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A Wind of Change(A Shade of Vampire,Book 17)(2) by Bella Forrest

“Good day,” I said, even though this day felt like it couldn’t have been any worse.

“You look a bit lost,” he said.

“Not lost,” I replied. “Have you seen Jeramiah around?”

He gestured toward the gardens down below in the center of the atrium. Walking over to the railing, he pointed down toward the lily pond—where Lucas Novak’s memorial stone lay. About ten feet away from the edge of the water, sitting cross-legged and shirtless on the lawn, was Jeramiah. His hair was bunched up in a bun on top of his head and he sat motionless, his eyes closed. He had an expression of serenity on his face.

“He’s meditating,” Lloyd said.

Meditating?

“He does it every morning. He finds it strengthens the mind. Before he got turned, he spent time in India with a bunch of yogis. Learned about mind and self-control… Whatever,” he said, turning back to me. “Anyway, good to have you here, Joseph. I live just five doors down from you, if you need help with anything…”

“Thanks,” I said.

He turned and walked away.

I fixed my eyes back down on the vampire sitting in the center of the lawn. He began inhaling deeply, his back straight. I remained watching him for the next twenty minutes until he finally opened his eyes and stood up. He moved closer to the lily pond. Before he could disappear, I took the opportunity to join him downstairs. He sensed me approaching, and turned around to face me.

“Ah, Joseph. How did you sleep?”

“Well,” I said coolly. I stood next to him by the water’s edge.

“Good,” he said. “Good.”

There was no point in bringing up the tattoo on my arm. He was showing no signs of offering an explanation about it, so I was not going to mention it. It would only be counterproductive. And what would I say anyway? Obviously one of them here had done it, it was just a question of who. A minor detail. The fact was that the mark had been etched into me at Jeramiah’s order.

Still, I found it odd that he felt no need to offer me the slightest bit of explanation for it.

“I’m sorry I had to leave early last night,” I said, watching his reaction carefully. “As I said, I wasn’t feeling well.”

“That’s all right. We understood. I guess all of this”—he gestured around the atrium—“is a lot to take in for a newcomer. The desert air can also have a strange effect on people who aren’t used to it. Especially in these parts…”

“I also realized that I have not thanked you properly,” I continued. “First of all for saving me from those hunters back in Chile, and then offering me refuge here.”

“That’s quite all right,” he said, looking me over thoughtfully. “I like you already, Joseph. I’m sure you’ll prove to be a valuable addition to our coven and won’t let us down.” He paused, fixing his eyes back on the lily pond. “I’m generally an easy person to get along with in any case.” His gaze shot back to me. “Just don’t ever lie to me. Because I don’t tolerate liars.”

I looked back at him unflinchingly, though inside I was taken aback. It made me wonder whether he suspected I wasn’t being truthful about my identity.

But his appearance resumed its previous zen state and he looked back at the blue lilies.

“As I said before,” he continued, “I’m sure that you will like it here. It might take some getting used to, but once you do, you will never want to leave.”

“I’m sure I won’t,” I said.

Marilyn had better have forgotten what she witnessed last night.

“I realize that I still know very little about this place,” I said, looking around the magnificent atrium. “I would like to know more. You mentioned how you found it and rebuilt it into what it is today, but I’m curious about how you manage the logistics. Like, how do you get humans down here?”

Jeramiah gestured to a wooden bench by the side of the pond and we both sat down.

“Much the same as any vampire procures human blood. We go out on hunts, usually catching a large number of humans at the same time, and then one of our six witches transports us back. We rarely step directly out of the boundary of The Oasis—we travel places by magic in order to avoid the hunters stationed outside.”

“I see. And you keep all the humans down in the basement, don’t you?” I asked, recalling my own brief venture down there.

“Yes. We store humans down there but also some half-blood slaves. Many of the half-bloods live with vampires in apartments—mostly in servant quarters—but others remain downstairs.”

“And how many vampires are there here? How many half-bloods?”

“Three hundred and twenty vampires, and one hundred and sixty half-bloods,” he replied without hesitation.

I raised a brow. “You like to keep the ratio precise.”

“Yes.”

He didn’t offer any further explanation as to why that was, and I didn’t ask.

“And how many humans do you typically keep down there?” I asked, gesturing to the ground.

“It varies.”

“And why is it their blood tastes so good? It’s the best I’ve tasted.”

A broad smile formed on his lips. “We keep our humans exceptionally well. We feed them a healthy diet and keep them free from diseases. Of course, it has an effect on the blood.”

“I see.” That hadn’t been the answer I had been expecting, but I supposed it made sense. “And you manage this place alone?”