“It was impressive,” Josh said.
It was more than impressive; it was a game changer. With House Medeis united, it would take far more than bullets to attack her. Although they had lower numbers, if Hazel kept training her people and herself—I hadn’t missed how massive her shield was; she’d come a long way since she last practiced in Drake Hall—they were actually the larger threat to fae.
Which was why the Night Court were more likely to attack Hazel at House Medeis now even if she had distanced herself from me, and there was no way I could allow that to happen.
I no longer needed to hold her at arm’s length—forcibly keeping her out wasn’t going to stop the Night Court from attacking her.
It irked me a little that all my extracurricular reading had been for naught—she didn’t need my protection since she had her own. But I was glad she’d be safe. Or safer, at least.
It’d be a relief, to welcome her back, actually. It made me sound like some sort of angst-ridden, newly-turned vampire, but I had missed her. A lot.
I abruptly stood. “She said I wasn’t sincere,” I repeated, recycling my previous observation. “So, I will drown her in apologies until she gets one that hits whatever vague requirement she’s settled on.” I smirked, pleased with the turn my thoughts had taken. “But I should be able to tip the scales in my favor with a bit of research. Call for Celestina…and Rupert.”
I was grumpy when we arrived at Drake Hall. Or really, I was irritated with myself.
My lungs twisted weirdly in my chest, and my traitor of a heart had me feeling nervous.
Seriously, it was enough to make a girl enraged! I was justifiably mad at Killian and his Family—Josh and Celestina in particular.
While Julianne and Manjeet had smuggled my beloved katana to me—which I now very pointedly had hanging from my sword belt—Celestina and Josh, the two vampires I was closest to, had followed Killian’s orders and kicked me out without even a goodbye. Heck, sour-faced Rupert—who hated me—had even broken his orders to confirm that Killian had sent me away for my safety and had performed a raid on the Night Court to distract them while I attacked Mason—their ally—and reclaimed House Medeis.
And yet the two I trusted most had essentially painted me out of their lives.
So I was understandably furious with my fragile heart that was happy to return to Drake Hall.
I slid out of the car, shut the door, and leaned against it. A deep sigh leaked out of me as the vampires standing guard at the front door and holding sun-blocking umbrellas bowed to me and my retinue.
“You okay?” Felix’s golden hair glowed like magic even in the weak, late afternoon sunlight.
“You don’t have to do this.” Momoko slammed the driver’s door and marched around the front of the car. “Say the word, and we’ll go home.”
I pulled my wool coat tight, trying to ward off the chill of the frosty fall air. “No. If I can wrangle everything I want, an alliance with the Drake Family will be really advantageous. And since I’ve written off everyone who ignored us when Mason took over, our allies are slim pickings.” I scratched my cheek and tried to casually grin. “Plus, I’m pretty sure we ticked off the Night Court enough that they may try and fight us. Once they get out from underneath all the regulations and punishments they’ve been slapped with for breaking the law and attacking while inside the Curia Cloisters, that is.”
Momoko studied my face, then nodded. She stepped back, joining the other House Medeis wizards who waited on the sidewalk.
It was a small-ish group that had insisted on coming today. Momoko and Felix—of course—but Great Aunt Marraine had come as well, as did Mr. Clark—Felix’s dad—and two middle-aged sisters who were new members of House Medeis. They were quiet but powerful wizards named April and June, who both shared similar tall and slightly stocky builds with high cheekbones and long eyelashes that rivaled Felix’s.
I offered my people a smile. “Just remember, even if I shout at Killian, he’s not going to hurt me or any of us. Probably.”
Mr. Clark went pale, but everyone else nodded.
I climbed the first of the handful of stairs that led the way into Drake Hall, and both of the front doors were abruptly thrown open.
“Welcome, Adept Medeis and wizards of House Medeis,” Celestina said. “Please come inside.” She offered me her brightest smile, but since I was no longer in the middle of a battlefield, worrying a fae might kill her, I kept my expression neutral.
Not even a single goodbye, my thoughts taunted me. Is she friendly, then, because Killian told her she had to be?
It was a bitter tasting idea. One that made me nod my head and stare straight in front of me as I passed her and stepped into the painfully familiar mansion.
“There you are, Hazel.” Killian sauntered down the ornate stairway that led to the second floor, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Welcome back.”
