Underworld: Blood Enemy, page 15
Lucian sighed. Soon he and Sonja would have to part once more. Though they had been meeting secretly in the old chapel for more than a month, parting before sunset had not become any easier. If anything, it was growing harder and harder to tear himself away from her at the end of each clandestine tryst.
What I wouldn’t give to have her with me always!
They held each other beneath a down coverlet Sonja had smuggled into the chapel some weeks ago. Their covert efforts had transformed the decrepit chamber somewhat, making it a warmer and more inviting place. Cushions and candles had been placed around the chapel. Dust, cobwebs, and rat droppings had been swept away. Burning incense combated the musty atmosphere.
Lucian felt as though he had been granted new life as well; the last several weeks had been the happiest of his existence, despite the constant need to conceal their love from the rest of the world.
Sonja shivered beside him. “Are you cold?” he asked, reaching for a fur-trimmed cloak lying across the foot of the coverlet. Only a thin linen shift protected Sonja’s upper body from a chilly draft that penetrated the stone walls through cracks in the mortar.
“Nay,” she answered, refusing the cloak. Sonja grimaced unhappily. “I only shuddered at the realization that Saint George’s Eve is but two months hence.”
Lucian’s spirits sank at the thought. He and Sonja seldom spoke of her impending arranged marriage to Nicolae, fearing to spoil their precious hours together, but perhaps the time had come; they could not deny the cruel reality of her engagement much longer. “I know,” he conceded.
Desperate brown eyes entreated his. “Perhaps we can run away together?”
If only that were possible, he thought. He had considered it, of course, but he feared for Sonja’s safety beyond the protection of the coven. “Where could we go?” he asked her glumly. “We would be alone in a world of mortals, like the ones who tried to kill us both at the keep.” A vivid memory of Sonja facing death at the hands of an angry mob flashed behind his eyes. “We would have to try to pose as mortals, with the threat of exposure constantly hanging over us.” He threw up his hands. “How long could we conceal your aversion to daylight, my monthly transformations?” He paused to let the bitter truth of his words sink in. “Hell, I’ve barely spoken three words to a mortal in my entire life! How could I possibly hope to pass for one on a daily basis?”
It would only be a matter of time, he thought, before our true natures were revealed. He saw them both burning at the stake in the square of some godforsaken mortal hamlet, the flames reducing Sonja’s lovely body to ash as surely as a ray of sunshine would. Do I dare risk Sonja’s eternal life, even for the sake of our love?
“But you told me Brother Ambrose is dead,” she protested. “My father killed him before your very eyes.”
He shook his head. “I fear the monk was not unique. Believe me when I tell you that the mortal realm remains our enemy.” He gestured at a cracked and faded mural on the opposite wall, which depicted writhing sinners cast down into the pits of hell by Satan himself. Bat wings sprouted from the Devil’s shoulders, while bloodstained fangs were bared in a malevolent grin. “Do you see? As far as the outside world is concerned, we are all the spawn of Satan, soulless monsters who live only to poison the world with our evil.” His voice held not a grain of doubt. “There is no refuge for us there.”
Sonja fell silent, unable to dispute his dire assessment of their chances. “Perhaps it will not be so bad,” she murmured finally. “Staying here, I mean. We can keep on seeing each other, even after the wedding. ’Tis not uncommon, particularly in politically arranged marriages, for vampire ladies to take lovers, provided they do so discreetly.”
But not with lycans, Lucian thought. Never with my kind.
“Who knows? Perhaps Nicolae will leave me alone after our wedding night.” Sonja’s voice faltered, as though she were trying to convince herself and failing. “They say he prefers mortal mistresses to vampire women.”
“This is true,” Lucian granted, even though he hated the very idea of sharing Sonja with another man, with Nicolae least of all. But what other choice did they have?
She cuddled closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. “I suppose you could see it as romantic, in a way,” she murmured, still struggling to find a glimmer of light in the darkness ahead. “We’ll be like Lancelot and Guinevere or Tristan and Iseult.”
“Indeed,” he said to comfort her, well familiar with the legendary lovers she spoke of thanks to the performances of various bards and minstrels. Given Sonja’s superior education, he knew it was not necessary to point out that both tales ended sadly.
Must our love lead to heartache as well?
A sharp knock at the door jolted them both. “Lady Sonja?” shouted a gruff voice Lucian instantly recognized as belonging to Soren. “Are you in there?” The bolted doors rattled as Soren tried to force his way inside. “Lady Sonja? I must speak to you at once!”
The lovers froze in panic. Lucian shot a glance at the calibrated candle to see if they had lost track of time, but no, the amount of wax remaining indicated that sunset was still nearly an hour away. Soren must have risen early for some reason and come in search of Sonja.
Sonja glanced hesitantly at the doors, clearly uncertain whether to respond to the overseer’s hails. Perhaps if we say nothing, Lucian thought, Soren will give up and go away.
“Lady Sonja!” Soren pounded heavily on the oaken door. “You must answer me. I can see the candlelight through the cracks in the wood. Lady Sonja!”
