- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
"Leigh will never leave me." She smiled. "That is what you cannot understand, isn't it? The material world matters not. He and I will be together forever. Death is but a temporary separation. Our love and this child are our immortality."
Lucan thought of killing her. He thought of weeping over her and begging her to reconsider. In the end, he held on to the shreds of his dignity. "I will go then."
"Yes," she said, but her clothing had changed, and her hair had darkened. She wore sunglasses, and carried a weapon. "Go."
He reached out to her. "Samantha?"
Lucan opened his eyes, expecting to see Samantha, or Rafael, or welcoming darkness. Instead Burke stood with sunlight streaming around him to pierce Lucan's eyes. He covered his face with one hand. "Is someone dead?"
Someone would be soon. Lucan lifted the edge of his hand to peer at the hovering figure of his tresora. "Why then do you wake me before sunset?"
"I beg you forgive me for disturbing you so early, master, but there are so many things happening at once," Burke said, rushing out the words. "I would have consulted Master Rafael, but he has not yet returned, and then the seigneur's seneschal telephoned requesting an audience with you tonight—"
"Cyprien." Despite the ache in his head from the sunlight and the disturbing dream, Lucan smiled. "You said yes, of course."
"I did, master, exactly as you had instructed to, but then the band manager called to confirm the Bastille Day concert—"
"Which you confirmed."
"I would have, but I accidentally disconnected the man when Detective Brown from the police department called to inquire if you were on the premises. I did not know what to say when she advised me that she, too, wished an audience with you, but she didn't seem to require an appointment—"
The damned daylight was going to fry the eyeballs out of his skull. "Burke."
"—and then there was the call from Éliane in Ireland, and I heard the news about the murder, and with Master Rafael gone, I wasn't sure what to do about the concert band or the new delivery—"
"—when she… Yes, master?"
"Close the blinds and bring me the phone."
"Oh. Yes." Burke rushed over and began twisting the rod to shut the thin slats. "Master Rafael has summoned guardsmen. They have taken up positions around the building. They report that patrons are already beginning to line up outside."
"We will be opening the club an hour later than usual. Two, if I choose to slaughter the seigneur." Lucan was annoyed by the fact that his seneschal thought he needed guards, but a show of jardin force was not an unwelcome thing. Cyprien still thought of him as Richard's creature. It was time his old enemy understood that this was his kingdom, and here he was king.
Lucan recalled the small, passionate face of Dr. Alexandra Keller. He had watched her in New Orleans when she had been arguing with Cyprien. It would be amusing to test how enduring the bond was between the sygkenis and her Darkyn lord. Certainly it would drive his old enemy to distraction to watch his lover respond to Lucan.
He dialed the number to Dundellan Castle in Ireland. "Éliane, it is Lucan." He listened for a moment as the frightened voice on the other end of the line described a horror he had long feared. "When will you arrive?" After she told him, he said, "I will see to it." He disconnected the line.
Burke was waiting for instructions, and Lucan forced himself to address him. There were other forms of distraction as well. "Contact Alisa. I will want her and five of her associates to attend me during the meeting with Cyprien."
"Humans? To attend your audience with the seigneur?" Burke fumbled for a tissue and pressed it to his nose. "Master, do you think that is advisable?"
"Do you think it advisable to keep breathing through your mouth?" Lucan asked him. One of the lightbulbs overhead popped and darkened. "I know your nose does not function as it should, but I can create another airway very easily."
"No, thank you." His tresora clutched the end of his nose with the tissue. "I will call Ms. Kruk immediately." He turned to leave.
"Where is this delivery?"
"I left it in your sitting room, master," Burke said, gesturing to the door. "Should I bring it in here?"
Lucan got up and pulled on a robe. "No, I will see to it."
The box was from the same florist as before, and Lucan had no doubt it would contain more dead flowers. His admirer was certainly a persistent one. He pulled on his gloves, intending to toss it out into the hallway for Burke to remove. Then he smelled blood.
"Did you send me something more personal this time?" He set the box down and opened it. A dozen blackened, rotting roses lay inside, and buried in the midst of them was something wrapped in bloodstained rags. "A token of your affection?" He prodded the rag and felt flesh inside. "Or someone else's."