He didn’t stop at the base of the stairs, but moved so close to me it felt like he was invading my personal space. He offered me a bow that brought his head so close to mine if I had moved at all we could have touched foreheads, then popped upright and held out a bouquet of roses.
“I’m sorry.” His voice was deep and throaty—almost a purr. And crowded this close to me, his entire being was overwhelming.
I almost reached for the bouquet automatically, but stopped myself at the last moment. “You don’t give flowers to a potential ally, Killian,” I dryly said. “That’s something a boyfriend would do.”
He waited until I met his gaze, his obsidian-red eyes glowing with a heat I’d seen before, in a garden located in a chunk of the fae realm owned by the Regional Committee of Magic. He’d given me an extremely unforgettable kiss that night, and the next time I got a chance to talk to him, he kicked me out of Drake Hall.
He might have thought his charming smolder would move me, but it only made me more determined.
It was not okay for him to kiss me like that, and then actively manipulate me and refuse to tell me the truth of what was going on.
“Where are we going to hold negotiations?” I asked.
Killian studied me for a few minutes, his expression unrelenting. “In the meeting room. You know the way.”
I turned my back to him—instantly feeling a bit better—and smiled at my people. “Everyone ready?”
April and June exchanged confused looks, and Felix and Mr. Clark both were in danger of their eyes popping out of their heads. Sly Great Aunt Marraine looked unfortunately thoughtful, but Momoko studied me with a furrowed brow.
I awkwardly cleared my throat. “It’s this way.”
I led the way to the meeting room, smiling or nodding at the occasional vampire we “happened” to meet on our way to the chosen room.
The Drake Hall meeting room was a long, thin room that had a gigantic table slashing through the center, big enough for about half of the vampires at Drake Hall to sit around.
Some vampires were waiting for us, including two I was quite familiar with.
“Miss Hazel!” Julianne pounced on me, dragging me into a hug. “I didn’t get to see you like the First and Second Knight, but they said you were incredible! Thank you for saving us.” She had to hunch her back so she could lean down far enough to gently knock her head against mine.
I felt a little bit like a teddy bear being cuddled, but I returned the hug anyway. “I’m glad you’re okay,” I said. “How are Rupert and Gavino?”
Julianne let me go and rolled her eyes. “Rupert is doing so swimmingly he’s back to himself, and Gavino—”
“Is right here.” Gavino stepped out of the shadows cast by the closed drapes. “Hello, Miss Hazel.”
He looked pale. Well, all vampires had a pale skin tone, but Gavino’s skin was so pale it made the bags under his eyes look like bruising, and the ridges of his face were a little gaunt. He’d been hurt pretty badly from what I’d seen during the attack. But for him to look this bad even with fae potions and his vampiric accelerated healing…he must have been a hair’s width from dying.
I crossed the room and hesitated for a moment. But the truth was no matter how hurt I felt, I still cared for the Drakes, even though I should have known better. I gazed up at Gavino and started to shift, then smiled when he beat me to it and swept me up in a hug just like Julianne had.
I tried to squeeze him during the hug, but given my begrudgingly small stature and his massively broad shoulders—he was the biggest Drake vampire I’d seen, which made his fragile health that much more heartbreaking—it was pretty hopeless. “I’m glad you’re okay,” I whispered.
Gavino let me go and hunkered down so he could look me in the eyes. “Thanks to you, Miss Hazel. I owe you a great debt.”
“No way.” I smiled. “That’s what friends do.”
A collective sigh of relief slipped from every vampire in the room.
Confused, I glanced around, smiling and waving to Manjeet and a few other vampires I knew, then made my way back to my House.
Great Aunt Marraine smiled and patted my cheek when I rejoined the group. “You seem to be a great deal closer to the Drakes than I originally estimated,” she muttered.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” I said.
Great Aunt Marraine snickered and shook her head. “Oh, after what I’ve seen I very much doubt that!”
Killian finally joined us, Celestina and Josh flanking him. “Please, sit down.” He motioned to the table as he circled around to the opposite side.
I chose a spot with plenty of space on either side for my fellow wizards. Unsurprisingly, Killian sat down directly across from me.
Three members of the kitchen staff bustled in, pushing carts laden with baked snacks and choices of drinks, which they unloaded onto the table.
I grabbed a homemade glazed donut and thanked the staff.