The moment they touched down in the family room of the Neteru Guardian compound, Damali had the Caduceus in her right hand. Everyone scattered in a mad dash, as though someone had set up a rack of billiards and broken them with the cue ball.

J.L. and Krissy were hot-wiring defenses, getting emergency word to the local Covenant so that windows could be repaired and the house sealed up. Shattered glass still remained from when Carlos had sent a fury pulse out to the darkside, and with a baby in the house, Dan started damage repair and shard clean-up. Jose and Rider swept the house for intruders. The rest of the squad was on prayer barrier and visuals. The team's strongman, Big Mike, and Shabazz helped lower Carlos and Berkfield to sofas, while Marlene and Marjorie stood at the ready for healing and prayer.

Damali only allowed herself two seconds to be torn. Berk-field was straight human-she had to go to him first, or he could die. Holding the long golden staff that had been sent by the Neteru Queens, she closed her eyes and waited until the conductive energy of the metal heated her palms. Blue static energy slowly crept up the rod, igniting the dual serpents that were entwined in the Hippocratic symbol. They fled the staff in opposite directions, entering Berkfield's crown and base chakras with an angry hiss.

"I've never seen them do that before," Damali said, still holding the staff above Berkfield as she glimpsed Marjorie and Marlene.

Marlene shook her head."Me, either. This doesn't feel right at all."

Marjorie looked like she'd aged ten years as she clasped her hands together. "Tell us what to do, Damali. I can't lose my Richard after all these years." Her voice was a quiet, urgent plea.

"Keep praying," Damali said. "Then, when the healing serpents come out of him, the three of us will join hands, join our energy around him, and hope whatever happened gets reversed. That's all I know to do."

"What do you think happened, though?" Marlene said. She rounded the sofa so that she could stand at Berkfield's head, while Marjorie stood opposite Damali at the back of the furniture. "They were throwing flaming arrows, black-charge mortar rounds, and using blades. He's not nicked, didn't take a mortar . . . I can't figure this out."

Marjorie looked from the team's lead healer to Damali. "He was with Carlos when Carlos got hurt. He never got shot."

Tension wound so tightly around Damali's spine that it felt like it would snap."If I know your husband," Damali said softly, guilt lacerating her for ever calling for Medic's assistance, "he tried to go in alone and heal Carlos."

"Oh, God . . ." Marlene whispered.

"What were Carlos's injuries?" Marjorie said, taking up her husband's hand and kissing his knuckles fiercely.

Damali's gaze locked with Marjorie's. "Carlos tried to stop a train by himself." She watched Marjorie slowly cover her mouth. "He energy-lassoed it, got behind it, and dug in his heels. But the weight and momentum was too much." She hesitated as Marjorie dropped to her knees, still holding her husband's limp hand. "It jerked him forward and he got tangled up in his own energy tether . . . on his stomach. His spleen, his liver, his breastbone, and his ribs were all lacerated and cracked. If I know Carlos, though, he probably energy-shielded down the front of himself first, which is the only reason why he's probably still alive . . . and if he wakes up, will still have the most important organ to him still intact."

"Marje . . . we cannot afford to panic," Marlene said firmly. "You've gotta get up and focus. Carlos was shielding the roof, the first floor, civilians moving out, and had probably just enough bandwidth left for a thin layer on his body-like Damali said. But that might be all we need.Enough that the injuries aren't mortal."

"I told him not to go in without me . . ." Damali said softly, staring at Marj with an apology in her eyes. "It was so much heat coming at us on the roof that I had to leave them for a minute, get them down in a hole where they wouldn't get their heads blown off. I couldn't stop again, even for my own husband, or the entire joint would have been overrun. The moment Carlos passed out and shields went down . . ."

"Richard is a soldier, Damali," Marjorie said thickly with tears in her eyes. She drew a shaky breath, stood slowly, and bent over her husband's prone body and kissed his forehead tenderly. "He was a man who believed in helping people-that's why he'd joined the force, years ago. And my husband would never sit by and let a man die without trying, especially not one the way he loved Carlos. So, it didn't matter what you told him."

"Marjorie, stop it!" Marlene screamed. "You are using the word 'was' in past tense, over a patient's body!" She went to Marjorie and shook her hard and then slapped her. "He's not dead! He's not going to die unless you put that in the ether!"

