Vendetta(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 4)(32) by Connie Suttle
"I need to get back. I think Mom wants to unpack kitchen stuff." Randy stood.
"I’ll walk out with you. Maybe I’ll catch sight of the new vamps," Ashe grinned.
"Didn't see anything on the way in," Randy said, walking ahead of Ashe.
"Maybe we will this time." Ashe walked out of the house with Randy, then down the narrow street toward the house Randy and his mother had taken. Two vampires appeared at their side as if magic had breathed them onto the pavement.
"I can pull that trick too," Ashe said to no one in particular, causing one of the vampires to blink in surprise. Ashe wanted to laugh over getting a response from a stone-faced vampire, but he didn't. Neither vampire was Nathan—both of these were new to the neighborhood.
"I am Hector," the one who'd shown surprise said.
"I am Casimir, at your service," the other nodded to Ashe. Ashe knew, somehow, that Casimir might be older than any vampire he'd seen before. With the exception of Wlodek, of course. He wasn't tall—perhaps five-eight or so, with dark blond hair carefully brushed back from his forehead. He seemed to Ashe like an old-world gentleman, one who'd sat in a drawing room at one time or another and served brandy to his guests. Before he drank from them, of course.
Aedan drank bagged blood, but that convenience hadn't always been available. Vampires seldom killed their donors—their laws forbade it. Preservation of the race was paramount, after all. If a vampire killed a human and threatened exposure of the race, they were declared rogue and hunted. Ashe doubted if Casimir would ever be hunted. Hector, on the other hand—Ashe shook himself to get rid of the thoughts. Hector was taller and thin as a blade. His face was narrow, his nose hawkish. Darker-skinned than Casimir, Ashe imagined that Hector might have come from Turkish origins.
"Good to meet you," Ashe said. "I’m Ashe. But you know that already. This is Randy. He's going to work for the Corpus Christi newspaper." Ashe introduced his human acquaintance.
"Haven't gotten the job yet—have to interview first." Randy was nervous about being so close to strange vampires; Ashe sensed it.
"I’m walking Randy to his house," Ashe said. "Want to come?"
"You are a precocious child," Hector said. "I shall decline."
"I must do my work, protecting the community," Casimir was more polite. Both vampires whisked away.
"Hear that? I’m a precocious child," Ashe chuckled.
"You weren't afraid just then?" Randy asked softly.
"After what I saw earlier? No."
"Whatcha doin’, empty," Chad couldn't resist. Ashe was walking toward his mother's house—that's how he saw it now—as belonging to his mother. He no longer lived there. Adele barely recognized Ashe and had willingly signed the papers, making Winkler his guardian.
How had his father done this? Ashe shivered at what vampire compulsion could accomplish. He'd move his things out as soon as Winkler opened the beach house. There was enough space in the beach house study for all his books; Winkler had seen to that. He'd known what Ashe might like and worked to get it. Ashe wanted to weep for his losses—both parents no longer claimed him for any reason. To make matters worse, Chad was back and calling him names. Again.
"Muck for brains," Ashe handed out the old insult, for which he'd garnered a black eye in the seventh grade. Chad wasn't fast enough. Ashe ducked out of the way easily when Chad threw a punch and when Trajan grasped Chad by the collar, Chad yelped in surprise.
"If I were you," Trajan settled Chad on the pavement, "I'd stay away from what you can't defend yourself against."
"I can defend myself against that." Chad wasn't giving in, although Trajan could bite him in half as a wolf.
"What does your nose tell you?" Trajan said amiably. "You know what humans and shifters smell like."
"He's only half shifter," Chad insisted. "The rest is all empty."
"Try again. Get close. Ashe, if he touches you, you have my permission to teach him a lesson." Trajan offered Ashe a wicked grin.
Chad came closer. And sniffed. "That's different," Chad muttered, pulling away.
"Now, go home and think about that," Trajan slapped Chad on the back, sending him down the street.
"Bigoted jerk," Ashe muttered when Chad was out of hearing range.
"Certainly that. We’ll keep an eye on him and Mr. Booth. Come on, Winkler will be having breakfast before we get there."
"Thanks, Mom," Ashe said as Adele placed a plate of food in front of him.
"I hope you like ham, dear," she said. Ashe blinked. Was it getting worse? His mother knew he loved ham and she always called him honey. She never said dear.
