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Lyric Santiago stepped into a pair of diamond-encrusted Louboutins. They merely twinkled as if they were paste jewels when compared to the fabric hugging her body. A sexy gown shimmered over her skin with her movement. It felt like a summer breeze had wafted through the closed bedroom window. Lyric smiled at the unexpected sensation.
That was about the only thing that could make her smile today.
"Gorgeous," Charish said.
Charish lingered by her daughter's bedroom door, observing. The matriarch of the Santiago clan looked as young as Lyric, but had lived as a vampire for over a century. Her blond hair was pinned up in a I960s beehive hairstyle with a tiny pink bow attached front and center.
No matter how many centuries she lived, Lyric swore she would never get stuck in a fashion decade.
"I'm so glad you decided to try it on before you leave for the exchange," Charish said.
"How could I resist something that is probably a dream to most?"
Striding before the floor-length mirror framed upon the closet door, Lyric gasped at her first sight of the gown on her body. It dazzled. She could not see her reflection, but the dress conformed to her shape in the eerie manner she'd become accustomed to when viewing clothing on her body.
The gown had been made and was treasured by Faery's Seelie court. Fashioned from thousands of faery-mined diamonds, each of them no larger than an ant's head, it had been sewn together with spider silk. The silk was almost invisible, and it looked as though the diamonds that lay upon her skin were droplets of water under the sun, until the skirt swung gracefully about her ankles creating swishy waves of blinding brilliance.
It was rumored to give the wearer unimaginable magic should a faery don the gown. Holes could be torn in the sky to reveal other worlds. Entire faery clans could be leveled. Love (an uncommon sentiment to the fickle sidhe) could be annihilated or made pure.
On Lyric, a vampire, it would grant no such power save the sensual prowess to make men drop their jaws, stumble over their own feet and profess true lust for one promising wink from her.
She turned sideways and looked down her figure. Slender and toned, thanks to her gymnastics hobby, the gown clung to a taut stomach and her lean thigh muscles. The bodice slipped along the sides of her full breasts.
She liked the tease, and yet only wielded it when necessary.
A twist to check her backside showed the gown plunged to just above her derriere. Were the plunge an inch lower it would reveal things even she preferred to keep covered.
The gown, while revealing more than enough, could never keep all her secrets. Tugging her blond hair forward to cover her left ear, she made sure her mother had not been aware of the move.
"You should take it off now," Charish suggested in her quiet yet demanding tone. "Wouldn't want to muss it."
"Of course. It does feel powerful."
"That could be the faery dust. Take it off, dear, before you get a contact high. Leo wore gloves when he handled that thing."
The gown had once belonged to the Seelie court, yet had been stored in a security safe by Hawkes Associates, a firm that represented the paranormal nations and acted as a sort of bank and store-all for their assets.
Priceless, the gown was a huge coup her brother, Leo, had stolen a week ago after her mother had requested he do so. Lyric had been surprised at Leo's easy submission to the one person he complained stifled his freedom. Yet at the same time, Charish Santiago could squeeze a tear out of the most stalwart warrior: she was master of manipulation.
Fact was, the Santiago clan was nearly bankrupt. Charish needed money. Fast. Pity, the domineering fiancé Charish claimed to love couldn't provide financial support. Lyric thought him worthless, but her mom did seem to genuinely love him.
If it would help her mother, Lyric was in for the ride tonight, even with the danger it promised.
Another glance in the mirror stirred up the frustration Lyric had thought she'd long pushed aside. She hadn't seen her reflection in nearly two decades. Sure, she'd seen it until puberty, when bloodborn vampires came into their blood hunger, but her memory was of a towheaded young waif whose love for summer camp and horses diametrically opposed what stood before the mirror.
She teased a strand of hair over her shoulder. Nothing good had come of that final summer before she'd completely transformed. Tonight brought up memories that she must vanquish once and for all. But would she be successful?
