“My Sire calls himself Kingsley, but that’s his surname. I don’t know his first name.”
Antonio shook his head a little. “I cannot say I know him. Does he know what you’ve told us?”
“No. I knew he’d tell me to stop searching. I can’t. As much as I respect you, I won’t be able to stop if you ask me to.”
Antonio held her gaze for a moment before speaking. “I won’t ask you to give up. But you must understand that it is my responsibility to ensure that this organisation is shut down. That means sending Sam, Jared, and the members of their squad to further investigate and to deal with it appropriately. You may accompany them only if you are prepared to follow whatever orders they give you.”
“I will,” Jude vowed.
“If at any point you attempt to tamper with their memories, you will be sent back here, and you will be punished. Do you understand?”
She nodded. “I get it. I’m not interested in hurting anyone except for those responsible.”
“No one will rob you of that opportunity,” I assured her, “as long as you follow what orders we give you.”
“I’ll show Jude to one of the rooms in the Guest House,” announced Sebastian.
“When Janine’s partner returns from his trip, we’ll pay him a little visit.” Jared threaded his fingers through mine. “Until then—” He cut himself off midsentence and suddenly stiffened beside me.
Automatically tensing just the same, I asked, “What is it?”
His eyes shut as a shudder travelled through him. When he opened his eyes again, he locked them with Antonio’s huge dark ones. “She’s here.”
“Magda,” I uttered under my breath.
Jared squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure she leaves soon.”
Oddly enough, a part of me wanted to meet the bitch, to see her just once to satisfy my curiosity. But another part of me wanted her to keep the hell away from Jared − particularly if she still wanted him. In any case, I’d most likely have to meet her before she’d be willing to leave without attending the ceremony. That was if she would be willing to leave. Somehow, I doubted it. My luck didn’t stretch that far.
Coaching. I was good at coaching, and leading, and fighting. I was not good at playing the hostess. Of course Jared, with his enviable charisma, was at total ease with greeting each of the guests as they arrived at the informal gathering that preluded the week’s Binding festivities. Sod.
It was being held in one of the many grand parlours in Antonio’s mansion. Soft music was playing on the piano and waiters were strolling around with trays of either tiny appetisers or flutes of champagne-flavoured NSTs. As these Nutritive Supplemental Tonics – a mix of blood and other vitamins – were only available at The Hollow, many of the guests had eyed them suspiciously, but eventually they all tried one. Personally, I quite liked them, but although they were quick to answer thirst, they didn’t hit the spot like pure blood did.
In truth, this gathering wasn’t particularly my scene. I wasn’t comfortable with ‘posh’, because it wasn’t what I was used to. I was an active girl. I liked combat, paintballing, fairgrounds, and anything that would provide a good ole adrenaline rush. All this just wasn’t me. If all the entertainment scheduled for the upcoming week was like this, I doubted that I’d particularly enjoy any of it. I didn’t feel that I ‘fit’ in this room, didn’t feel that I was truly celebrating my own Binding. Instead, I was following the same customs as all those vampire couples who had come before me…and I was bored.
Also, it wasn’t sitting well with me that here I was, hosting an informal gathering – even if it was for my own Binding – when it was extremely important to further investigate the foetal abduction operation. I was particularly worried that Janine’s boyfriend might become concerned about her absence and decide to do a runner. But Antonio had pointed out that it was unlikely, considering that she hadn’t been dead for long and her boyfriend was out of town anyway. The members of the legion who were watching over the apartment building had confirmed that he hadn’t yet returned. Though it was difficult for Jared and me to pass on an assignment to another squad, we had both agreed that if Janine’s boyfriend returned before the end of the gathering, another squad could deal with the matter. We didn’t want to put our job before our relationship.
Pulling me from my thoughts, two familiar vampires waltzed into the room with their consorts. The two High Master vampires were the first of the five to arrive. Originally, there had been nine, but the other four High Masters had been executed for the parts they had played in the attack on The Hollow. Antonio hadn’t yet appointed vampires to replace them.
The two High Masters that had just entered couldn’t have been more different from one-another. Whereas Kaiser always wore a grim expression and had a militant way about him, Connelly had the friendliest face and a personality to match. Both of them had supported and fought alongside our legion during the attack on The Hollow.
“Jared,” Connelly practically crooned after adding his gift to the mountain of others on the table beside the doors. “I must say, it’s wonderful that you have chosen a life-partner. And such a beautiful one, too.”
“Thanks,” said Jared as he flashed me a proud smile. “I’d have to agree with you on that one.”
Connelly turned that jovial grin on me as he took my hands in his and kissed both cheeks. “Samantha, it is a pleasure to see you again.”
“You too,” I said simply. See, I was no good at the hostess thing.
Kaiser, having also added a gift to the pile, gave both Jared and I a deferent bow of the head. “Congratulations to you both.”
“Ah, I spot Antonio,” said Connelly a little excitedly before waltzing off. Yeah, he was a bit of a ‘kiss-ass’, as Jared called him. His consort gave me a genuine smile before trailing after Connelly. Kaiser’s consort was a little cool, but that was most likely just Kaiser’s personality rubbing off on her.
Next to arrive was another High Master, Ricardo Maxwell – one who I knew Jared disliked. Still, Jared courteously accepted the vampire’s gift and also his not-so-heartfelt congratulations. Ricardo’s eyes slid to me, and although he bowed his head respectfully, that respect wasn’t in his eyes. It hadn’t been in the eyes of many others tonight, actually.