I polished off my drink. The sooner we found Cadence, the sooner Adam and I could get her back out of our lives. I wasn’t about to let Damascus White throw a wrench in that plan. “Oh, I’m pretty sure he’ll be the one with the problems if he refuses to help me.”
* * *
As it turned out, the meeting with Damascus White was arranged fairly easily. Word came from Nyx the next day that White wanted to meet that evening at a bar frequented by the fanged and fabulous.
That’s how I ended up walking into an Absinthe bar in the French Quarter at half-past midnight the night before Halloween. I would have brought Adam with me, but bringing a mage to a vampire meeting wasn’t just foolish—it was dangerous. Even though there was peace among the races, some old-school vampires still saw mages as prey instead of allies.
The front of the bar was filled with late-night revelers who’d stumbled in off Bourbon Street to get their first taste of wormwood liqueur with its cloying anise flavor. The place was done up in ornate Belle Époque style with thick green silk curtains, gas lanterns along the wall, and vintage lithographs inspired by the work of Jules Chéret and Toulouse-Lautrec. Ornate armchairs and divans provided comfortable resting perches for customers to watch the bartenders conduct the ritual of dripping the bright green liqueur over sugar cubes and adding water from ornate funnels that looked like they belonged in an alchemist’s lab.
I passed the bar with a wave to Jean-Paul, the vampire who ran the joint. He was a friend of my old pal Georgia’s, who’d moved to Los Angeles to work for Nyx. He jerked his head toward the back to indicate Damascus was already waiting for me upstairs in the Dark Races–only section. The upstairs area was a large open space that led out to a veranda that hung over Bourbon Street. Booths lined the walls, and each could be sealed off from the rest of the room using black velvet curtains. It created an intimate atmosphere that invited the sharing of confidences. Whether Damascus White was in a sharing mood or not remained to be seen.
It didn’t take a lot to guess which booth my host inhabited. Two red-headed goons flanked the seams of the only closed curtains in the row of otherwise empty booths. Seeing them, I sort of regretted not bringing an entourage of my own. Not that I felt I needed protection. But vampires were all about displays of power.
One of the vamps stepped up like he thought he’d intimidate me as a warning before I spoke to his leader. I shot a glare that promised painful, fiery death if he so much as breathed on me. He stepped back. Smart of him.
Without much ceremony, I threw open the curtain. Damascus White sat dead center in the back of the booth. The power position. His face betrayed no expression at my arrival. His hair was red, like all vampires, but so dark it was almost black. He was old. Real old. Not as old as some of the vamps I knew in Europe, but old for American vampires.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” I said.
His eyes were gray and too shrewd for me to let my guard down. Those eyes had seen things and missed nothing. He wore a velvet blazer and dark denim jeans that hinted that Damascus, despite all his years, had kept up with the times. “Had Nyx not interceded on your behalf, I would not be here.”
“Going through Nyx was merely a formality. If you’d refused, we’d be meeting under much less comfortable circumstances.”
He chuckled. “Careful, or I’ll show you why they called me the Butcher of Belfast before I came to the States.”
I failed to hide my complete lack of awe over his ridiculous nickname. “I’m here about Cadence McShane.”
He frowned, as if I’d finally managed to catch him off guard. “Who?”
I smiled tightly. “According to her diary, Cadence was on her way to meet you the night she disappeared.”
“Oh,” he said with a twitch of his lips. “Her.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Her. What happened?”
“Never showed.” As he took a sip from a glass of blood, I eyed him for signs of lying, but a vampire that old didn’t reach his age without knowing how to tell a lie well. “I assumed she’d changed her mind.”
“What were you two meeting about?”
His eyes flicked to mine and the corner of his mouth lifted. “Let’s not play coy. I had every intention of f**king her and drinking that sweet blood. Not necessarily in that order.”
If he’d been trying to get a rise out of me, he failed. Vampires loved mage blood. It was the extra kick of magic. Up until recently, mating between the races was forbidden by all the Dark Races ruling bodies, but since those restrictions had been lifted, there was a lot of interracial hanky-panky going on. Vampires might not respect mages as equals, but that didn’t stop them from wanting a piece of their magical action, so to speak. “And when she didn’t show, you just let it go? According to her diary, you’d been quite persistent with your pursuit.”
“I may be persistent, but I am not desperate. When she didn’t show, I decided it was time to focus my affections elsewhere.”
My brows rose. “You really expect me to believe that as the leader of a powerful vampire coven you were cool with getting stood up by a mage?”
“You may believe whatever you wish. That won’t change the truth. I assure you I am not wanting for blood nor sex partners.”
That I didn’t doubt. First, he was beyond handsome in that predatory way of many vampires. Second, he was old enough to be a master of seduction. Third, in his position he could just take what he wanted. The question is, did he take Cadence, and if so, why was he hiding her? Or was she even alive?
I pushed aside that thought because I didn’t want it to be true. The idea of having to be the one to tell Adam that Cadence was dead was too horrible to contemplate.
Time to try another tact with Damascus. I leaned back and watched him for a few moments. “Where did you and Cadence meet?”
He glanced away and back so fast a lot of people wouldn’t have seen it. But I did. “A party.”
He shrugged and shifted in his seat. “Don’t recall.”
I pinned a pitying expression on my face. “Old age affecting your memory?”
“I am invited to a lot of parties.” His reluctance to share the name of his host told me there was gold in this lead. The person who threw the party may not be responsible for Cadence’s disappearance, but he or she damn sure knew something Damascus was trying to hide.