“Allow me to point out how very hypocritical it is to say that when you are openly courting a wizard,” the Paragon stated.
Both he and Killian looked in my direction.
I forced a weak smile to my lips. “He’s got a point.”
Killian’s blank expression shifted to a slight smile. He leaned in and lightly kissed my cheek, then whispered into my neck. “But you are special and unique. It’s why we are this way.”
The Paragon delicately coughed. “Yes. Ahem. If you could stop accosting Adept Medeis long enough for me to finish what I was going to say, I’d appreciate it.”
Killian sighed in irritation and sat back in his chair. “Fine. Out with it.”
“I didn’t mean to say you had to politely discuss politics and create a more joint force or anything,” the Paragon said. “Rather, if you can be socially polite, that would be an excellent start.” He gestured to the two of us. “When you attended the Summer’s End Ball together, that did wonderful things for both vampires and wizards. Repeat that, and I sincerely believe it will help.”
“You want us to be socialites?” I asked.
“Of a sort,” the Paragon acknowledged. “I will admit this is a bit of an experiment. I’ve never seen these shadowy people back away from a fight so fast, and I’m inclined to think it’s because of the two of you.”
Killian sighed. “I already have a party scheduled at Drake Hall. Originally it was supposed to only be for vampires, but I suppose I can expand it to include other supernaturals. It will be easy enough to convince the vampires that we’ll use the occasion to look benevolently down on the fae to remind them of their shame. And I imagine it won’t be a total loss. It will provide me with the chance to observe the leaders of society in a place where they cannot hide.”
“Doesn’t that defeat the point?” I asked.
“Nonsense,” the Paragon said. “Considering supernaturals only seem to mix at funerals and parties pertaining to the Regional Committee of Magic, it will be a magnificent step forward, even if he does it out of a less than pure motivation. Besides, he’ll have you to smooth things over.”
“I don’t know about that.” I cleared my throat. “But, Paragon…thank you.”
He blinked owlishly. “For asking Killian to host a party?”
“No. For telling me about my parents.” I squeezed my eyes tight, relaxing when Aphrodite affectionately smashed her head under my chin, and I felt Killian’s cool fingers slide between mine. “I appreciate…knowing.”
“Of course.” He bowed his head, and hesitated when his face was pointed down at the table. “And I know you didn’t want any tips against the Night Court, but I think it’s safe enough to point out to you that if you can topple Queen Nyte and Consort Ira, the Night Court won’t give you any more problems.”
“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it just make them hate us more?”
“Quite the contrary.” The Paragon shrugged moodily. “A Court swears absolute fealty to its monarchs. Without a ruler, it’s nothing. And any new ruler unlucky enough to be dumped with the stinking pile that is the Night Court will be very anxious to distance themselves from Nyte and Ira’s legacy.”
“Perhaps,” Killian said.
“More like for certain.” The Paragon sighed and switched his gaze to staring at the ceiling. “Most of the time I hate my job. But it’s times like this that I hate my people, too. They can be so ugly.”
A painful silence stretched through the study. Surprisingly, it was Killian who broke it.
“What are you doing with a love tea, anyway?” He frowned at the Paragon. “I can’t imagine anyone wanted to date you with this crusty appearance.”
“I beg your pardon!” The Paragon puffed up his chest. “I’ll have you know I am quite popular! Or—that is to say—I was very popular in my youth!” He laughed sheepishly.
“When was that?” Killian asked. “The American Civil War?”
“As if you have room to talk Sir ‘I-hail-from-Britannia-and-probably-shook-hands-with-King-Arthur-and-am-now-robbing-the-cradle’!”
“I hope that cat of yours bites you.”
I listened to the two bicker, perfectly aware it was a performance just to distract me. And as Aphrodite continued to purr, I did actually feel a little better.
My parents were dead. The how or why wasn’t going to change that.
But if the Paragon was right about all of this, I was going to do everything in my power to protect Magiford and the Midwest, and to make sure nothing like this happened to another wizard again.
Two weeks later, during a Drake Family dinner, I was so tired I could barely put a forkful of mashed potatoes into my mouth.