"The demon guards are prepared?" she asked her mother.
"Yes, three of them. Don't worry, Lyric."
"I'm not." Yes, she was.
"The guards will accompany you to the handoff site, and have been instructed not to allow the Lord of Midsummer Dark to take the exchange into Faery. You'll be safe."
Safe? Lyric sighed. If only.
The handoff site was at a known doorway to Faery. One wrong step and Lyric would never return. But she couldn't express her worries to her mother. She'd kept it a secret for so long, it was best she continue. If things went tonight as planned, it would be the beginning of the end.
"Give me a bit to get changed."
"Certainly. The driver isn't scheduled to leave for another hour, so take your time, dear."
"You going to wait with Connor?" She couldn't summon enthusiasm into that question. If the fiancé would show some initiative toward supporting Char-ish, she could at least bless her mother's choice.
"I wish you'd give him a chance, Lyric," Charish said. "He loves me. I need someone to take care of me. It's been difficult heading the Santiago clan since your father's death. People rely on me and expect certain rewards and contributions in exchange for an alliance. I can't do it all."
"I wouldn't expect you to, Mother."
Lyric wished Connor wasn't so devious. She suspected he was at the root of the pilfered Santiago fortuneit had literally run empty over the past yearbut she couldn't prove it.
Five decades earlier, Charish had married a thief, and a damned good one. John Santiago had not aligned himself with a vampire tribe, and had instead created a sort of mafioso ring of unaligned vampires across Europe. He had sought power and money, and all the blood a vampire could drink. Lyric wasn't sure exactly what had brought money into the family, but it didor rather, hadflowed generously. Her father had died when Lyric was eight, but not before teaching her older brother, Leo, the skills of the trade.
Since Leo had left the family nest two years ago, Charish had faltered, taking on the weight of her deceased husband's responsibilities as if a blow to her soul. Until this newest opportunity had presented itself.
Maybe she could convince her mother to keep the reward she'd win from the exchange and ditch the fiancé? The exchange tonight was not for cash, but the return payment, if handled correctly, could prove profitable.
Lyric ran a finger along her ear, tucking her hair behind it, which was a habit she'd developed when she was thirteen. Last year of summer camp
"I'll see you in a bit, dear." Charish blew her daughter a kissactual physical affection was not in the matriarch's arsenaland backed from the room, her high heels clicking on the tiles as she went in search of her lover.
Another sigh could not be helped. Tonight would decide her fate. Running her palm over the diamonds felt as if she had skimmed a cool stream. The gown fascinated her, but much as she adored fashion, Lyric preferred a more subdued look. She didn't like to stand out in a crowd.
Behind her, a glass-on-glass scraping noise cut through the twilight. The floor-to-ceiling bedroom window, secured at each upper corner by a large rubber suction device, popped inside the room.
Lyric backed toward the mirror, slapping her hands to it as two figures in dark clothing stalked toward her. Just as she was about to scream, one of them punched her across the jaw, knocking her out.
Her body wilted in a glitter of priceless faery diamonds. The intruders opened up a black body bag and stuffed the vampiress inside.
The granite-colored Maserati GranTurismo convertible squealed around a corner in the tenth ar-rondissement, clipped the bumper of a parked BMW, yet continued onward at twice the speed limit on the narrow, cobbled street. The driver spied a parking space and swerved, hitting the brakes, which swung around the tail of the vehicle and nestled it between two parked cars. Neither car sustained damage, which surprised the hell out of the driver.
He was still mastering the mortal means of transportation.
Killing the ignition abruptly cut off Johnny Cash's voice from the CD player. Vaillant tugged a pair of dark sunglasses from the rearview mirror and slipped them on. He checked his reflection, still not used to the fact he could not see his reflection in the mortal realmsunglasses hovering above a coat collar was just wrong.