"Ashe, it's all right," Winkler held out a hand. He must have seen Ashe's face fall. "Mrs. Evans, how are we doing at Victoria's?" Winkler asked. Adele sounded perfectly normal as she rattled off expenses and problems that had cropped up. Ashe sighed and ate what he could, although everything had turned to sawdust in his mouth. Later, he sat at his tiny desk, sorting through files Andy had given him. Ashe called his father.
"Dad, this is the last call you’ll get from me," he said. "Unless you call me first. Dad, Mom told me she hoped I liked ham today at breakfast. I have to tell you, you're damn good at compulsion. How can you wipe love away like that? How? She told me once that she'd always be my mother and you'd always be my dad. Only that wasn't true, was it? If somebody asked her, she'd probably tell them she didn't have any children. Thanks, Dad. Thanks a lot." Ashe sniffled as he hung up.
"Son, it's all right." Winkler knelt next to Ashe's chair. Ashe, for once in his life, didn't hold back. He held onto Winkler and wept.
* * *
"Two and a half weeks before Winkler's new beach house is finished," Josiah told Zeke over the phone. "We’ll have him before then." Josiah stood outside a popular sushi restaurant in Corpus Christi while he talked.
"See that you do. I want his head, remember? Wolf head is best, but I’ll take whatever you can get."
"I’ll see what we can do on the full moon. We might kill two wolves with one silver bullet, don't you think?" Josiah chuckled at his own humor.
"Just do it and spare me the lame jokes. That's about as funny as a boil on my butt." Zeke terminated the call.
* * *
"Why should I move? If the boy thinks to come against your guards, then we will provide a surprise for him, don't you think? Besides, Wildrif says he likely can't shield or command the visions. That makes him vulnerable," Beldris reassured Baltis. "Our spies predict the Queen's movements. She will try her hand in the north. We shall stay put," Beldris added. He and Baltis sat inside Baltis’ chamber beneath Chicago's streets. The Dark King would return to the camp in Canada the moment he finished the conversation with his brother.
Baltis agreed with Beldris’ assessment. "I believe we will resolve the issue surrounding the boy, but first we will eliminate the Queen. If the boy refuses to serve us, then he will die. No loss to us; once the Queen is no more, we will rule." Baltis seemed happy with his conclusions. "Wildrif, too, will be forced away again. We have no need for mortals, no matter how gifted."
"Yes. My guards and I have talked and we believe it was the vampires and werewolves who eliminated your Destroyers, brother. It cannot be otherwise. They would not have fallen to any untaught youngling, even if he is quite talented."
"Yes. I have come to the same conclusion myself. That is why I want the boy—we can train him and he will obey us. Will it not be fitting, brother, to use a Bright one against his own race?" Baltis accepted the cordial his brother offered, the reddish liquid glinting in the dim, artificial light. "We failed in Great Britain, because the vampires came. We will not fail a second time."
* * *
"Ashe, I got the job." Randy flopped into Ashe's guest chair for the second time in as many days.
"Knew you would," Ashe shut a folder and placed it in the all clear basket, which sat next to another basket Ashe referred to as the trouble pile. Only a handful of folders lay in the trouble pile; Ashe had marked figures on a few of those file pages for Andy to review.
"I'm curious. How did you get to my place in Chicago?" Randy asked.
"Hocus-pocus," Ashe fluttered his fingers dramatically. He wasn't about to tell anybody anything. Not anymore. Randy didn't remember being saved by Ashe—twice. Neither did Randy's mother. He wasn't going to remind them.
"I have a girlfriend," Randy said, changing the subject. "She's a vet in Chicago."
"A veterinarian? That's cool. Bring her down and have her take a look at Sali."
"I heard you were on the outs with him," Randy said. "I'd have said that was impossible, three years ago. You were inseparable."
"Yeah. Things change."
"Actually, I was thinking about inviting Sara down. Maybe she'd like the beach."
"Just about everybody does," Ashe flipped through another file.
"She was the one who did the autopsies for me—on all those dead rats." Ashe jerked his head up.
"Randy, she's not going back down there, is she? To the tunnels?" Ashe recalled then that he hadn't told Winkler about his suspicions.
"She never went—city workers hauled the rats out for her to examine."
"Randy, this is important; get on the phone and tell her and anybody else not to go near any of that. The rats are expendable. People aren't." Ashe hauled out his cell and sent a text to Winkler. He hardly used his cell anymore; his mindspeech was much more direct and reliable. Winkler arrived in Ashe's office quickly, in response to the text.
"Randy, tell Mr. Winkler about exploding rat hearts," Ashe instructed.
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