Berkfield convulsed. Damali squared herself and held the rod parallel to his body, her wings ripping through her shirt. "I'm losing him, Marlene! His energy is dipping. None of his organs are knitting together."

"Richard!" Marjorie screamed. "Don't you daredie! "

"Lock hands, Mar!" Damali ordered. "Get a Twenty-third going, something's wrong with the Caduceus. Better yet, do Psalm Ninety-one!"

Heat seared Damali's palms and she was forced to drop the golden staff to a thud. Where it landed it burned, singeing the carpet, and leaving an awful acrylic stench. She rushed forward and grabbed Marjorie's and Marlene's hands, and their voices blended in a loud chant of the psalm they knew by heart.

Halfway through the verses, Berkfield convulsed again. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and opened, showing only the whites. Marjorie tried to pull her hands away to hold him, but Marlene and Damali held her hands firmly in their grip.

"Keep praying, don't leave off," Damali said, her voice getting louder with Marlene's.

Berkfield arched and gasped and the two golden healing serpents from the Caduceus exited his mouth in a swift, screaming blur, taking refuge under furniture. Immediately following them was something so large and angry that it split the sides of Berkfield's mouth as its dark head hissed and lunged forward.

Marjorie, Damali, and Marlene fell backward as the huge black serpent spewed from Berkfield's mouth in a seemingly endless length.

"Keep praying!" Damali ordered, calling theIsis into her hand.

The Caduceus snakes leapt at the massive black coils, but looked like garden snakes against an anaconda. Once outside of Berkfield's body, the thing kept growing, hissing and striking at the healing snakes, opening its cobra fan and baring massive fangs.

Damali backed it into a corner while Marjorie and Marlene kept vigil over Berkfield, who was vomiting blood. Guardian footfalls pounded the floors. Damali's blade chimed as she swung and dipped and dodged away from vicious strikes. She had to keep the thing away from Berkfield and the Caduceus healers, but it seemed to want in to Carlos's body in the worst way. The thing kept trying to maneuver around her until finally she took up a post at the foot of his couch.

"You can't have him, you bastard!" Damali shouted. "Prayer guards," she called over her shoulder. "Juanita, Heather, Inez, on post behind this sofa! Krissy, Bobby, help guard your father! Tacticals, where are you!"

A woman's scream and a baby's cry broke Damali's focus, as well as Inez's. In the split second they'd turned theirheads, the serpent lunged, struck Damali, and had her by the leg.

It lifted her, shook her, banging her from one wall to the other, trying to make her drop her blade. Feathers went flying everywhere. Plaster and paint flew off the walls and paintings fell with a crash as Damali was slung back and forth like a rag doll.But a huge black jaguar sailed through the window, and that made the creature drop Damali to the floor with a thud to turn on the lightning-fast cat.

The big cat released a threatening growl, blue-white static rolling over its coat in waves as it leapt, caught the serpent by the back of its neck, and tore into it with claws and teeth. Infuriated, the snake hit the wall to stun the jaguar and then turned on him when he fell. But J.L. and Bobby worked with Dan to get an energy band on it, lassoing its neck with a tactical charge while Damali struggled to get up. The downed cat slowly came to, transforming back into Shabazz. Rider and Mike dropped to one knee with Jose to open up rounds.

But the creature was shrewd, grabbing the sofa that Carlos was lying on, with him in it, within its coils. It brandished him in front of itself like a human shield to the gunfire, making the Guardians have to lay down their conventional weapons. Inez, Juanita, and Tara fell back, hurling razor-sharp knives that landed in the dark coils, drawing green ooze and demon screams, while Val dropped to one knee and assaulted the entity with silver arrows, blinding it in one eye.

It slung Carlos and the sofa he'd been in away angrily, turning first one way then the other, snapping and hissing wildly. Mike stomped the coffee table, splintering wood, and ran forward in complete battle lust, ramming the broken wood in its open mouth, then dove behind the overturned couch. In two seconds the entity had snapped the wood and was on a mission to get Mike. But when it turned in fury to go after Mike, it had momentarily turned its back on Damali. All it took was one strategic swing and the head came off, jaws open, falling, falling, covering Mike as he covered his head thinking he was a goner-but it all went to ash before it nicked him.

