The new master vampire of Cincinnati has arrived . . . and she wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is therethreatening Rachel's allies, causing city-wide chaos, and, to add insult to injury, even forcing Rachel out of her current quarters. Ever since Rachel found a way to save the souls of vampires, the old undead's longtime ascendancy has been broken. Now Constance sees eliminating Rachel as the key to consolidating her own power.
Rachel has no desire to be enthralled or killedand she's terrified of what may become of the city if Constance forces a return to the ancient ways. But even a witch-born demon can't stand against the old undeadat least, not alone. And if Rachel refuses to claim the role of Cincinnati's master demon, the city will tear itself apart, taking her and all those who stand beside her with it.
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Cincinnati's airport was predictably noisy with the Friday crush, the press of people and chatter giving rise to an unexpected unease. Sitting straighter in the row of uncomfortable chairs, I scanned the throng of constant movement for a furtive shadow, someone making an effort to blend in, someone not moving. But there was only the lone TSA agent leaning up against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared at me as if I might start throwing spells. Seeing my attention on him, he made the "I've got my eyes on you" gesture, and, frowning, I ran my middle finger under an eye to give him the one-fingered kiss-kiss back.
Immediately he pushed off from the wall to blend in with the domestic travelers, but I knew there was probably a camera or six trained on me, and as I tucked a stray curl that had escaped my braid back behind an ear, I watched the oblivious throng to see if anyone had noticed. Quen, standing at a nearby table with Ellasbeth and the girls, gave me a knowing half smile and I warmed.
"Crap on toast, I'm not banned from air travel anymore."
Am I? I wondered as I tucked the curl back again, stretching to look over and around the milling people until I found Trent returning from the coffee counter with three coffees and two cups of juice. The cardboard tray and primary-colored kids' cups would have looked odd against his business suit and tie any other place, but here, at the Hollows International Airport, it all seemed to work.
My breath caught as he jerked to a halt, eyes going from the sloshing coffee to the tall, blond, beautiful living vampire who had cut him off. Oblivious, the man ghosted past with an eerie quickness, clearly late for his gate. Trent's gaze rose to find mine, a slight lift of his chin telling me he'd be right back. Lucy was shouting to hear her voice come back from the high ceiling, and Ellasbeth was becoming increasingly tight-lipped and frustrated.
I slouched, smile threatening as Trent distracted the girls into better behavior. Lucy downed her juice immediately, but her quieter, more reserved sister ignored the cup, focused on the three dogs trotting through the terminal before their abundantly tattooed and therefore clearly Were owners. They were the size of small ponies, and probably ran with the pack.
Ellasbeth looked frazzled in her professional, cream-colored suit, her thousand-dollar purse at her feet. My jeans, dark green leather jacket, and low-heeled, butt-kicking boots were out of place beside her boardroom polish, but that wasn't unusual. The six-hour flight and four-hour time shift were going to leave their mark. Fortunately, flying first class turned cranky little girls from annoying to adorable. That she'd dressed them alike in blue and white jumpers and matching hats stuck in my craw, but it would make keeping track of them easier.
If I was honest, I was glad I didn't have any luggage tagged for Seattle in the pile beside them. I was sitting this one out, but I still kept my gaze on the passing people with more than a mild scrutiny as they moved around the small family like water about a stone, leaving no mark in memory or deed. Oh, Trent was still recognized every time he stuck his beautiful blond head outside of his estate's gates, but lately, people were more inclined to whisper and snap furtive pictures than rush over to shake his hand and ask for a selfie.
A quiver of something spilled through me as Trent finished with the girls and came over, two cups of coffee in his grip. Smiling, I took the one he offered, shifting in the seat to make the row of chairs seem more private.
"They didn't have skim," he said, his expressive green eyes pinched in a charming, faint worry. "Two-percent okay?"
Nodding, I sipped it, appreciating the unusual richness. "Thanks. Yes." It was almost time. I could tell Trent was anxious as he glanced at his watch and settled in to wait. His familiar sigh went right to my core, and the touch of his knee against mine made me reconsider. But no. I had too much to do, and me leaving to tag along like so much baggage was not a good idea.