I’d had a grueling practice with Killian—and I wasn’t doing any better against him since I still hadn’t come up with a method to subvert all his experience and knowledge—and then pulled a second practice with the ten Medeis wizards who had come with me and fifteen Drake vampires.
Both Killian and the Paragon seemed to take it for granted that we were going to have some kind of fight with the fae—a war at worst, a certamen at best. If that was true, I wanted my people familiar with vampires so there wouldn’t be any mistakes in the middle of the fight.
It had actually turned out pretty fun, and I got to practice shielding Celestina and Josh while they ran amok.
The downside was I was so tired, walking out to the car was going to be a challenge. (And I had a feeling I was going to be hurting tomorrow.)
“Are you okay, Miss Hazel?” Gavino knelt next to me in concern—he had come with our group to consult a fellow vampire on a few different weight lifting routines for some of my younger wizards.
“Yeah, just tired.” I tried to swallow a yawn, but it erupted, making my jaw crack.
Julianne watched me with concern from across the table. “I’d be tempted to feed you coffee, but aren’t you back on a human sleeping schedule? I imagine you’ll want to go to bed when you get home.”
“Partaking in caffeine at this hour will open the mysteries of the universe and allow you to see things as they are,” Josh said.
Momoko studied him, then bluntly said, “What?”
“I mean to imply if she drinks a caffeinated beverage at this hour, it will likely make her loopy,” Josh said.
“Ah.” Momoko nodded. “Truth.”
“I don’t need it,” I said. “As long as I don’t have to drive home we’ll be fine.”
Josh whipped out his smartphone. “I’ll summon one of our drivers.”
“Don’t you dare,” I warned him. “The last Drake you had take me home insisted on coming inside for a safety inspection, and then Mrs. Clark decided to feed him a blood pack and this disgusting blood pudding she’s been working on making for you all. It took me three hours to kick him out!”
“Celestina!” Great Aunt Marraine called down the huge dining table to the First Knight who was almost on the opposite end. “I wanted to ask you if you have been overwhelmed and could use assistance in scaling up the party now that Killian has invited more supernaturals.”
Celestina smiled and flipped the braid of her dark brown hair over her shoulder. “I have been prepared for such an occasion, so I mostly have the matter well in hand. I would like to consult you or Hazel for a few of the wizard House invitations, however.”
“Of course!” Great Aunt Marraine raised her glass of wine with a happy gurgle. “I’d be delighted to help!”
“Gavino, can you review my form on the new weightlifting exercises you gave me earlier this week?” Felix asked. “I’m experiencing a bit of back strain, which has me thinking I’m doing something incorrectly.”
“Of course!” The big vampire stood and moved down a few chairs to slide into a new seat. “I should take you down to the gym here—we have a few machines House Medeis doesn’t have…”
Friendly chatter roamed up and down the dining table. I was pleased to see my people were sitting near each other, but all of them were conversing with a vampire or two.
When I first started coming here for my training they’d stay in the kitchens and insist we go immediately. And now they’re willing to eat with them. I don’t know if it’s because Gavino has been hanging around, or they’ve just been here so much it’s comfortable, but it’s a good thing.
I glanced at the vampire seated on my left—the only one at the dinner table not involved in a conversation. “How’s it hanging Rupert?”
The red-haired vampire gave me a withering glare. “What do you want?”
I slapped my hand over my heart. “So defensive! Anyone hearing you might not think we’re friends!”
Rupert sipped his wine glass of blood. “If you’re talking to me for appearances, Medeis, I assure you it isn’t necessary.”
I cleared my throat. “Actually, I wanted to thank you.”
He tipped his head back slightly and studied me with puckered lips. “What for?”
“For the conversation we had after I Ascended,” I evasively said. (I was pretty sure Celestina genuinely wanted to know who the leak was and give them a good ‘scolding.’ I wasn’t going to put Rupert through that just because he was the most honest Drake in the Family.)
“You were pretty thankless at the time,” Rupert sneered.
“Yes, I am aware of that. But knowing did help.” I pushed my fork across my plate. “I know what a sacrifice it was. And what could have happened if you were found out.” I glanced over at the vampire. “I mean it, Rupert. Thank you.”
Rupert studied me for a few long moments, then slightly bowed his head. “Of course, Miss Hazel.”