Guardians immediately went to the downed warriors. Jose and Rider had Shabazz; Juanita and Heather worked with Dan to get Carlos on his back and to make sure he was breathing. Damali bent over with both hands on her knees, heaving in air, theIsis on the floor by her feet. She looked up as Berkfield coughed and opened his eyes. The serpents from the golden staff had found their way back to the Caduceus. Her leg was bleeding but she didn't care.

Standing slowly, she trudged over toBerkfield, energy depleted, and lowered the Caduceus over his body. This time the healing rays turned golden green like they were supposed to, and the only sign of repair going on was Berkfield groaning as the sound of cracked ribs could be heard snapping back into place.

Sweaty, dirty, fatigued, Berkfield leaned over the edge of the couch and vomited, but drew a normal breath. Damali was so weary she couldn't even speak, and just patted his shoulder as she turned to go to Shabazz and Mike.

Mike stood and shook his head. "I'm cool.Just got a rug burn. 'Bazz is busted up kinda bad, though."

"I'm good. Just see if my man over there is cool. I don't like seeing Rivera out cold, ain't normal."

Damali touched Shabazz's head as Marlene went to him. "You've got a concussion. Might have whiplash, too . . . but that was an awesome shape-shift. Thank you."

"Old-school," Shabazz said with a smirk and then winced.

"I've got this-a concussion I can heal," Marlene said."Whiplash, too. We need to get Carlos conscious."

Damali shook her head. "I don't want anyone to touch him. I've gotta take him to the Neteru Council." All eyes were on Damali as she spoke. "That's what happened to Berkfield." She stared at him with a tender gaze. "Sometimes it's dangerous for a healer to go in. What attacked Carlos in that cathedral is way above any of our levels.Even yours, Richard. You have the blood in your veins, but because you were pissed off, once you drew that rage and hurt from Carlos, thinking you were just going in to help fix damaged organs, you got more than you bargained for."

She picked up herIsis and the Caduceus and went to Carlos and knelt beside him, then kissed his brow. She laid out the long blade and the staff as though he were a pharaoh and bent to brush his mouth gently with hers.

"It was beyond even yours," she murmured softly, stroking his hair away from his forehead. "That monster came up in a church.Robbed you of light.Took your hope.Which kills all dreams. Found the bitterness.Tapped into your worst fears. That's what weakened your shields, baby. You could've held that train, otherwise. Before all that, you were invincible."

There was only silence in the destroyed family room as she lowered her cheek to his chest, hugging him, wrapping them both in her wings. Tears of worry, outrage, and frustration rolled down the bridge of her nose and leaked from the corners of her eyes. Feathers were everywhere, a testimony of a battle hard-fought and possibly lost.

"You did what?" Nuit paced back and forth in front of his throne with his hands behind his back as Sebastian sat up tall on his with his arms folded over his chest.

"Yes. I raised Vlad's army for my councilwoman," Sebastian said. He looked atElizabeth and took up her hand, then kissed the back of it.

She coolly removed it and took up her goblet of blood. "But the losses were immeasurable. The Guardians were well fortified, and we underestimated their tenacity in battle. Next time, we will not be so unprepared." She shot Sebastian a meaningful glare and took another calm sip of blood.

"Perhaps, then, we should use more subtle methods," Lucrezia offered. "They are human, therefore must eat. Might I suggest poison? You did say that they had convened inunristorante, si? "

"Sei un bel genio,"Nuit said, bowing toward her with pride. He turned to Sebastian and the Countess, but addressedElizabeth . "With all due respect, Madame Councilwoman . . . that method has been tried and proven throughout antiquity as a very effective way to dispatch one's rivals. Given our current state of strained resources, it might work as an interim solution while we rebuild lost armies."

Elizabethsmiled and lifted her goblet toward Nuit and Lucrezia."Very wise. I may have to agree with you, Fallon. Your mate is a beautiful genius."

"Grazie,"Lucrezia said with a demure smile and then bowed toElizabeth from where she sat.

Not to be outdone, Sebastian interjected, "However, the primary goal, in fact thedirective we'd received from the Dark Lord, was to keep outright pressure on that Neteru team until it literally collapses from exhaustion. Tonight, I believe, we achieved that."

