Dark Heirloom (An Ema Marx Novel Book 1), page 4
“A woman, she was with Jalmari.”
He sighed and slumped against the chair’s backrest. “Leena did not bite you.”
Ahh, the bitch has a name. “She’s the one that broke my leg. She saw the blood and pounced on me like I was something to eat.”
Jesu stood firm. “It was neither Leena, nor Jalmari.”
“How do you know? You weren’t there.”
“Because, if it was one of them, your eyes would be green.”
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Vampires take on the features of their sire. If either Jalmari or Leena had bitten you, your eyes would be green. Your eyes are black.”
He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket.
“Those are bad for you,” I grumbled as he lit up.
A plume of smoke leaked from his lips. “Not for vampires.”
“Well isn’t that nice.”
He sucked in a long drag and breathed out a larger cloud of smoke. “Did you see anyone else, anyone who looked like my brother, but had black eyes?”
I lived in a major city, there were thousands of people with black eyes. None of them had fangs, though, and none of them tried to attack me. “There was no one else.”
“If you are trying to protect someone—”
“Protect a vampire?”
He shrugged. “Some people do.”
“Well I wouldn’t. Look, Jesu, even if I had seen someone, I wouldn’t know their name or anything about them. I didn’t even know your brother’s name until a few minutes ago, and as far as I’m concerned, he did it. All of it.”
I stood and paced the room. What kind of game were they playing? How could Jesu admit Jalmari wanted to kill me, then say he was innocent?
“I believe you.”
I rolled my eyes. Somehow I didn’t think his opinion was the one I needed, and I doubted Jalmari would be as easy to convince.
“What about your parents?” He asked abruptly.
I paused at the window and faced him. “What about them?”
“You said you are only part Romani. What is the rest of your heritage?”
“How do I know you won’t hurt my family?”
He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead. “Never mind, we are done.”
“Can I go home now?”
He stood and went to the door. “That is not for me to decide.”
He exited the room, closing the door behind him like a normal person. I waited until his footsteps faded, then I flung myself face down on the bed and screamed my frustrations into the pillows.
How did I get into this mess?
I lay in bed for a long time with my hands over my face. I wanted to cry, but I was too angry. The crackle of the fire mixed with the howl of wind outside and beat against my eardrums relentlessly. Somehow, I knew the sounds were much softer than they seemed. The sense of darkness my brain insisted was present weighed me down. I was getting tired of my senses telling me one thing, while my mind signaled something different.
Soft pitter-patters pricked my ears, followed by the stench of wet fur. A name instantly came to my thoughts. Cat. As though confirming my guess, the animal scratched its claws against the wooden bedroom door and meowed.
My shoulders recoiled at the noise. No wonder this family was insane. They needed to soundproof the walls. My nerves frayed, I went to the door and opened it. The solid wood swung with ease, though I knew it should have been heavy. A slender black feline trotted past my ankles and leaped onto the bed. It sat and stared with bright green eyes.
“Happy now, cat?” I closed the door and paced the room, trying to think of a plan. I had nothing. My cellphone didn’t even work. Great.
I plopped down into the plush mattress. The cat stretched its limbs and yawned before slumping over on its side. It rubbed its head against my palm. My breath hitched as I realized I couldn’t feel the texture of its fur, or the warmth that must have radiated from its breath. All I felt was the light pressure of its skull against my skin.
My heart sank for the loss of my sense of touch. However, the cat purred with contentment and I smiled at the simple sound. The silly thing rolled to its back, and I gave its belly a good scratching.
“So, you’re a boy.”
He immediately rolled onto his belly and narrowed his eyes. I chuckled. “Sorry. So, little guy, do you have a name?” I searched his neck, but he didn’t have a collar. “I guess not. You’re a cute one, though. I think you’re the first black cat I’ve seen without a single white hair.”
The cat purred, closing his eyes in satisfaction.
I sighed. “You wouldn’t happen to know a way out of here, would you?”
Of course, he ignored me. I crossed over to the wardrobe, opened the drawers, and tossed some clothes on the bed. My fingers gripped the hem of the nightgown and began lifting the flimsy material. A yelp tore from the cat’s lungs. I gasped as the creature leaped into the air, and then landed with his back facing me. I cocked a brow and shook my head. Crazy animal.
I tossed the nightgown into the wardrobe, and pulled on my jeans and a sweater. While tugging on socks and shoes, I realized I could just leave. There had to be a dock and a boat somewhere on the island. Even if I got lost and froze to death in the forest, it was better than sitting here waiting for Jalmari to decide to kill me.
My mind made up, I swung my purse and backpack over my shoulder. I hesitated before the large, wooden door, unsure of what waited on the other side. My fingers wrapped around the brass handle and I opened the door a crack.
Something tugged at the cuff of my pant leg. Claws snagged my jeans. I bent and unhooked the cat’s paw and then nudged the animal away with my foot.
He meowed, looking at me with wide, sparkling eyes.
“Quiet! I’m not staying here to pet you.”
The cat huffed and ran past my legs, out the door.