So much for that idea, Lucian realized. Soren sounded as though he had no intention of leaving until he spoke with Sonja. “Stall him,” Lucian whispered as he leaped to his feet and began gathering up his scattered garments and belongings. He moved swiftly but stealthily, trying to make as little noise as possible.
“Your pardon, Soren,” Sonja called out. For herself, she snatched up her cloak and hastily wrapped it around her. She drew the fur-trimmed hood over her unbound hair. Her feet slipped into her shoes. “I apologize for the delay. I shall be with you shortly.”
Soren rattled the door impatiently. “Please, your ladyship!” he insisted. Did he fear she was being held hostage or mayhap preparing to leap through the stained-glass window? “Unbolt the door!”
Lucian kicked assorted loose articles of clothing behind the marble altar, then ducked behind the tapestry depicting the Wolf and the Lamb. Sonja waited for the hanging fabric to settle, then nervously approached the door. Lucian watched through a minute tear in the tapestry as she unbolted the door. She opened it just enough to reveal Soren’s scowling face glaring at her from the corridor outside.
“Patience, good Soren,” she said with feigned nonchalance. “How may I assist you?”
“You were not in your bedchamber!” he complained, as though her unexplained absence was a personal affront. “Your father rose early and sent me to summon you, but you were nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere for you, until I found a scullery maid who remembered seeing you climb the stairs to this deserted rat hole.” He barged into the chapel despite Sonja’s hesitant efforts to keep him outside. Suspicious eyes searched the forgotten chamber, no doubt spotting the cushions and candles arrayed about the room. He sniffed the incense-laden air. “What are you doing here?”
Lucian held his breath behind the tapestry, praying that the clamor of the storm would mask the sound of his racing heartbeat. Judging from the faint illumination coming through the stained-glass windows at his back, the day outside was dark and overcast. Small wonder Viktor awakened early, he surmised. We were careless not to anticipate as much.
“I find this old chapel to be an ideal place to study and be alone with my thoughts,” Sonja explained. She glanced at the ponderous tome lying on the floor by the altar, taking care to hold the front of her cloak tightly shut. “As you know, few visit this particular chamber anymore, so I am seldom interrupted in my studies—at least until now,” she added pointedly. “
Sonja’s lies struck Lucian as plausible enough, but would Soren believe them? What if he insisted on searching the chapel instead? Lucian sweated behind the tapestry, every muscle in his body tensed for action. If forced to it, he would battle Soren with his bare hands and teeth. Without the full moon to transform him, he and Soren would be far too evenly matched to guarantee an easy victory, but Lucian would not surrender Sonja to the mercy of the Council without a fight. It doesn’t matter what happens to me, he resolved, but I will not see Sonja punished for loving me.
Agonizing moments dragged on interminably as Soren mulled over Sonja’s words, a dubious expression on his bearded face. Sonja sought to distract him by prattling on as though nothing were amiss. “What say you, Soren? Would not this venerable chapel be an inspired setting for Nicolae and me to exchange our wedding vows? I must remember to suggest as much to my dear father when next we meet to discuss my nuptials.”
“This pest hole?” Soren replied. He sneered at the neglected chapel with open disdain. Sonja’s query, however, succeeded in reminding him of his original purpose. “Your father awaits,” he announced brusquely. “Come with me now.”
But Sonja knew better than to face her father wearing only a shift beneath her cloak. “You forget yourself, Soren,” she said, asserting her authority. “The daughter of an Elder is not to be ordered about like some common serving wench.” She drew herself up majestically, raising her chin high. “Go now. You may tell my father that I shall be with him anon.”
Soren’s expression darkened. Sonja’s dismissive tone obviously nettled him. “But milady—”
“Leave me, knave,” Sonja rebuked him, “before I report your insolence to my father.”
Soren’s fists clenched at his sides, but he wisely held his tongue. “As you wish, milady,” he muttered as he turned his back on the altar and stalked out of the chapel. Lucian breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the overseer’s heavy tread disappearing down the stairs at the end of the corridor.
Sonja closed the chapel doors behind him, and Lucian slipped out from behind the tapestry. His heart was still pounding from their narrow escape. Sonja rushed into his arms, and he felt her tremble within his embrace. Lightning flashed behind the tapestry.
“I was so frightened,” she confessed, resting her head against his chest. “For a few moments there, I was certain we were to be discovered.”
“As was I,” he told her. “Thank fate for the storm outside.” And the incense, too, he realized. Vampire senses were not nearly so acute as those of his own breed, yet Lucian was grateful for the overpowering scents and sounds cloaking his presence. “You did well to drive Soren away before he searched the chapel.”
He could not even imagine what the consequences of such a disaster would have been; no pure-blooded vampire princess had ever been caught with a lycan lover in the centuries-old history of the coven. The Covenant spelled death for such a transgression, but surely Viktor would not have his own daughter put to death.
It had been a near thing, Lucian realized. He held Sonja tightly within his grasp, as though to protect her from dangers both past and forthcoming. We must be more careful in the future, he resolved.
Much more careful.