Nuit took up his goblet with a flourish and spoke through a bored sigh. "Is Lilith aware of this?"

"Is Lilith aware of what?" Lilith sashayed forward with Yonnie behind her, straightening his tie.

"That Vlad's army was raised and subsequently decimated inNew York City about an hour ago," Nuit replied coolly over a sip of blood.

Yonnie stopped walking.

"What did you say to me?" Lilith's gaze narrowed.

"Madame Chairwoman, we were following the prime directive from our Dark Lord, which was to keep the pressure on the Neteru team," Sebastian said quickly, defending his position. "Here are the excerpts from the battle," he said, opening his gaze to her as he spoke. "See for yourself . . .Elizabeth 's brilliant maneuvers. We took down the male Neteru, he is injured. The female is beside herself with grief-it resonated in her aura and perfumed the air as she charged us. There was outright panic, civilians injured, and the Guardians even had to worry about a baby and the child's grandmother in their midst."

"I'm curious about the one guarding the child, Sebastian,"Elizabeth said, not giving Lilith a chance to respond. "Go back in your images. She reaches into her back and pulls out silver-tipped arrows as though wearing a quiver . . . and swings, beheading our troops as though owning a long blade . . . even her movements are odd. In the chaos, she can lift herself from one place to another without the deep push off that one would expect."

Yonnie stopped breathing. The negotiation around this would be extremely dicey with a full council now and female councilwomen adept in picking up the slightest sexual vibrations in a male aura.

"She moves like an angel," Lilith murmured, studying the tapes as she rubbed her chin. "This could be problematic." She lifted her gaze to stare at Sebastian and Elizabeth. "Maybe the expense of that resource was worth it to find that out, and most certainly it was worth it to fell Rivera, even if only temporarily. AtMasada , we sacrificed eight demon legions to the cause, so Lu and I are accustomed to extremes to accomplish our goals. Were we not, we would not be in the position we're in today."

Lilith swept to her throne as she flashed through the visual images in her mind again, and nodded. "Yes . . . Lu's toxic hold on Rivera definitely weakened his ability to stop that train-and yet, fool that he is, he tried to save all those worthless, screaming humans anyway."

"But I believe the critical factor we must not overlook this time is-hestill tried. This means his hope is not completely broken, nor is his spirit. That much I know about him." Nuit paused for dramatic effect, and it worked. Lilith leaned forward and he continued to lobby his point.

"Lucrezia has made an excellent suggestion. Now there've been two full frontal assaults from this council, in follow-up to the edict handed down by our Dark Lord. First mine, to drive a child and non-gifted grandmother into the Neteru compound to complicate their lives and to compromise their battle tactics, then the Countess's, with Sebastian's animation support," he added, subtly diminishing Sebastian's role, "perhaps it is time to then employ a hidden agent."

"Ooohhh . . . I like it already, Fallon. Two hits to the face and then quietly stab them in the back after the bell. Continue."

Yonnie calmly walked to his throne and took a seat, listening.

"Poison," Nuit said."My beloved's specialty." He lifted Lucrezia's hand to his mouth, brushed it with a kiss, and then nodded to her. "Please.Share."

"They are human, they must eat," Lucrezia said with a calm shrug. "They must move around to do their music or to even fight us. They are atristoranti, alberghi-hotels-sometimes on airplanes, but Fallon tells me not so much anymore. They must shop for food to feed all those members of their teams. This was how it was done in my time. I do not claim it is effective so much now, but it would help," she said, brandishing a thirteen karat ruby ring that had golden vampire bats lifting it in a high solitaire setting. "My beloved knew my passion," she said with a smile directed toward Fallon as she opened the ring."White arsenic, my favorite." Then she bowed low in a formal court gesture. "I am at your service, Your Highness."

Lilith clapped, delighted. "I approve." Suddenly she turned on Yonnie. "So, tell me, how will you contribute?"

He knew the question of about results was coming, despite his admirable performance in Lilith's bedchamber. It always came back to what-have-you-done-for-me-lately . . . and he knew sooner or later his alliance with Val would be found out. Therefore, the best way to shield her would be to pull a Rivera move out of his throne and hide Val in plain sight, then evade the council's bullshit detection with enough truth woven in the lie.

