Alora smiled at me. “Hey, you look?”
“I wouldn’t bother if I were you,” mumbled Fletcher. “She’ll only accuse you of lying to try and make her feel better.”
Knowing me well, Evan didn’t comment on my appearance. “Nervous?”
“Of course I’m not,” I said with a forced smile. But, as I said, he knew me well; he wasn’t buying my act. But rather than make a big thing out of it, he simply offered me a supportive smile.
Jared tightened his hold on me as he asked Evan, “What brings you guys here?”
“Just wanted to check on you both and, you know…do that whole ‘moral support’ thing.”
I rolled my eyes. “You mean Alora made you come.”
Evan’s expression was pure innocence. “No, I do have a sensitive side, you know.” Then it was Alora’s turn to roll her eyes. “Off the subject, I’ve just met that Covington guy who had recommended you find Paige West. He’s here with Bran and Paige’s Sire, Robert Langley.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. Bran was a regular visitor, but the others weren’t. “Have they asked about Paige?”
“Langley was asking where she was, but Antonio just said that she healed the tainted vampires and then left. Bran wasn’t interested. He only came here to see Alora. She invited him.”
“I wanted to tell him that I would be leaving his line and why,” she explained. “After everything he’s done for me, it would have been insensitive not to do it face-to-face.”
True. “And he’s okay with it?”
“Yep.” Evan grinned. “He even offered us his best wishes for the future.”
Fletcher gently tapped his watch. “Time’s-a-ticking, people.”
I took a deep breath. “Then let’s go.” Before I vomited with nerves. “See you three later.” They each gave us a smile just before Jared teleported us both to the mansion. Standing outside the room in which the teleconference would take place, he took both my hands in his and searched my eyes. “You sure you’re okay about this?”
I knew that if I said no, he would teleport me straight back home – no hesitation, no judgemental comments, and no temper tantrum. He would put me before what Antonio wanted and even before what he himself wanted. And that was what gave me the strength to nod and reply, “I’m fine. Let’s do this.”
Flashing me a smile filled with pride, he dropped a kiss on my mouth. Then, keeping one of my hands in his, he opened the door and led me inside. From their spot in the corner, Antonio’s personal guards gave us a nod. Sitting at the long table were Antonio, Luther, Sebastian, Bran, Covington, and a male who I presumed was Robert Langley. Each of them immediately rose to their feet.
Antonio smiled widely. “Punctual, as always. Sam, Jared, you know Bran and Harry Covington.” He then gestured to the unfamiliar balding, podgy Keja. “This is Robert Langley, Paige West’s Sire.”
Scowling, Langley simply grunted at us.
Covington shook Jared’s hand and then mine. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both in person.”
“Likewise,” I replied.
Bran’s mouth curved ever so slightly at the sight of Jared, who he had a clear soft spot for. “It will be an honour to follow you. Both of you.”
I hadn’t been expecting that. “Thanks.” Sebastian and Luther must have picked up on my nerves because they gave me a reassuring smile. No amount of smiles would calm me at a time like this, but I appreciated their efforts.
Antonio gestured for us to take a seat. “As Bran is here, it makes sense for him to sit in on the teleconference, considering he is one of the High Masters. Covington, Langley, you may both stay if you wish.”
“I’d love to,” said Covington. Langley gave a grunt of affirmation.
Seemingly satisfied, Antonio swerved to face the wall which displayed several T.V. monitors. He pressed a button on the platinum remote control in his hand. With that, each of the screens switched on, and we were then looking at the faces of all of the High Masters. “Good evening.” They each returned his greeting. “As you can see, I’m joined by Jared, Sam, Luther, Sebastian, Bran, his Heir Harry Covington, and one of Covington’s vampires, Robert Langley.” The rest of us then exchanged greetings with the High Masters, who all looked extremely curious. “I am calling because I have an announcement to make.”
Here we go. I had to hope that Antonio was right and I truly had won them all over, or this could be bad. Jared’s reaction would be creatively violent if someone even hinted at me not being suitable for the position.
“In three weeks’ time,” Antonio continued, “I intend to step down from my position as Grand High Master.”
He gave everyone a moment to absorb that, and I watched as surprise and a hint of sadness entered their gazes. Everyone liked and respected Antonio. I, too, was sad that he was stepping down. It would be weird not to have his guidance.
“At that point, Jared and Sam will replace me. I am confident that you will all support this and that you will follow them as you have followed me.”
I hadn’t been so confident, but it appeared that Antonio was right. They were now all smiling at Jared and me, and nodding supportively. Well, that was a relief. One of the High Masters began to speak, but not a word registered in my brain because a shard of pain lanced through my forehead. But it wasn’t really my pain; it was coming from Jared. What is it?
He rubbed at his temples. Something’s wrong. I’ve got over a dozen voices shouting at me all at once.
He took a moment to concentrate, and then his face paled and his eyes widened.
The door behind us suddenly burst open, and strange vampires rushed into the room surrounding us in under the time it took to blink. Instinctively, I slammed up my shield, sheltering both Jared and me. But I couldn’t shield the others. Couldn’t because Luther and Sebastian were now contained in some kind of grey jelly-like bubble, Antonio’s guards were a clump of ashes, Bran was being held in a chokehold by Langley, and – so much worse – Covington had a curved, jagged-edged knife pressed to Antonio’s throat. In addition, over a dozen vampires were boxing us all in. Well, f**k.
“Move, and your Grand High Master is dead,” rumbled Covington. Going by the way the knife in his hand glowed, it was enchanted in some way. His once kind face was now a mask of callousness.