I'd miss him, but even if there was no trouble brewing in the Hollows, I wouldn't willingly spend seven days with Ellasbeth's family, pretending everything was peachy keen while Trent sparred with the elven mucky-mucks, demanding they recognize his Sa'han status.
Warm and nutty, the coffee slipped down my throat as I watched Ellasbeth over my cup. Her lips fell into a thin line when she noticed my knee touching Trent's, but her smile became real as she cajoled Ray into trying her juice. Still, that tiny line in her forehead never went away.
"I'm going to miss you and the girls," I said, and Trent took my hand, giving it a squeeze as he settled it on my leg.
"I'd love to have you with me for the week, but Quen knows their security and you have your playdate with Dali tomorrow."
Playdate? That was hardly the word, and I frowned, not looking forward to accompanying the self-proclaimed leader of the demons to meet and possibly mentor one of the surviving Rosewood babies. Dali wanted to teach him. For free. After three months of putting Dali off, I'd finally agreed to introduce him to the kid's understandably reluctant parents. "I could be on the moon and Dali would pick me up and drop me off for that," I said, and Trent chuckled, his grip on my hand becoming more sure.
"I think," he said, leaning to whisper in my ear, "that what you are doing is admirable. This will help all your kin find their place in the world again. Give them something to be proud of after having put themselves above the law for so long."
A quiver of worry spiked through me. "And when Dali screws it up and Keric's parents come to me with a legitimate complaint, will you help me pound him for said law?"
Trent's smile widened. "He won't. He needs this. They all do. It's a connection to society, a reason to exist."
"More like a second chance to get the demon's rebirth going with innocent minds rather than with a witch who doesn't listen to them. Though I'll admit I'm glad I'm not the only female demon anymore," I said, and Trent hid a chuckle behind a sip of coffee. "Dali is going to screw it up," I predicted. "Sooner or later, he's going to manipulate Keric's morals, or teach the kid something his parents specifically said not to, or just outright lie to them."
Trent chuckled. "If you change your mind, I bought an extra seat to insulate everyone from the girls. They do sell toothbrushes in Seattle."
I winced. Six hours on a plane? "Me being there won't help your case."
Trent's good humor vanished. "It would if they weren't such-"
"Careful . . ." I warned, a tiny smile threatening. "You never know who's listening."
"Tradition-entrenched, frightened old farts blind to reality," he finished.
Loving him, I leaned to flatten his floating hair as he scowled at the way things were. The tingle of magic pricked my fingertips, and he made a visible effort to calm himself. "No, thanks," I said as the girls ran to the big plate-glass windows, excited as a jet pulled into the terminal. "I'm surprised they even let me through TSA to see you off at the gate. Trying to get on the plane is another story."
But I hesitated as the thought occurred to me that two years ago, he would have flown out on his private jet. He said he was being environmentally conscious, but I wondered if it was more than that. "Hey, tell Ellasbeth's mom happy birthday for me."
"I will." He sipped his coffee, focus vacant as he put his elbows on his knees and stared at the future. "It's only for a week," he whispered, then pushed back and up, forcing a smile. "Is David going with you today to look at more property?"
There was jealousy in his voice. I could hear it. "Yep," I said brightly, feeling loved, but also a little annoyed. If Trent came property hunting with me, the seller would jack up the price, thinking he was helping me pay for it. David was a quiet presence no one knew, and his insight into insurance was a big plus. "It hasn't come up on the market yet, but it looks good, and if I'm lucky, I'll have a new place by the time you get back."
"If not, you can always move in with me," he said softly. "The spelling lab is sitting there empty. I'm not using it."
I turned my hand palm up under his and gave it a squeeze. "It's too far out, Trent," I said plaintively, though I'd used his mother's refurbished spelling lab on the odd weekend. "No one will trek out there looking for help."
"They used to," he muttered as he shifted to put his ankle on a knee.
But they don't anymore, I finished silently. No one wanted Trent's help now that his Sa'han status was in question, and because of that, he was running out of favors owed to him, favors that he had once used to get things done. The above-the-law power had made him the elven Sa'han-but no more.
