Lot meets Josef’s maker…
Hastings – 1844
Hastings glowed in the darkness and moon rippled across the surface of the sea as it lapped against the beach. The air was cool, brine and blood, everywhere smelt of blood. It seemed very peaceful after the crash of Josef’s cove.
‘Agape is a revolutionary amongst vampires,’ Josef said, adjusting his cuffs. ‘She’s the first maker to treat the vampires she’s turned as a family. Some may call themselves a family, but they’re not.’
I nodded. I’d met Bran’s ‘brothers’, abusers every one.
‘Her vampires are loyal to her, not bound. The Coven Masters don’t like it.’ He touched the brim of his hat in a silent ‘good evening’ to a passing couple. ‘I was the first vampire she made. I was different.’
He glanced at me. ‘She’ll want to size you up.’
Agape’s hotel was painted pale blue with dark blue window frames looking out across The Channel. The scent of vampires was thick. I leaned on the railing and looked out across the water, it seemed to stretch forever into the darkness.
I sighed. ‘Better go in, I suppose.’
Josef stooped and murmured, ‘This might be quite lively.’
I straightened. ’It had better be.’
Inside the ceilings were high, the floors marble, and a gold chandelier hung in the centre of the entrance hall. I supposed once people got inside the need to be subtle evaporated. Masked people passed back and forth, they nodded at Josef and eyed me curiously.
We passed through a double wooden doorway into a ball. Dancers spun on the floor in perfect time, wearing deep colours and ornate masks with feathers and gold detailing. I’d never seen so many vampires all in one place, and not all of them men. I counted at least five female vampires. When I was human Bran had told me there were two female vampires in the country and I’d never met any.
A path opened through the people to a table in the far corner where a woman was sitting wearing a blood red dress. Her tight curls were threaded with grey, her lips were full, and her rich black skin luminous with power. I could see why she’d chosen Josef, they both had enough confidence and natural charisma to sink a ship.
‘Dramatic as ever, Agape,’ Josef said and pulled out a chair for me.
She grinned and raised her glass of wine. ‘We need to entertain ourselves somehow.’ She looked at me. ‘You look like one good sneeze would blow you over.’ Her gaze flicked up and down. ‘Delicate and sweet as a porcelain doll.’ She sniffed. ‘But you smell… interesting.’
‘I always found porcelain dolls unsettling,’ I said.
Agape smirked as if the thought had occurred to her, I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted or flattered. Without looking away she snapped her fingers to summon a waiter and ordered a fresh bottle of wine.
When he was gone she said, ‘Look how intently she examines me, Josef.’
‘I wouldn’t laugh,’ Josef said, pulling his pipe from his pocket and filling it with tobacco. ‘Lot will have the measure of you and your weaknesses before the evening is over.’ He put the pipe to his lips and lit it with a match.
The waiter arrived with a new decanter of red wine and filled our glasses.
She dismissed him with a flick of her hand. ‘What weaknesses do you think I have, child?’
She arched her eyebrows in a way that reminded me of Josef. ‘You think I’m at the beck and call of a man?’
‘No. I think you love him.’
‘Not all love is sex. Not all sex is love. Not all love is the same.’ I smiled. ‘But it’s all powerful.’
‘You’ve got yourself a little philosopher there, Josef,’ she said and sipped her wine.
I shrugged. ‘Why else come so far? You could’ve come anytime to manipulate him. I’m sure you heard about the bargain Josef struck to save my life. He got himself in trouble, you came running.’ I tipped my glass to peer at the contents. ‘I’d do the same.’
She traced her finger around the lip of her glass. My hand tightened against a shrill whistle above human hearing.
‘He has a knack for getting in trouble,’ she said, still caressing the glass. ‘But I didn’t take him as a fool for a pretty face.’ She added in an undertone. ‘Except where his cock is concerned.’
Josef exhaled a cloud of smoke. ‘Lot says what she thinks. I’d be careful where you go with this.’
The whistle was getting shriller. My hand turned hot with energy.
Josef put his hand over mine. ‘That whistle is giving me a headache.’
Agape gave him a pointed look and took her hand away from the glass.
‘Charlotte, is no meek mouse, Agape,’ Josef said. ‘You’re going to have to try harder to scare her.’
‘Fear and I aren’t on speaking terms.’ I couldn’t flexed my fingers without betraying my discomfort so I put my free hand over Josef’s and caressed a faint scar on the back of it with my thumb.
‘The first time we met Charlotte was still human and stared me down as if I was uppity aristocrat. She went toe-to-toe with The Puppet Master and counts Freyja Deacon among her… friends.’
‘Friends is a strong word,’ I said. ‘It’s more a mutual agreement not to kill each other for the time being. Her daughter is nice.’
Agape unfastened a small stone from her bracelet and tapped it on the table. Warm magic washed over me and knitted a dome around us. I’d read about muting spells, they stopped people listening to private conversations, unless the listener was like me.
‘So,’ she said. ‘Tell me the story of how you killed your maker.’
‘My maker?’ I asked without missing a beat but the tightening of Josef’s grip on his pipe betrayed me.
‘Men may be fooled by that sweet face, I’m not.’ She sat back. ‘So, how did you kill The Puppet Master?’
‘What makes you think Charlotte killed him?’ Josef asked.
She poured herself more wine. ‘Many reasons.’
The bowl of Josef’s pipe cracked in his grip.
‘So,’ she said to me. ‘Tell me a story.’
My gaze flicked to Josef. I took a sip of wine and I told the story. How I’d tricked Richard into turning me because the odds were he wouldn’t be able to control me. How I’d waited until he was close. How I’d ripped his throat out and drained him dry.
At the end of the story she steepled her fingers and smiled. ‘Cunning little doll. I like her.’ She tapped the stone on the table and the magic dissipated. ‘Shall we dine?’