He took out the ragged bundle and carefully unwrapped it to reveal a severed hand. As a scare tactic it was entirely useless; he had seen dismembered body parts on the battlefield that would put this humble bit of farce to blush. The rust flakes embedded in the flesh at the severed wrist intrigued him, however. Had his admirer used something more inventive to separate this from its previous owner? Or was the hand treated with copper solution, as the lilies had been?
He put the hand aside and inspected the dead blooms. The thorns had been carefully removed, and thorn-shaped copper spikes inserted in their place. Here was the perfect illustration of his dilemma: beauty that could never be his to hold. Sanctuary that was to be destroyed before it could be fully known.
Vaguely he heard a great deal of glass somewhere nearby shatter.
"Did you think me that careless?" He picked up the box and threw it across the room, shouting after it, "Do you think I am an idiot?"
What was the point of these ridiculously sabotaged dead offerings? To remind Lucan of what he was? Of what he had done? Had he begged God Almighty to curse him with this? No. He had made the best of his lot. Had he not embraced what he was, and learned to control it, it would have put a speedy end to more than him.
The time had come. He had given his word.
As for the taunting, childish offerings, they did not matter. If Rafael did not discover who was sending them, Lucan would. A fool so determined would not keep his distance much longer—and then he would discover just how appropriate his tribute had been.
"Master, the seigneur will be here within the hour," Burke said, stepping gingerly over the dead roses and glass littering the floor. "I will see to having the windows repaired. I left a message on the band manager's voice mail confirming the concert appearance for July fourteenth." He stopped and stared. "Is that a real hand?"
"Are either of yours missing?" Lucan saw that in his anger he had shattered every windowpane in the room. He strode over, picked up the severed appendage and the rags, and stuffed them in the box. "Burn it—all of it."
"You will also please stop looking as if you think that I mean to tear your head off every time I address you." He saw Burke wince. "Truly, this cringing of yours will drive me insane. What is it now? Was my tone too loud? My countenance too fierce? I broke too much glass?"
"No, master, it is just… the man who was murdered. He was decapitated and mutilated." His tresora looked down into the box. "The police have not yet found his hand."
Now he understood why Detective Brown had returned. "Who was the man killed?"
"J. R. Montgomery, master," Burke said.
Lucan frowned. "I do not know the name."
"He owned the company that Master Rafael hired to complete the downstairs renovations," Burke said. "He was here only yesterday."
Sam bought Harry dinner at one of the local salad-and-sandwich shops, ignoring his demand for a chili-cheese dog and bullying him into having a chicken wrap and a diet soda.
"All this dieting and watching my sodium," he grumbled. "I bet I don't live a second longer than I would have on hot dogs and beer."
"But we'll be able to carry your coffin to your grave," she advised him, "instead of having to rent a forklift to move it."
Harry lifted his wrap with a grimace of distaste. "Gloria'll want to bury me by the rosebushes. Just dig a deep hole and roll me in."
Montgomery's office was situated in a strip mall, but the receptionist there had little to offer them but tears and sobs. Through them, she suggested they talk to Montgomery's employees, currently finishing up a job installing dry wall in a new medical building downtown.
Sam and Harry found the site, and spent the next six hours in Montgomery's cramped trailer interviewing his work crew. None of the men came out and said that J.R. was a lousy boss, but no one seemed devastated over his murder.
"Bud was okay," Hector Ladega told Sam as he slouched in the folding chair she had set up in front of J.R.'s desk. "Not as bad as some of those pendejos down in Miami." His gaze crawled over her, a jittery, hungry spider. "You know who killed him?"
"No," Sam said. "Do you?"
"Wish I did. Get me reward money, ay? Crimestoppers." Four gold front teeth flashed. "You know, you not bad-lookin' for a cop, chica."
Harry had made a run to the Portosan, or Sam would have turned Ladega over to him right then and there. "Did Mr. Montgomery have trouble with any of the other men on the crew? Have you ever heard him arguing with anyone?"
"Nah. Bud never talk much to anybody except to say, 'Get to work, lazy bum, you.'" He reached down with one plaster-whitened hand to casually adjust his crotch. "So, you married? No ring on your finger. You like to dance?"
What is it about me that draws assholes like a magnet? Sam put down her PDA. "Do you know if Mr. Montgomery frequented a club on the beach called Infusion?"