My chest hurt, and I held my breath to quash the pain as I looked at Ellasbeth doing mom-things with the girls, elegant and competent both. She could give that back to him, but only if I was out of the picture, or more realistically, out of Trent's bed. Sure, he could make a few more babies with Ellasbeth out of wedlock and satisfy the letter of the elven law, but that wouldn't rub out that he was in love with me, and my being a demon, even a witch-born demon, meant that was unacceptable.
Ellasbeth looked up as if feeling my gaze on her, giving me a somewhat smug smirk. Maybe her hearing was better than I thought.
I didn't want to move in with Trent. Oh, I loved him and the girls, but it was more than needing to be close to the city center for work. Everything was easy for him. He wanted to make it easy for me. It sounded great, except I'd never know if my success was thanks to me or him, and I wanted it to be me.
Unfortunately, moving in with Trent was looking more and more probable, even if only temporary. I had a bare two weeks before Constance Corson, Cincinnati's incoming master vampire, kicked me out of Piscary's old digs and took possession of it and Cincy both. Her people had been filtering in all month, causing trouble as they massed in the bars and hot spots to push out the old order with threat and fang. There'd been a surprising resistance, and as expected, the I.S. was ignoring it all, seeing as Constance was simply exerting her rightful power as the incoming master vampire: their new boss, basically. The human-run FIB couldn't do anything-obviously. So far, Constance's people were keeping the threats vamp on vamp. But that might change after she took control, and everyone was worried. Reason three for not leaving Cincy at the moment.
"I want you to be careful while I'm gone," Trent said, and I turned, surprised at not only his words but the real concern in the pinch of his green eyes.
"I'm always careful," I said, but just that he'd brought it up meant something was wrong. "What is it?" I said, voice low as I leaned closer.
He took a breath, then pretended to take a sip of coffee to hide his moving lips. "It may be nothing, but we might have had an attempted break-in at the estate last night."
Might have? My expression fell. I could feel it. "I'm coming with you," I said, reaching for my phone to call Jenks.
"No." He touched my hand, stopping me. "It was probably a nuisance attempt."
But his smile wasn't quite right. I would've believed him six months ago, but now? I could spot his tells better than Quen almost.
And he knew it. Seeing my disbelief, Trent eased back into the chair to watch the passing world. "I wouldn't have mentioned it except the three vamps Quen scared over the wall weren't in Cincy's facial-recognition database."
I slowly nodded. "Out-of-town vamps causing trouble. I'm coming with you."
His gaze flicked to me, worry gripping my core when he smiled lovingly. "Rachel, I'd like nothing more than you coming with me, but not because three inept members of Constance's camarilla scaled the wall to mutter threats at me through my security system."
"Threats? What did they say?"
His hand in mine was warm, and he lifted it to give my knuckle a kiss. "Demanded that I acknowledge that Constance is the law in Cincinnati and the Hollows."
"Relax, it's not anything that was unexpected," he said. "And as you said, I'm too far out to be a direct influence on anything that happens in Cincinnati." His lips pressed in thought and his focus blurred.
I gave his hand a squeeze, and his attention returned. "Promise you'll call if anything else happens. The second it does," I prompted.
"I will." His gaze went to his two girls. "Promise."
He would. That I believed. If there was trouble, I could be there in the time it took for me to shake a demon from his "poor me" sulk and buy a line jump. My credit was good.
"Here," he said, twisting where he sat, and my eyes widened when he took a ring box from his suit pocket. "This is for you. It has nothing to do with Constance's threats, but I know I'll sleep better at night."
"Uhh . . ." I stammered. Trent was not the kind of guy to give jewelry. A gun, a spell, or a charm, yes, but not jewelry unless it was a gun, a spell, or a charm, and I took the small gray box, glad he hadn't dropped down on one knee right there in the airport terminal. Yes, Ellasbeth was the mother of his child and he was devoted to another little girl who called Quen dad, but he was still single.
"It's a spell," he said, pressing close with the scent of cinnamon and wine. "Took me an entire month to research."
Shoulders relaxing, I opened the box to find a delicate pinky ring, the interwoven bands of silver holding a pearl. "Oh, Trent, it's beautiful," I said as I pulled it from the box-hesitating at the faint tingle of a charm. "What does it do?"