If Antonio had announced his decision to step down, I might have wondered if this ‘complaint’ was someone’s way of ensuring I didn’t take his place. But only a handful of people knew of Antonio’s intention. Plus, it was believed that I had the support and acceptance of all vampirekind anyway.
Another important question would be: “Who would do this?”
“Like Antonio said, you’ll have enemies; people who are jealous of what you have and of how powerful you are.”
“Like Joy?” She had openly flirted with Jared in front of everyone earlier. That was why it had been so hilarious when Denny wrapped her in yellowy-green ooze. It was sweet in a Denny way.
“She’s a bitch, baby, I know that. But I’m not sure if she’d go this far to piss you off. To be honest, I don’t think her imagination’s good enough to come up with something like this.”
Valid point. “But it has to be someone from The Hollow – someone who knows how I work. Joy’s sneaky enough to do a little spying.”
He conceded that with a tilt of his head. “Maybe we should consider Dickhead, too.”
That made no sense to me. “Sure, he likes to poke at you and he finds some dark amusement in the fact that he drank from me in the past?”
“There’s nothing amusing about it.”
“?but he’s not so much of a prick that he would try to make me lose my job. What possible motivation could he have to do it?”
“Maybe he’s bitter about us. He wants you badly, baby. You don’t see it, just like you never see when anyone wants you, but it’s true.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Hey, what about Magda’s first-born? According to Collins, they reported that she never returned home and they aren’t too happy about it.”
“But how would that vampire know enough about you and how you train the squad to twist it all?”
I groaned, totally bamboozled. “I hate this.”
He kissed my temple – his touch gentle despite the anger that occasionally seeped to the surface. “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll find out who did this. And then I’ll kill them.”
I snorted. “Not if I get there first.” And I had every intention of doing so. “What worries me about having someone hovering over me is that they might pick up on the hybrid thing.”
Jared shook his head. “That won’t happen purely because no one would ever believe it was possible. Besides, Antonio came up with good excuses for why you’re more powerful and stuff. Don’t worry about that. In fact, don’t worry about any of it right now. We’re spending some time together – you and me. Let’s shove this shit aside for a while and move on to a lighter but extremely important subject: Have you come up with any new rules for us to put into place after the Coronation?”
Despite my mood, I actually smiled.
“Come on, baby. Don’t go retreating into that head of yours again. I know what’s happening is f**ked up on so many levels, but you’re stronger than this. And I’m here.”
Still feeling bad for having held back from him before, I relented. “I’m still working on the rules, but I’ve come up with a few. I’m thinking that the whole consort thing should be banned from The Hollow.”
He laughed – a sound I hadn’t heard in a while. “I really shouldn’t be surprised, should I?”
“Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying flings or one-night stands shouldn’t be allowed or that anyone has to be celibate. If the males here want to get randy, that’s fine. But if they want to make things exclusive, they can give the females the respect of calling them ‘girlfriends’, and vice versa.”
Still laughing, he nodded. “Sounds fair.”
Surprised, I looked up at him. “Yeah? I was expecting you to defend the concept of consorts, considering you once had some.”
He shrugged. “Vampires having consorts has always been the norm. And if you spend a long time with people who consider it the norm, it’s easy for you to do the same. That was why I never really saw the whole thing the way you did. Plus, those women had been using me; I didn’t see why it couldn’t work both ways. But looking back, I can see it was kind of…seedy. We can’t stop all vampires from having consorts, but we can at least ban it from happening in The Hollow.”
“That’s not to say I’ll force all the vampires who are currently consorts to leave The Hollow, but they’ll have to find another way of fitting in.”
“Although…it wouldn’t be so bad if Joy left.”
“She’ll probably do it of her own accord after the Coronation. The last thing she’ll want is to directly serve us.”
I hoped he was right – not just for my sake, but for Joy’s. There was a high chance I’d severely hurt her if she kept pushing me.
“Enough about her.” He kissed my hair. “Don’t let her get to you.”
I barked a laugh. “Says the bloke whose mood turns homicidal whenever he’s around a particular Sventé by the name of?” I laughed again when he clapped a hand over my mouth.
“Don’t even say the f**ker’s name,” growled Jared. “Whenever he looks at you, I can tell he’s trying to picture you naked.”
When he released my mouth, I said, “Joy knows what you look like naked, as does Eloise, so I’d say I’ve got the shittier end of the deal here.”
He twirled me so that I was facing him and then plastered me against him. “But they don’t matter to me. You’re what matters.” He slid a hand under my hair to cup my nape as his mouth landed on mine. He sucked and bit my bottom lip, toying with my mouth and coaxing me to open for him. Then his tongue swept inside, teasing mine. “I love how you taste. Everywhere.”
I nipped his bottom lip and then licked over it to soothe the sting. “When we get back home, you can prove it. And then maybe I’ll return the favour. Be aware that this time, you’ll be the one coming first – no matter how much you tease me.”
His devilish, lopsided grin surfaced. “Hmm, I accept your challenge.”
Laughing, I kissed him again.
My gut twisted at the sight of Evan’s hollowed cheeks and sickly complexion. Lying on one of the mattresses in the cell, he looked exhausted and full of utter despair. Max was gagging in the far corner of the room while Stuart watched with eyes that were disturbingly vacant. It was always the same – within an hour of drinking an NST, they would be vomiting, totally unable to digest it, totally unable to quench what had to now be an overriding thirst.