I took a deep breath, and then peeked past the threshold, where I spied a vast, empty corridor. Instinctively, I closed my eyes in concentration until I heard them. Voices. Soft, bickering voices. If they seemed quiet to my sensitive ears, then they must really be far away. I stepped into the hall carefully, being as silent as possible.
The door to my room sat smack-dab in the center. The same Victorian wallpaper lined the wide corridor. Five identical doors stood on both sides, ten rooms total. The moon’s silver radiance filtered through a rectangular skylight as the sole source of illumination. A plush crimson rug ran the length of the hall, which opened on both ends. I held my breath for a moment, and then decided to go right.
I stepped slowly, testing the floor for creaks. If the rest of them could hear as well as I could, the rug wouldn’t be much help in muffling my footsteps. I kept track of them. Their voices continued to argue, yet remained faded. I couldn’t understand the language they spoke, but I did recognize the use of my name. I bit my lip to keep from scoffing.
The hallway ended before a grand double staircase which curved down and around to the foyer. Relief lightened my chest as I descended, gliding my hand along the wooden rail. In the foyer, I had to slow my pace and step quietly. The polished marble flooring shone like new without the protection of a rug.
At the door, I held my breath while trying the knob. The deadlock kept me bolted inside. I turned the brass piece as slowly as possible and nearly fainted when it clicked. The sound seemed to echo through the halls. I froze and listened. The house grew quiet. The voices stopped.
I yanked the door open and ran. My breath hitched in shock as my feet nearly flew across mud and snow. The wind tugged at my hair and clothes, but failed to slow me down. I didn’t even break a sweat as adrenaline carried me over the field toward the woods.
A tall brick fence loomed in the distance. I stopped short, overcome with disappointment at the wrought iron gate separating me from the forest. Four
I bit my lip. “How…?”
Jesu spoke up. “We can hear just as well as you can.”
“And we are better at it than you,” Leena sneered.
I gawked at them in disbelief. They outnumbered me, making running useless. My jaw clenched as I held out my wrists like a prisoner waiting for the cops to slap on the handcuffs. Maria opened her arms and closed the gap between us.
“Oh darling, you are not a prisoner, you are our guest. Come, I’ll make you something to drink.” She gripped my shoulders and gently led me back to the house, which, I now saw, was actually a castle.
My chin lifted to take it all in. It stood complete with four watchtowers and gargoyles. Large gothic windows lined the walls, each one encased by wrought iron frames and spiral-shaped bars ending in pointy spears. A blanket of leafless ivy covered a few walls. Too early in the season for it to bud, it appeared dead. The brown vines blended in with the stone walls, giving it the texture of gray flesh.
The others followed Maria and me, six eyes burning lasers into my back. I hated them. I hated being a ‘guest’ here. I missed my cluttered apartment. I missed Anthony.
In the foyer, I paused, resisting Maria’s pull. “I’d like to go to my room please.”
Her black eyes studied me. “All right, I’ll bring you something.”
“No, thanks. I’m not hungry.”
“A drink, perhaps?”
I shook my head. “I’d like to go to bed, I’m not feeling very well.” A lie—other than anger and frustration, I felt fine. She smiled politely, nodded once, and was on her way.
The others came in and Jesu closed the door. I marched upstairs before they could bother me, though I realized any one of them could magically appear in my room and harass me if they wanted. I sighed. I had to stop calling it ‘my room’; it wasn’t mine. It was more of a comfortable jail cell than a room.
Once again inside my prison, I slammed the door shut, knowing everyone would hear my displeasure. I glanced about the room. A door to the left of the fireplace caught my eye. Inside, I discovered a bathroom, complete with an oversized porcelain claw-foot tub, and a bidet. I went back to the room, unsure of what to do now.
The black cat sat in the center of the bed, watching me.
“Come to say ‘I told you so’?” I laughed and threw my hands in the air. “Great, now I’m talking to a stupid cat.”
Then, the scent of nitrogen thickened the air. I clenched my jaw and faced the door in anticipation. I listened as they approached from the left. Two pairs of footsteps, accompanied by two different scents—a musky wood and the hint of citrus, both mingled with the thick stench of predator. My brain put a name to them. Jalmari and Leena.
The cat leaped off the bed, scampering underneath to hide, as the two bodies floated into my room like phantoms, becoming whole near the wicker table and chairs.
Jalmari didn’t bother beating around the bush. “Who bit you?”
I crossed my arms. “Nice to see you again too.”
“Answer me,” he bellowed. I cupped my ears and waited for the echo in my head to stop.
“I don’t know.”
Jalmari turned to Leena. She looked unaffected by the noise, her hands on her hips. “She speaks the truth. She has no idea, but…”
She narrowed her gaze and studies me. I wondered if she was covering her own butt before Jalmari suspected her. Leena snickered.
“She thinks one of us did it.”
I scoffed. Well, at least one of them has a brain.
Leena scowled. “She thinks we lied and made everything up.”
That wasn’t what I was thinking.
“Are you calling me a liar?”
What the…? She can read my thoughts?
“That’s right, you disgusting little rat, and I have half a mind to finish what Jalmari started in Chicago.”
“Leena,” Jalmari cut in. “That’s quite enough.”