Snakeskin boots hitting the tarmac (fakeyou gotta respect the wildlife), he stretched to his six feet six inches and nodded at a passing mortal woman who pushed a pink baby stroller. Her blush amused him.
It was rare Vaillant walked the streets before noon. He was a late sleeper. The nights were much cooler here in the summertime, which decided his preference, though his bad vampire self could walk in the day, longer than most due to his heritage.
"Heritage? Ch'yeah," he muttered as he hopped the curb and marched inside the five-story business complex nestled within view of the train station. "Lot of good family blood has served me."
In truth, such blood had only hindered every step he'd ever taken.
Addicted to the sensory marvel of touch, Vail ran his fingertips along the black marble walls leading up to the elevator bays. The iron rings on his fingers clattered. His boots clomped nastily on the marble floor. The unfastened leather buckles on his right thigh swayed like banners.
Chipped black nail polish from a night he couldn't remember caught the eye of an elderly security guard. Vail didn't usually go in for mortal adornments, but he liked the grungy look of the polish and he wasn't sure how to remove the clingy stuff.
He nodded at the security man, an elderly mortal with a thick crop of gray hair under his official cap. Running fingers through his hair, Vail then stopped before the elevator and punched in the digital code Rhys Hawkes had provided him.
Hawkes Associates was the last place he wanted to visit. He'd been here once, days after arriving in the mortal realm. He'd left with a new bank account, a new car and a new unclebut no answers.
Now, three months later, he suspected what Hawkes wanted from him. Vail had no intention of working for his pseudostepfather, who was officially his uncle. But Rhys Hawkeshalf vampire, half werewolfwas interesting enough for Vail to give him another chance.
He'd swing in, listen to what the centuries-old half-breed had to say, suck down the five-hundred-euro-a-bottle wine Hawkes kept on hand, then breeze off to the Lizard Lounge where he could slake his thirst for faery ichor. It wasn't FaeryTown, but close enough.
The elevator doors slid open to reveal a lean young man with shoulder-length red hair, freckles and muscles that would intimidate a bouncer at a biker bar. The man nodded his head to the tunes blasting through his earbuds. He took one look at Vail and lunged for him, vising his hands about the vampire's neck.
Not about to be taken down, and judging his strength equal to his attacker's, Vail shoved the redhead against the wall. With a glance aside, they were both aware the security guard stood nearby, but the mortal with a pistol secured at his hip belt didn't make a move. Smart guy.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Trystan Hawkes growled. He released his hold on Vail and tugged out the earbuds. The werewolf sneered, and spit, "Longtooth."
"I love you, too, brother. Just come from talking to Daddy?"
"He's not your father." Tryst set back his shoulders and assumed a modicum of calm, but his adamant sneer told Vail what he wouldn't say. He had already said it all, so why bother again? "You slumming with the normal folk?"
"Your daddy called me here." Vail waggled a brow in a malicious tease. "Maybe he likes me better, eh?"
Tryst chuffed. "In your demented sparkly dreams."
Vail did not sparkle, though the faery ichor he had imbibed had seeped through his pores and left a sheen on his skin. It had freaked out Tryst the first and only time they'd met right here in this building. Things had gone downhill from there.
"Glad to see there's no love lost," Vail countered. "Wouldn't want my werewolf brother to go all mushy on me."
He wanted to punch the bastard, but a frustrating sliver of need inhabiting his hardened black heart also wanted to pull the creep in for a brotherly hug. What a wib you are, Vail.
"You must be a force, brother," Vail said. "But wait. You don't run with a pack. Just a sad little omega wolf"
The wolf wielded a sneak-attack high kick. Tryst's hard rubber sole landed on Vail's jaw and ratcheted back his skull on his spine. He saw stars for a few seconds.
Rubbing his jaw, Vail smirked. "Nice one."
"You keep her insane," Tryst said forcefully.
"She's my mother, too. Like it or not," Vail said, but he couldn't get behind the retaliation. Did he keep her insane?