“If you try and help him it’s only going to make the House worse,” I said. “Besides, he asked for it.”
She briefly furrowed her eyebrows. “You swear to me he’s fine?”
“He’s safe.” I pressed my hand against a wooden doorframe, confirming my guess, as I swung into the homey kitchen. “I’m positive he wouldn’t define his current status as fine, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s put it this way. One time when I upset the House, it re-routed a gutter and dumped stale rainwater on me.” Something banged deep in the basement, and I nodded. “Yep. He’s safe alright.”
“Very well.” Celestina still looked a little worried, but she offered me a pale smile. “In that case I better continue with our testing.”
“Good luck,” I said. “Come back here if you get hungry for human food—and I think we have a few of Gavino’s blood packs to spare,” I said.
Celestina nodded and left the kitchen, almost colliding with Gavino on his way in.
“Giving my food away, are you?” Gavino grinned. He leaned against a countertop and winked.
“Yep. So do you wanna make a bet how long the House will manage to keep Killian hostage?”
There was another bang below our feet—I’m pretty sure it was the sound of another bullet firing.
Gavino didn’t even blink. “Nope,” he said. “Not interested at all. If I place a winning bet, I’m pretty sure His Eminence will be quite offended.”
I cackled and affectionately patted the House, which seemed to purr in response.
There was a gigantic crash that shook the floor a little, but the House seemed pretty smug, so I was betting Killian Drake—the most powerful vampire in the area—was still stuck.
Well, he wanted to know exactly how safe House Medeis was. This was an excellent way for him to find out.
About an hour later, Killian emerged from the basement. I wasn’t surprised to see he looked barely disheveled, and not noticeably meeker—but the House is magical, not a miracle-worker I suppose.
“Did you have a nice time testing the House?” I asked.
Killian straightened his suitcoat. “It’s suitable enough, I suppose.”
I cracked a smile. “I believe you that you came just to test our defenses.”
Killian scoffed. “Of course that’s why I am here. Or do you presume to believe the ancient prejudice about my people and dark, damp corners, which would mean I enjoyed crawling around the dirty basement?”
The House creaked ominously.
Killian narrowed his eyes—which were an ominous, shiny black color—at the wall opposite him. “Just try it,” he taunted.
I patted a door as I passed it, taking a few steps closer to him. “He doesn’t mean it,” I told my House.
Killian stiffened and looked prepared to run his mouth, so I was quick to interrupt. “There was a possibility you came out here just to nose around a House. I’m sure plenty of wizards will see it that way and theorize you’re trying to find a weakness you can exploit.”
“Houses already have dreadfully huge weaknesses,” Killian said. “They are called wizards—such a pathetic bunch. But I suppose House Medeis would be far more difficult given the firepower of your people.” Killian thoughtfully rubbed his jaw, then flicked his eyes at me. “But this is hardly my first time in a House.”
“I figured you’d visited House Bellus since you’re the Eminence,” I said.
Killian nodded and shrugged. “And a few more besides. But because your kind seem to forget things have not always been this way, I expect they would forget that it used to be more acceptable to co-mingle.” He studied me for a few moments. “You said there was a possibility I came for information—did you really think that was why I am here?”
“I wondered,” I said honestly. “All the Drakes you brought with you have been extremely genuine in their desire to test the House, so I didn’t think so…but you usually have layers to your actions so I thought it was a possibility. But now I know it wasn’t that at all.”
Up went an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“You wouldn’t have shot my House if you were here for any other reason besides testing it.” I scuffed my foot on one of the Turkish rugs that ran up the hallway and stared at the bright design. “You were deliberately pushing it. If you wanted information you would have coddled it. Thank you for being honest, Killian. It really means a lot to me.” I forced myself to raise my eyes and smile up at him, even though it made me a little uncomfortable.
This was an important moment. I needed to show that I understood what he was doing, and I was thankful. (Let’s just call it what it is, positive reinforcement. And I was going to reinforce the crap out of this particular behavior.)
I smiled at Killian, fighting the urge to blush as he unashamedly stared back at me, the red in his eyes dimming to a simmer.