He smiled and made a tent before his mouth as the male members of council offered him smug smiles in return.

"Remember earlier when you all were busting my stones for eating blueberry pancakes," Yonnie said casually, and then lowered his hands to study his manicure. When no one answered, he looked up. "Did anyone ever consider that I was on a mission, not just busting a grub?"

Nuit's and Sebastian's smiles faded. Yonnie nodded, glancing at the new councilwomen and then directing his attention formally toward Lilith.

"Why would a brand-new, daylight-delivered councilman not take a sip of blood . . . not even a drop, and go for blueberry pancakes?" He brushed off his lapels and then looked around again. "I know we all have our idiosyncrasies, gentlemen. However, let us never lose respect for each other's skills. We all got here because we brought something unique to the table, and as soon as we recognize that and work as a team, the faster we'll be able to carry out the big boss's directive."

"Yolando," Lilith said in a seductive croon, smiling. "Lover . . . what did you do?"

He dropped his voice and stared into her eyes. "I knew that Fallon going after the child would draw angelic outrage," he said in a bass murmur that made the other councilwomen swallow hard. He then nodded to Nuit in respect. "That was smooth, bro."

Nuit nodded in return, but his eyes were wary.

"So Ilaid near where I always meet Rivera. I knew I would be perceived as a demon trying to go after yet another of the Light's Neterus. And she came out of the sky raining silver fire on me." He paused, showed them the edited version of the battle, and then sat back, fading the image to black.

Lucrezia's hand went to her heart."Incredibile!" She looked around. "This was socoraggioso! "

"I see why you love her, Fallon," Yonnie said, issuing Lucrezia an appreciative gaze in a way that would infuriate Nuit. "But that was not the courageous part, baby. You see, a man must have patience." He smiled and then backed off Fallon, whose fangs were lengthening. "Your husband taught me that. In fact, our dear Chairwoman told me to watch and learn from the best on this council during your most elaborate installation. Trust me, I have. I may not tell him, but I do watch his every move, learning."

Fallon sat back, somewhat mollified, his fangs slowly retracting to normal feed length.

"Anticipation strums through me,"Elizabeth said in her heavy, exotic tone. "Please, release us."

Yonnie smiled. Sebastian would just have to be angry. He was no threat. His wife was the one to watch, so he had to humor her.

"Just like the late and revered Vlad taught us . . . one must study a victim to lure them into an open trap. This is what I did to my feathered friend." He took a sip from his goblet and then winced, and chose his words carefully, never calling Val an angel and leaving her status a question mark. "She trusts me."

"How?"Lilith breathed, leaning forward, eyes burning with passion.

"After I fatigued her in battle and she thought I would attack her, I didn't." Yonnie looked atElizabeth . "If you want to infiltrate an enemy or inspire their deepest fear, always let one live to escape and return to tell the others." He returned his gaze to Lilith. "I asked her to smell me, I had no blood in my system-but I was hungry as hell. Then I asked her to sit with me and minister to me while I ate my first meal as a daywalker . . . because having seen the Light, I wanted to experience just one sun, one meal, not as a vampire," he said, passion trembling in his voice as he made a fist and pounded the arm of his throne. "And she bought it."

Lilith leapt up from her chair and came to him, held his face with both hands, and kissed him. "What then?"

"I fed her strawberry pancakes and began talking to her about the pleasures of this earth plane . . . telling her about things she never experienced."

Lilith pressed one hand to her heart and the other against her belly. "You were attempting an angel seduction . . ." She backed away until her butt hit the council table. "Only a few have ever tried something so dangerous."

"We are in the end of days," Yonnie said, allowing his fangs to go to battle length for drama. His made his eyes glow red."By any means necessary."

"Show me," Lilith murmured and then swept her arm around to the others. "Show them how it's done!"

"I told her of my special bond with the male Neteru from our old days running the streets at night together. I shared that I knew Fallon had attacked a child and an old woman, and there would be more to come. I asked her to redeem me by trusting me . . . said I had learned from over two hundred years of this incarcerated life that I wanted to change . . ." Yonnie stood, adding power to his speech, holding the council chambers for ransom. "And I begged her to warn Rivera-yes, I gave her a warning message that I knew would arrive late and useless. She was so far away," he added with a sinister chuckle. "But to get my message, she had to allow me to come in close and mind-lock her. As long as I have an invitation, I can go anywhere. Isn't that how it's done?"

