? At that moment, she decided shed better keep her mind open, lest it break from strain.

  "You will be kept here for a time, until I cast your soul from your

  body. "

  "Wh-what are you talking about?"

  "Your body will become Saroyas alone. "

  He had the power to steal Ellies body from her? Forever? "Ill kill myself before that happens!" She leapt to her feet, starting for a bronze statue on a pedestal. "You hear me?"

  "If you harm yourself in any way, Ill murder your mother and

  brother. "

  She stilled, fear shivering through her.

  "Perhaps I should end one of them today to demonstrate good faith on my threat," he said, as though remarking on the weather. "Any message youd like me to deliver?"

  Her mind cried, Oh, God, no! Yet she forced herself to sneer, "Do it. Dont give a damn. None of those assholes came to my execution today. " Shed forbidden it.

  Had her family obeyed her other orders?

  Lothaire disappeared right before her eyes. From just behind her, he murmured, "You are quite the accomplished bluffer, little human . . . "

  She felt his breath on her neck before she whirled around.

  ". . . but your racing heart gives you away," he finished.

  He could disappear and reappear directly into Mamas trailer, murdering them in seconds.

  If her family was there.

  Expecting Lothaire to want payback for the execution, Ellie had made her mother swear shed get herself-and the entire family-scarce in the days surrounding it.

  Surely thered be news coverage of Ellies mysterious disappearance; her mother would be in defense mode, unlikely to return to her home until shed heard from her escapee daughter.

  Ellie was almost certain they were out of Lothaires reach, but could she bet her familys lives on it?

  No.

  Then hes won. All her brazen anger petered out, and she sank back down onto the couch. Shed always believed shed win the battle against Saroya because shed thought it would boil down to a test of wills.

  But this man . . . this animal . . .

  As her gaze flitted over the bullet holes in his chest that he seemed not to notice, then up to meet his chilling red eyes, she comprehended, I cant beat him.

  Chapter 5

  Lothaire could see the defeat in her bearing.

  At last the mortal had accepted her situation, accepted that he

  had all the leverage he needed to force her cooperation. Now he merely had

  to await Saroya. "Allow her to rise, Elizabeth. "

  "Shes not trying to anymore. I cant prod her to it. "

  "But she was trying before? To escape the execution. " When she didnt deny it, Lothaire imagined Saroya trapped, clawing to rise, to defend herself. . . .

  Gods, he hated this girl-and he couldnt kill her! He paced once more, grappling to control his rage while ignoring his weariness and the twinges from his rapidly healing wounds.

  When was the last time hed really slept? Days ago? Weeks since hed rested for more than an hour at a time?

  Need to sleep, to dream. The memories come in dreams. He needed to begin his work, his seven little tasks-

  "If you can cast out my soul," Elizabeth said, "then why do you need her to rise? And whyd you put me on ice for five years?"

  He slowed, gazing past her. "I didnt possess the means then. "

  "But you do now?"

  Not yet. After years of deceiving, slaying, and manipulating, Lothaire had seized the Ring of Sums, a talisman of great power-a wish giver. Only to have it stolen from him during his recent capture.

  Mortals from the Order had attacked with their charge throwers, draining his strength, forcing him to kneel . . . the blood blinding his eyes and pooling around his knees.

  Hed never forget the deafening scrape of the ring across the floor as their leader, a soldier named Declan Chase, had snared it.

  "Do you have the means now?" the girl asked again.

  Somewhere in the tangle of his mind Lothaire knew the rings location. He just had to access that information. "Ive budgeted anywhere from one night to a month until your end. " Time enough to wade through the millions and millions of stolen memories.

  Like his father before him, Lothaire was a cosaş, a memory harvester. A blessing for some vampires, a curse for one of the Fallen.

  Damn his uncle for tempting him with the power all those centuries ago. . . .

  "You must drink to the quick to be strong enough to destroy my brother," Fyodor had told him when theyd been reunited once more.

  "My eyes are red, are they not?" Lothaire had said. "Ive been a scourge upon humans. "

  "Or you can drink immortals to the quick and steal their strength, even their powers. Join with me, Lothaire. "

  "Ivana warned against this. "

  Fyodor had smiled thinly. "Your fair mother probably assumed you would have long since slain Stefanovich by now. . . . "

  Impatient for power, Lothaire had begun targeting immortals. Yet their souls were much more decayed than humans. And they had exponentially more memories. Ruinous to a cosaş.

  His uncle had promised and delivered strength beyond measure, but had downplayed the side effect.

  Insanity. Memories forever tolled. Lothaire balanced on the edge of a razor.

  Though Fyodor, also a cosaş, had lost his mind long before his death last year, Lothaire had somehow pulled back, limiting his kills and memory harvests, scrabbling his way back to reason. All to serve my Endgame. . . .

  He peered over at the mortal sitting on the couch. How long had he been pacing, his thoughts drifting? Her expression had turned from defeated to devious as she eyed the fireplace tools.

  In another situation, he might have admired her tenacity. Now he snapped, "You must want them d