“Then that’s what you must do. Work through the human intelligence network, if necessary. Impress upon them the need to use mind control or physical coercion on the lab staff, as needed.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Once an antidote is produced, we’ll have to test it.” The Prince looked over at Maximilian. “Perhaps you can convince a few of the recruits to donate their bodies to science.”

The large man grinned. “With pleasure.”

“Stefan, coordinate the testing of the toxin with Maximilian. I want reports as soon as possible.

“I’m sure I don’t need to impress upon everyone the need for caution.” The Prince laid stress on the word. “Matthias was felled from a rooftop in full view of witnesses. It’s possible the hunters are here to do more than harvest blood.”

He paused and two of the Consilium members exchanged a look.

“Such as?” Aoibhe pressed.

“Such as force us into an open confrontation that would attract the attention of the Curia.”

At the mention of the name, the Consilium members looked troubled. Stefan fidgeted with his pocket watch, opening and closing it repeatedly.

“On my order as Prince of Florence, Teatro is now closed. I want the underworld evacuated and all communal gatherings canceled. Citizens are to remain in their primary residences and feed inside. This is for everyone’s safety.

“Niccolò, now that the patrols are under your supervision, I expect that there will be no further breach. See to it.

“Pierre, the human intelligence network is to be charged with locating the hunters and discovering their supply lines. Someone knows where they’re hiding. I want them found.

“Maximilian, until we have protective shields, no one is to escalate a confrontation.”

“Yes, my lord.” The Consilium members, augmented by Stefan, spoke in unison.

“You are dismissed.” With a curt nod, the Prince strode out of the chamber, the weight of his principality heavy on his shoulders.

Chapter Forty-three

“You say this film is based on a novel? Was it written in Italian?” The Prince held aloft the DVD cover to The Godfather.

“No, English.” Raven placed the DVD into the player and nodded at Ambrogio to turn on the projector. “That reminds me. You said sard was English. But in my dictionary, it isn’t a profanity; it refers to a stone.”

The Prince turned his attention to his servant. “Ambrogio, we’ll ring if we need anything.”

“Yes, my lord.” He bowed and exited the room.

The vast sitting room on the second floor had been transformed into a theater. The curtains had been pulled over the windows and a large screen had been hung on the far wall. A projector sat on scaffolding behind a large antique sofa.

Lucia had even provided buttered popcorn and Coca-Cola.

“Sard? The stone?” Raven sat on the couch, tucking her uninjured leg under her.

William sat beside her. “Sard is Old English. I’m afraid my profanity is a product of my human life. I never quite caught on to the modern words.”

She handed him the large bowl of popcorn, but he refused.

“You have to eat this when you watch a movie.”

He looked at the contents of the bowl and wrinkled his nose. “What is it?”

“Corn that’s been cooked. And buttered.”

He pushed the bowl away. “We don’t eat such things.”

“Just try it.” She handed him a single, buttered kernel.

He examined it closely.

He sniffed it.

He popped it into his mouth and began chewing. “Not bad.”

“Good. I knew you’d like it.” Raven grinned.

William picked up a paper napkin from the ottoman and discreetly removed the remains of the kernel from his mouth.

“What did you do that for?” She stared at him as if he’d grown another head.

“We can’t digest human food.” He balled the napkin up in his fist and put it aside.

“I guess I’ll save the M&M’s for myself. I think you’ll like this film. It’s about the Mafia.”

He gave her a puzzled look. “Why do you think it would appeal to me?”

Raven pushed her hair behind her ear. “It’s a great film with a great cast. The opening scene sets the tone for the entire movie—it’s a meditation on justice.”

She glanced up at him before focusing on her drink. “I think you’ll find it interesting.”

William observed her for a moment. Then he closed his eyes and inhaled.

He opened his eyes directly.

“You’re anxious.”

“No, I’m not.” She reached into the popcorn, pulling out a healthy handful.

He took the bowl from her hand and placed it on the ottoman.

He moved closer. Too close.

“Tell me what’s troubling you.” He placed his hand on her knee and she tensed.

“Nothing.” She moved away slightly and nibbled on her popcorn.

“You’re lying. I can smell it.”

She lifted her eyebrows. “How can you smell a lie?”

“Your body chemistry changes in accordance with your moods. You’re anxious about something and every time you lie, your anxiety peaks.” He moved closer and caught her chin, lifting it. “Whenever I touch you, I elicit the same reaction.”

“William,” she protested, looking away.

He pressed his lips to her temple.

“Are you anxious about going to bed with me?” His lips moved against her skin.

She closed her eyes at the sensation.

“I said I wasn’t sleeping with you tonight.”

“You’re planning to engage in sex with me soon.” He kissed her again, this time brushing his lips against her forehead. “Why not tonight? Why not now?”

She leaned into him but only for a second.

“You’re going to spill my drink.”

He took the glass from her hand, placing it on a tray next to the popcorn.

“Problem solved.” He kissed the edge of her jaw, pulling her closer. “I am a vigorous lover. All vampyres are. Because you’re human and because I—” He cleared his throat. “I’ll be careful. You tell me what you want, how gentle, how hard . . .”

He brought her hand to his thigh. “I’ll lead the dance, with you in mind. All you have to do is feel.”

Raven felt her skin flushing and she mumbled a curse word.

He touched the apple of her cheek with his index finger. “It pleases me that I excite you. I’m looking forward to watching your face when you climax. Tell me, what do you enjoy? What do you crave? My tongue between your legs, in your mouth, on your breasts?

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