I eventually broke and dropped my eyes to the shoulders of his expensive suit. “Is that…cat hair?” I squinted, doubting my eyes. “But we don’t even have a cat here—”
“Since you are no longer doubting my motives, I will take advantage of this moment and invite you to a meeting in two days.”
Surprised, I backed up a step. “Where? And why?”
“It’s at the Curia Cloisters. And why? Because you won’t move back to Drake Hall, so if I wish to see you I am better off dangling bait like this meeting in front of you.”
Another blush scorched my cheeks, and I wanted to elbow him, but I was pretty sure he was trying to lure me into that, so I held my ground. “No, I mean why are you holding a meeting? What is it for?”
“I’ve called an assembly of sorts for the vampires,” Killian said. “It’s not regional, strictly speaking. I sent invitations—or perhaps it would be more accurate to call them summons—to the local Families, and any other Family that might be tempted to take revenge on the Night Court for their actions.”
“You’re going to talk to them about going to war?” I asked.
“I’m going to attempt to talk them out of it,” Killian said. “The last thing I need is for this to become a regional war between vampires and fae. Previously I thought it was inevitable, but since the Night Court attacked in the Curia Cloisters I’m hoping for something less…drastic.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “But I assume that means you’re going to use the Families to pressure the fae in other ways?”
Killian smiled and his fang teeth gleamed. “Precisely.”
I tugged on the hem of my shirt as I reviewed his words, then nodded. “Okay, I’ll come. My House will insist on sending some wizards with me, though.”
“Naturally,” Killian said. “You may bring Gavino to act as your guard as well if you wish.”
“Yeah, that might be good for Gavino,” I said. “He’s been a great coach, but I’m sure he’d like to get out of here for a while.”
“I doubt that,” Killian said. “Coaching your wizards is a vacation compared to some of the past assignments I’ve placed him on.”
“What do you think is worse than this?”
“There was a three-day period where he and a team tracked a rabid Unclaimed through the sewers. I am certain he’d tell you that was far more foul.”
“Ew, yeah, I’d agree.” I shivered. “Great Aunt Marraine has thrown together some snacks, and is serving blood pouches in the kitchen. Do you want me to snag something for you, and you can start listening to Celestina’s and Josh’s reports?”
“After overhearing you conspiring to feed me expired blood pouches, I would prefer to choose my own, thank you,” Killian dryly said.
I grinned unashamedly. “Might be a smart move on your end,” I admitted. “The kitchen is this way.”
I started to turn, planning to lead the way up the hallway, but I paused when Killian held out his hand.
He watched me, some of the red igniting in his eyes as he waited for my reaction.
Do I take it? Or is that giving too much too early…
There was something both tired and guarded in his expression—in the set of his mouth and shoulders.
This is hard for him, I realized.
There were still hidden depths to him, and he was absolutely layering his actions. (Although the sappy invite did make me blush, there was a chance he would use my presence as a shield against the others—a way to show them they didn’t need to fight because his attack dog was on the job.)
My eyes drifted to the cat hair on his suit.
But he’s trying. He’s fighting ancient instincts and basic vampire behavior to trust me.
I swallowed hard and took his hand.
His touch was as cool and soothing as always to my hot skin, and a gloating smile settled on his lips.
I was tempted to stick my tongue out at him, but something told me I’d regret that action, so I pulled on his hand. “Come on, Mr. Suspicious. The kitchen is this way.”
Killian allowed me to pull him along, and just before we got to the kitchen he lightly rubbed the top of my hand with his thumb in a caressing manner.
Yep. Those instincts he was fighting were alllll about trust.
Because Great Aunt Marraine was obsessed with time—more like morbidly curious about the vampires—we arrived at the Curia Cloisters almost an hour before the meeting started.
That gave us plenty of time to select our spot in the assembly hall—the same room I’d punched a hole through the ceiling in when I took out Solene, the Unclaimed vampire who had taken it upon herself to go on a murdering spree.
Great Aunt Marraine had campaigned heavily to sit in the balcony area—I think she wanted to be able to freely gawk at all the vampires—but I’d won the battle, so we were all safely seated in comfy, padded chairs just off to the side of the dais where Killian would sit.