Lilith swooned but remained upright. She licked her bottom lip and nodded. Lucrezia took up Fallon's hand and squeezed it tightly.Elizabeth clutched a fist against her stomach.

"Even I concede," Fallon breathed. "Might, in the interest of war strategy, you consider sharing that image,monami? "

"Because we are all family," Yonnie said with a sly smile. "I'll more than share it . . . I'll let you feel it . . . hear it, and smell it. Fair?"

"More than fair," Sebastian rasped.

Yonnie dampened the torch lights, infusing the chambers with what seemed like a late-afternoon sunset. Soon the brisk, salty tang of ocean air filled the room and every vampire closed their eyes for a moment and inhaled as Yonnie layered in the sound of waves and gulls on a breeze that rippled through their hair.

"Yolando . . ." Fallon crooned. "You are indeed an artist."

"I learned from you, man," Yonnie replied quietly.

"Michelangelo and da Vinci together, you and Fallon," Lucrezia breathed.

"Her wings are so soft . . ." Yonnie said, not having to cover that truth with a lie. "Just like her flawless, ebony skin . . ." He sent Val's shudder through the members of chamber, causingElizabeth to gasp out loud.

"Could you tell us what it felt like to go inside her head?" Sebastian asked, practically panting.

"Yeah . . ." Yonnie murmured, becoming arousedhimself as the memory played out in stereo. "I pleasure-packed themessage like this."

"Damn, Yolando," Nuit whispered. "You have learned much. I shall never challenge you on this topic again."

As a finale, he copied Val's last shudder and then allowed it to die off. Then he suddenly restored the lights and turned off all sensation access to his mind.

Stunned faces greeted him and he began to angrily pace. "But I was so damned close! I almost had her!" he said, pounding his fist on the table and splashing blood. "That was what I was doing when you all called me back here to argue about bullshit! I could have compromised her fully and had a mole like you wouldn't believe in there." He walked back and forth so agitated that it wasn't an act. "I came back here so horny that I didn't want to hear shit!"

"Understood," Nuit said, frustrated enough at the interrupted vision that he bore fangs when he spoke to Sebastian. "The timing, as I told you before, Councilman, wastres mal ."

"Then, Yolando," the Countess said with stilted breathing. "I so wish you would have taken out that frustration in chambers."

Yonnie nodded at her, despite Sebastian's hiss. "It would have been my pleasure . . . but with all due respect to the legend, you know?"

"At times, the past must be laid to rest," she said, eyes beginning to glow. "But that you are also a gentleman, like that of the old world, is beyond refreshing."

"Thank you," Yonnie said. "I am glad someone around here finally sees my value-other than Lilith," he added, to remain politically correct. He bowed to Lilith. "Had you not saved me from myself . . ." He shook his head.

"Oh, Yonnie," Lilith said with a knowing smile. "I am the one who thanks you. It was definitely my pleasure to help you gather yourself."

"The others got to do installation rites while I was working my game . . . then my conquest got snatched. I was fucked up. You have no idea."

"Our apologies," Nuit said, in a rare gesture of extending a truce. "It will not happen again,mon ami . No man should have to endure coitus interruptus. It istres mal for the nervous system."

"It's all good," Yonnie said, taking a deep swig of blood before returning to his throne. "But I want you all to stay off my back and out of my maneuvering space while I work the chick with the wings. Cool? If they ever dislodge that tracking charge from Rivera, which is likely, then I can get back in through the beach beauty. But if you make me spook her, there's a lost opportunity. So fall back on that one. She's off-limits and mine to work."

Nuit gave him a tenuous nod, as did Sebastian. Yonnie's gaze narrowed as Lilith's smile widened. His voice became harsh as anger flared and he spoke inDananu .

"What, motherfucker?" he said, jumping up, battle bulking and pointing at Nuit. "You givingme lukewarm, when you owe me a mate?"

Nuit smiled. "Ah . . . you remembered our old transaction."

