Her eyes scanned the party below as her mind continued to wander and process. Despite the conversation she’d had with Harrington and all the implications of her decision to follow, she was mesmerized by the ball. She hadn’t seen this many people in weeks. All the glittering dresses and sharp suits. The drinking, laughing, celebrating. It was all so much. Nearly overwhelming in its intensity after living such a whitewashed, dreary life.
Amazing to think that this had been the life she had lived with Beckham before being kidnapped. They had shown up at a ball just like this for the celebration of the Blood Census being passed through Congress.
She sighed. That felt like a lifetime ago.
Everyone’s attention drifted up to the stage as Harrington walked onto it. He was leaning more heavily on his cane than she had seen him do in weeks. Another game for him to play. She wondered how many people actually knew that he’d found a blood type match. If she knew him at all, and it was scary that she felt she was getting to, very few. And even less knew that the match was Reyna.
If he was putting on an act to stay the cripple she had first met, then he was doing it for a reason. Harrington always had a motive.
He finally made it to the microphone. She couldn’t hear what he was saying due to this wretched soundproof room but, whatever it was, he had everyone’s rapt attention. After a few minutes, the audience enthusiastically applauded and Harrington held out his hand to the back of the stage.
Out walked none other than Penelope Sky herself.
She wore a sleek sky-blue ball gown that was both alluring and demure. Her dark mane was piled up high on her head. Known for her perfect heart-shaped face, cute little button nose, and matching dimples, Penelope was one of the most beautiful humans Reyna had ever seen. And even from the distance, she could recognize that Penny looked gorgeous. Yet…different.
Something had definitely changed in her appearance. The burns had irrevocably shaped her. Technology was a miracle worker but even skin grafts couldn’t completely remake Penelope into what she had once been.
Not that her looks mattered. She was already rich and educated; two things that were nearly impossible for humans at this point. The income gap between the rich and poor was at an astronomical, unprecedented high. So money and intelligence went a long way. But her looks were a bonus. Still, Reyna couldn’t help, despite everything, thinking that she pitied Penny. She felt bad that Penny had been left in the fires. That Beckham had had to go into the club to retrieve her, and found her so marred.
Penelope wasn’t even supposed to have been there that night. And whatever else had happened, she didn’t deserve it. No one did.
As Penelope delivered her speech, Reyna’s eyes crawled over the rest of the room, searching out familiar faces. It only took her a minute to find one of Harrington’s most trusted advisors, Rowland, in the crowd. She shuddered at the sight of him. The man who had tried to force himself on her, who had been determined to have her no matter what Beckham thought. He’d almost succeeded too. If Beckham hadn’t shown up, Reyna didn’t know how she ever would have come back from that.
Rowland’s little escort, Sophie, was standing at his side, clad in virginal white as always. Sophie was everything that was wrong with the blood escort system. Most people would call her a blood whore, desperate for the next bite, a willing subject to vampires. But Reyna couldn’t hate her. Every escort in the system had a story and her reasons for joining were her own.
Next to Rowland and Sophie was the fiery redhead, Cassandra. She completed Harrington’s treasured trio—Beckham, Rowland, and Cassandra. She was manic and unpredictable and treated humans as if they were simply a food source. Her last escort, Felix, had been killed in the underground fires, but it looked as if she had a new play toy beside her.
Reyna kept searching.
Searching, searching, searching.
She didn’t want to admit who she was really looking for. She didn’t want to hope that he might be here. Or what it might mean if he wasn’t. Her heart couldn’t take the desire to see him, just to have it dashed. Hope was the death of the oppressed. It made you hunger, only to be crushed under the oppressor’s boots.
More applause brought her attention back to Penelope, and she gasped at the sight. Her hand flew to her mouth.
There he was.
Draped head to toe in a fuckable black suit. His dark hair, his obsidian eyes, scruff evident on his sharp jawline. She didn’t know if her mind was conjuring every minute detail, but it was all there. Right before her. Mere feet and a soundproof glass window separated them. It might as well have been a mile.