Her jaw and fists clenched as she took a step back. Her muscles tensed, the veins lifting beneath her flesh. Her stance reminded me of a Doberman pinscher.
“How dare you!” She snarled.
“I’ll rip your head off.”
We both crouched. My lip rose to show teeth as I taunted her. “Bring it on, you’d be doing me a favor.”
What the heck am I saying?
A growl sounded in Jalmari’s throat. “Leena, control yourself. Go, send for Maria.”
Leena growled as she craned her neck in his direction. For a second, I thought she might take Jalmari’s head off instead of mine. Yet, clenching her fists, she glided furiously out of the room without further incident.
Maria floated in shortly afterwards. “You called, My Lord?”
He leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “Are you sure you checked her entire body?”
“Yes, My Lord. She doesn’t have a single scratch on her.” They glanced at me.
I crossed my arms over my chest and scowled.
“Maybe I should double check,” Jalamri whispered.
I gasped. “Excuse me?”
Maria placed a hand on Jalmari’s arm. “That isn’t necessary. If she didn’t have any marks then, she certainly won’t have any now.” She paused to wet her lips. “Her eyes narrow it down to four clans.”
Jalmari nodded. “You’re right. Come.”
He opened the door. The cat ran out from under the bed, escaping into the hall just before Maria exited. Jalmari stepped out with them and closed the door. I listened as they spoke amongst each other in the corridor, but it was pointless. They spoke in a foreign language.
I groaned and massaged my temples. Why couldn’t Hungarian vampires have kidnapped me? At least I knew a little Hungarian.
Maria placed a hand on my arm, halting my advance down the hallway. Her gaze narrowed to slits, her mouth pressed in a firm line. “My Lord, what are you going to tell the Council?”
I sighed. I didn’t want to think about the Neo-Draugrian Council, or even the High Blood Council, but Maria was concerned for good reason. She knew the girl was a Romani. I wondered how much else she’d figured out on her own. I hadn’t told anyone about the voice, and had forbidden Leena from reading my mind, a gesture that shattered her heart, but I saw no other choice. I refused to lose the throne a second time. Nevertheless, they would want answers eventually.
“I will not tell the Council what she is. No one is to tell the Council what she is, understood?”
“What about the R.E.D.?”
I glanced to the side. Of course, the girl would have family and friends to answer to. Most likely a job and co-workers as well. “I will contact the American R.E.D. and file our usual report.”
“But, Jalmari, we do not know who bit her, and—”
“She was turned, was she not? It is not my fault she doesn’t know who bit her.”
Maria furrowed her brow. “What will we do with her?”
I smoothed a hand over my hair and sighed. “We watch her. Closely.”
My molecules ripped apart. I vanished into a cloud of black smoke, reappearing in my office. Taking a seat behind my desk, I set to work organizing the rather large pile of papers that had gathered. I scanned over the list of obligations Maria had left for me, deciding which to do first. I would worry about the Reclusive Eternal Dragons Society later. The girl wasn’t going anywhere and the American police would never suspect a vampyre. She would simply be filed as a missing person. Right now, I needed to call Naamah. I had been away for far too long, and things went wrong in ways I never could have predicted.
Citrus wafted into my nostrils. Leena slid into my office, her eyes gleaming with mischief. I growled in warning and turned my attention back to my tasks. She knew I hated being interrupted during my work, and I had fallen behind while tak
She set two chalices on my desk and filled them with blood from a crystal goblet. She spoke in Greek. “I know who the girl is.”
This pricked my curiosity for reasons I could not ignore. I looked at her. She had my undivided attention now.
Leena nodded. “I heard it in Jesu’s thoughts.”
My fingernails jabbed into my palms as my fists clenched. Why hadn’t my brother told me immediately?
“And?” I demanded.
“Uh-uh.” She shook her head. “You’ve been a bastard since she showed up. You owe me.” She pushed the drink closer to me. I took it and sipped at the sweet nectar.
“You know how important this information is, correct?”
Her lips stretched into a sinister smile. “More than even you realize. That is how I know you will pay me well.”
I sighed. “I do not have time for games. You know I can command it from you.”
“I do not think you would try. You do not want to cross me more than you already have.” She sat on the edge of my desk and arched her spine. Her long black hair brushed against my cheek. I breathed in the citrus scent that clung to it. It wasn’t her perfume that turned me on, but the faint aroma of blood pumping just under her soft, delicious skin.
She was right. I didn’t want to cross her. I needed her on my side more than ever, but I needed whatever information she had as well.
I walked through my desk, becoming invisible for a moment, and reappeared in front of her. I placed my hands on her waist and pulled her to her feet. I spun her around so she face the desk, her back flushed with my chest, and pressed myself hard against her firm buttocks. A pleasant sigh escaped her lips and she tilted her head to the side, exposing her pale, pulsating neck. I leaned into her ear.
“Name your price.”
My hand slid down her abdomen to her thigh and gathered the skirt of her dress, lifting the hemline above her hips. A grin tugged at my lips as her chin lifted and her mouth parted.
“I want,” she started, “to be permitted to read your thoughts again.”
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