"Hell yeah, I remembered!"

"But the Dark Lord discharged the debt when he-"

"Oh, no, bullshit."Yonnie spun and looked at Lilith. "Pull the records, point of order. The Dark Lord dischargedmy debt, took my shit out of escrow, not yours!"

"The man is right, Fallon. Some things I dismiss, but never the words of the Dark Lord. He becomes tense when people do that."

Fallon threw his head back and laughed. "I was just testing you, Yolando, to see if you really learned anything from me, after all. You have,monami . You letnothing slide-nor do I . . . and weboth remembereverything ."

Yonnie's and Fallon's eyes met. It was a dangerous moment, and chambers became quiet.

"Settleyourself ," Nuit finally said. "It is true. You are owed two mates, actually. Tara and, I believe, Gabrielle. So, no, we will not interfere in youraffaires du coeur, from this point forward-even, as you say, those that are simple booty calls. Satisfied?"

Yonnie nodded and pointed at the crest in the table. "I want it on the record."

"Fair exchange is no robbery," Fallon said, standing and walking over to receive the blood bite.

"You're in too good a mood, brother," Yonnie muttered under his breath as he and Fallon passed each other.

"A good woman will do that for you," Fallon said quietly with a low chuckle, so that only Yonnie could hear. "Just make sure you don't fuck up and try to drag an angel to a throne. I am not blind. Take care. That could be disastrous. They'll nuke chambers."

Yonnie turned away, unnerved by Nuit's shrewd perception. "Sebastian, I want it from you, too."

"I was not in the original transaction," Sebastian protested. "Why should I?"

"Because I don't want any accidents in the future."Yonnie looked at the Countess and then Lucrezia. "Point of order, of all the feats, we could have a pissing contest about which one was the most insane to try to pull off, which took the most balls, and jeopardized the least resources-and then based on pecking order, or whose dick is the longest, we can reshuffle mates. Guaranteed, if we play musical chairs, I'll have a seat. Will you?"

"Sebastian,"Elizabeth remarked coolly, "unless you want to find yourself a bachelor again, I suggest you accept the man's very reasonable terms not to interfere with his personal affairs during our ruthless games of war."

Lilith stood as Sebastian grudgingly went to the crest. "Then it's all settled."

Yonnie smirked. "No offense, but do I look crazy to you?"

She chuckled and rolled up her sleeve. "You don't miss a trick, do you?"

"You did Gabrielle . . . what can I say?"

"That I did," Lilith said with a sigh. "And I suppose you want the wives to also commit?"

Yonnie just folded his arms over his chest. "No offense but, one is good with poison, one has a penchant for torture . . . and anyone I mate will be a Master-level female, with no available seats on the council, therefore at a power disadvantage. This is why I don't wantany bullshit."

"All right, Yolando. You have certainly earned this one, easy demand. After this, I will be leaving for a while. There is much to do in preparation, and theMiddle East beckons me. I trust that now that all dissension has been quashed, you can move forward with subtler, less resource-intense strategies?"

Nods of agreement met Lilith as her gaze slowly raked the expressions around the pentagram-shaped bargaining table. Without further protest, everyone got up, extended their wrists to the crest, accepted the harsh bite, and then sat back down. Only then did Yonnie sit back in his throne and relax. His mind was racing a mile a minute. He had to take his time leaving and endure the politics for a while longer, but his main concern was what was happening with Carlos and the family.

"It seems that there is perfect balance on this council," Lucrezia noted in a cheerful voice. "You may take your leave with a clear mind. We are all prepared to work together to the common goal of Neteru destruction. Following your husband's initial assault, Your Majesty . . . Fallon, Sebastian, and Elizabeth have hit the Guardians hard with variations of a full frontal attack. Then Yonnie has come in through the back door to compromisean angel, who obviously had been sent to protect the most vulnerable member of their family-that horrid, screeching child. Then I, with poison, can double back, just as they believe they are safe, to injure and hopefully eliminate more of their family members. Perhaps even Yolando and I can team up, to get the angel to deliver the poison, since he has a way with her?" She waved her hands with sadistic glee. "In any event, it shall be intriguing!"

Tags: L.A. Banks Vampire Huntress Legend Vampires