Lucian waited for Kraven at their usual meeting place, a dismal alley in one of central Pest’s grimier neighborhoods. Darkened warehouses and sweatshops loomed above the empty street. Broken glass and cigarette butts littered the pavement beneath a broken street lamp that the city seemed in no hurry to repair. Graffiti covered the sooty brick walls of the alley, while several meters away, a concrete overpass blocked Lucian’s view of the sky.
The cool summer night had lured Lucian out of his armored limo, so he paced outside the car, accompanied by Miklos, his bodyguard on tonight’s mission. Ordinarily, Raze joined him on such outings, but his fierce lieutenant was still recovering from the injuries he’d received during the incident at Statue Park. Lucian frowned at the thought of that mysterious attack, which had cost him the lives of two loyal soldiers. That a vampire had also been reportedly killed provided only meager consolation, particularly while the identity of the assailant remained unknown.
I like to know the names of my enemies, he brooded. His brown leather jacket was open in the front, revealing the gleaming pendant resting against his chest.
He glanced at his wristwatch. It was eleven thirty-five, five minutes after the agreed-upon time for the meeting. Where the devil is Kraven? Lucian’s fingertips curled inward like claws. Spring-loaded titanium blades hid beneath the sleeves of his jacket. He should know by now that I don’t like to be kept waiting.
At last, a sleek black limousine pulled into the alley, parking only a few meters away from Lucian’s own vehicle. Soren emerged from the driver’s seat, automatic pistol in hand. He grunted at Lucian, acknowledging the lycan’s presence, and cautiously inspected the alley for any signs of betrayal. Lucian spotted a pair of telltale bulges beneath the shoulders of the former overseer’s black suit and guessed that Soren’s beloved silver whips were coiled underneath his jacket.
Some things never change, Lucian reflected. The Irish vampire was clean-shaven now, where once he had sported a dense black beard, and his allegiances had shifted dramatically, but Lucian knew that at heart, Soren was still the same sadistic brute he had always been. Lucian’s back had not forgotten the excruciating bite of the silver lashes.
Barbed vertebrae tore through his ragged tunic, making ribbons of his hide. Merciless silver burned his skin, even as the whip sliced through his defenseless flesh, paring it to the bone.
Quickly determining that no deadly surprises were in store, Soren opened the passenger door of the limo and gestured for Lucian to step inside. The lycan leader nodded at Miklos, who he knew would keep a close eye on Soren, then slid into the backseat of the vampires’ limo and closed the door behind him.
Kraven waited inside the car, stylishly clad in a tailored Armani suit. Expensive rings glittered on his fingers. A golden chain hung about his neck. Kraven had done well for himself since Lucian had first met him more than eight hundred years ago. Now Kraven ruled over Ordoghaz in Viktor’s name and claimed credit for “killing” Lucian centuries ago.
This suited Lucian, who had his own reasons for letting Viktor and the other vampires think him dead.
“What’s this all about?” Kraven demanded petulantly. As ever, Kraven attempted to conceal his fear of Lucian behind a show of arrogant bluster and indignation. “Dammit, you know how dangerous it is for us to meet like this! Suppose someone sees us together?”
Lucian ignored Kraven’s feeble histrionics. He knew who truly held the power in their alliance, even if Kraven liked to pretend otherwise. “I judged the need to be worth the risk,” he stated, resting his back against the cushioned black leather seat. “I assume you know of the incident at Statue Park?”
“Yes, yes,” Kraven said impatiently. “Some lunatic hurled grenades at your agents during an arms deal. Selene told me all about it.”
Lucian knew that Selene was a female Death Dealer, said to be singularly relentless in her pursuit of lycans; he had yet to meet her, but she had claimed the lives of many of his followers over the years. He looked forward to returning the favor someday soon.
“So?” Kraven whined. “What of it?”
Lucian fixed an intimidating gaze on Kraven, who gulped involuntarily. “I need to know, Kraven, that you had no involvement in this attack.”
“What? You think I had something to do with your flunkies getting killed?” Kraven threw up his hands in frustration, all wounded innocence. “You can’t blame me if the Death Dealers track down a couple of careless lycans. That’s what they do.”
A growl entered his voice, and his blood began to boil dangerously at the prospect of his carefully laid schemes going awry at this critical juncture. Amelia would be returning to Europe within a few months to preside over Marcus’ Awakening, but if all went according to plan, none of the Elders would live to see the new year. The war was almost over, assuming that he could just keep control of the situation… and Kraven.
The cowardly vampire blanched at Lucian’s angry snarl. “I swear upon my life,” he insisted. “I had nothing to do with that attack! I know as little as you do!”
Could it be he was telling the truth? Lucian was starting to think so. Kraven was nothing if not deceitful, as Lucian knew better than most, but after eight centuries of dealing with the treacherous vampire, Lucian thought he could tell when Kraven was lying shamelessly—and this was not one of those times.
In truth, it is I who usually feeds Kraven his lies.
His mind flashed back to the first time he met the ambitious young vampire, outside the gates of Ordoghaz. In his memory he heard Kraven’s silver crossbow bolt whiz past his head once more. Who would have ever imagined, Lucian thought, that we would end up allies of a sort, if only until my plans are realized? Once the Elders are dead and the Corvinus strain within my grasp, Kraven will be expendable, and Soren as well.
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