The public location should have added a measure of safety, but I was anxious. I suppose some nerves were understandable given I was about to meet my father for the first time. But this wasn’t your average family reunion. Especially when I expected Cain to swoop in like that creepy uncle no one ever wanted to invite.
Adam lounged on the steps. He’d purchased gelato from a cart in the square and nibbled at it while staring meditatively into the fountain. Despite his fairly convincing ruse, his shoulders were tense and his gaze alert. Meanwhile, Giguhl, in cat form, crouched in a tree on the balcony level below me, ready to get my back should the need arise.
I stood high above them in the upper piazza in front of the Trinità dei Monti church. I’d chosen the location because of the obelisk that rose at my back, preventing a rear attack. Plus, from this vantage point, I could see the entire steps, the plaza below, as well as the Keats-Shelley House on the left.
After standing in the cold until half past eight, I wondered if Tristan changed his mind. But just as I was about to call the mission, he arrived.
It wasn’t that he stood out in the crowd. Quite the opposite. Among the hunched shoulders, heavy winter coats, and hats of the mortals at the base of the steps, he fit right in. In fact, he blended too well. Instead, it was the overpowering punch in my gut that warned me a real magical threat entered the vicinity. The power vibrated in my molars and made my hackles rise like tiny daggers.
I rose to my full height, raised my chin, and stayed put. If he was making me jump through hoops to get this meeting, he could come to me. He might know more about me than I did about him, but I’d be damned if his first impression of me had any hint of vulnerability.
He’d made it past Adam and had begun his ascent up the steps. As if compelled, the crowd between us parted. Time slowed. Wind picked up the edges of his black coat, which flew out around him like black wings. His pace was confident, unhurried as he climbed. Deliberate. A black hat cast shadows over his face, revealing only a strong jaw and lips set into a hard line.
Closer now. My pulse ratcheted up with each step he took. A wide circle of power surrounded him and reached me well before his body did. Several steps behind him, Adam kept pace with his movements. Far enough back not to raise alarm but close enough to intervene. A flash of gray in my peripheral told me Giguhl had taken position as well. I kept my gaze on Tristan and prayed they wouldn’t jump the gun and spook him off.
Even if I wanted to look away, I couldn’t. Whether he held me in his thrall through magical means or he was really that magnetic, I couldn’t tell. Didn’t matter because my eyes couldn’t, wouldn’t, leave him.
He made it to the top of the stairs and started my way. His chin tipped down, but I could feel his gaze like a spotlight. But then he stopped short. Utterly still and alert. There was no sense of him hesitating or doubting his next move. Instead, I felt more like I was being judged. Weighed and measured. I stayed still, not wanting to betray one hint of insecurity.
You’d better be worth all this f**king drama, I thought silently at him.
That hard mouth quirked, as if he’d read my mind. He moved forward, his pace determined. My knees locked and a cold chill passed over me that felt a lot like fear.
It’s not every day a girl meets her father for the first time.
He pulled off his hat, revealing a head of thick black hair and piercing blue eyes.
I gasped. He looked exactly like the painting I’d seen of him in the library at the mage compound in New York.
It really was Tristan Graecus. My father was alive. Gods help me.
I opened my mouth to say… something, but a frigid wind rushed through the piazza. Tristan froze, lifted his chin, as if sniffing the air like a predator tensed for flight… or fight.
His head jerked toward me. “I told you to trust no one.”
My first instinct was to get defensive and tell the guy off. What kind of idiot did he think I was to expect me to come here without backup? I put my hands on my hips. “I—”
Before I could say more, he grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the street. At first, I was too shocked to resist, but then my brain started working again. I dug my heels in. “Wait just a damned minute,” I yelled.
He paused to shoot me an icy glare. “Cain is here,” he hissed.
I jerked my gaze toward the piazza. It took only a second for my eyes to spot the fire-engine-red head at the base of the steps. Emerald-green eyes flashed with recognition. A snake smile spread across full lips.
“Fuck!” My stomach dropped like it had been pitched from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Giguhl!” I shouted. “Go help Adam.”
The cat sped off down the steps, winding through people’s legs. Adam, meanwhile, was running up, his gaze flicking between Cain and me.
“We’ve got to go!” Tristan urged, pulling me.
I jerked my arm from his grasp. “No! I’m not leaving my friends.”
“You’re who he wants.”
While we argued, my eyes were on Cain’s progress. He moved in an unhurried manner, like a man out for a stroll. But despite the languorous pace, his intent was clear. Cain was coming for me.
“My people are down there, too. They’ll aid your friends.”
As he spoke, I finally noticed a redhead, a male with a ponytail, break free from the crowd. Nearby, a willowy blonde wearing brown leggings and a green tunic wound her way toward Cain, too. The male had vampire written all over him, and the female was most likely fae.
Before they reached Cain, Adam came up behind the father of vampires and threw a small black bag at him. The bag bounced off of Cain’s head and erupted into a small puff of black smoke. He whipped around to see who’d attacked him, but Adam had already disappeared.
I searched the crowd for signs of the mancy. He waved at me from ten steps below and mouthed, Go!
That was all the permission Tristan needed. He grabbed me again and we took off running like the hounds of hell were chomping at our feet. I was surprised he didn’t just flash us out.
The last thing I saw before we exited the area was Cain dancing down the steps like a crazy man. His jerky movements told me that Zen’s vexing spell was already working its magic. But it wouldn’t last long.
“Where are we going?” I wasn’t having trouble keeping up with Tristan’s pace, but I needed answers.
“Safer ground. Faster!”
Like rats in a maze, we wound our way through the narrow Roman streets, dodging tourists and cars. Eventually, we burst out of the narrow streets and into the Piazza Barberini. The enormous Trevi Fountain loomed over the square. The lights from inside the water up-lit the faces of the stone gods, giving them an ominous appearance. Tristan ran straight through the piazza and turned onto Via Veneto.