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The crucifix that Sam tugged out of the dress was eight inches long and and very dirty. It looked to be an antique or a knockoff of one. On an archaeological dig it would have been a marvel; on a dead young woman in a boutique evening dress it was almost obscene. Then again, so was seeing the body of Lena Caprell sitting here, clean and pale and unmoving as a statue. Yesterday she had been a person. A handful of hours before now, she would have looked up at Sam and spoken, or smiled, or breathed. Now she was as animated as the concrete bench beneath her.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Sam looked at the victim's hands, folded so neatly in her lap, the only discordant note. What had torn up those lovely, manicured nails so badly?
She glanced at Tenderson and sighed. There was no way he was leaving. "Check out her hands."
"Oh, sweetheart, you get me some skin off this bastard that did you?" Tenderson crooned as he examined Lena's fingers. His eyes shifted to the cross. "You think she was a big Catholic?"
"Could be." The weight of the cross bothered Sam. "Or she needed weighing down."
"Jesus is a heavy dude." He went back to nursing his hand. "Frigging thing still hurts. Latex doesn't insulate worth a shit."
Sam needed a few moments alone with the body, but it didn't look as though she was going to get them. As she lowered the crucifix, the weight of it caused it to flip over. On the back of the crossbar were five letters rendered in an old-fashioned script. "There's something engraved on the back."
Tenderson looked up from sulking over his hand. "What?"
"Just one word." Sam used the pen to turn it toward the sunlight, but that only made the engraving look deeper and darker. " 'Lucan.'"
Lucan, former chief assassin of the Darkyn high lord Richard Tremayne, suzerain of a newly formed and still nameless jardin, and greatly loathed pariah among his kind, looked out at the gathering darkness. Despite seven centuries and more of walking the earth, first as a man and then as a creature who preyed on mankind, Lucan had spent scant time in the tropics. Here night came as would a stealthy lover to a balcony, climbing the cloud lattice to enfold the pastel innocence of day in his midnight cloak.
How easy it would be to walk into that singular darkness, follow it around the world, and dwell in it forever.
Before using his talent to eliminate the high lord's enemies, Lucan had flirted with such an existence. For many decades after he rose he drifted aimless and unfettered, shunning his immortal kindred and using humans only for food. He hadn't been happy, but he had been left alone. Now he had risen higher than he had ever thought possible, and still he was the shunned, the despised, the mistrusted—and as plagued by both humans and Darkyn as was a pharaoh enslaving Jews and defying their god. He knew he would be no more welcome here than any other place he had tried to make his home.
It was ludicrous. It was fitting. It made him want to kill something.
"My lord, there is a delivery."
Lucan smelled mentholated cough drops and turned from the oceanside window of his suite to see someone he did not especially wish dead yet: his recently acquired tresora. "As I have told you some two thousand times before this, you need not call me 'my lord,' Burke. That is for the Kyn to do, not you."
"I apologize." Herbert Burke was a thin, small man with an anxious face. Plagued with allergies, he emanated the scent of the sickroom, and carried a wealth of tissues, nose sprays, and other medicinal paraphernalia on his person to treat his perpetual congestion. "The delivery is somewhat unusual."
Lucan's silvery brows rose. "Is it a woman?"
"No, my… no."
It never was, more the pity. No one seemed to know how to pay proper tribute anymore to a newly appointed suzerain. "Then put it in the office, and I will attend to it later."
"Thank you, my lord." Burke paled at his mistake and fled.
"Good God. I cannot imagine what I have done to intimidate that human so much." Lucan's gaze shifted to the dark-haired man sitting and skimming through a stack of correspondence. "Do you know what it was?"
His seneschal did not stop reading. "It may be your reputation among the tresori, my lord."
"I have not taken a human servant for two hundred years." Nor would he have, given a choice. He felt a twinge of idle curiosity. "What do they say about me?"
Rafael glanced up. "That you would kill and eat a man simply for annoying you."
"That is what Hannibal Lecter does," Lucan said. "I would only rip out his throat and drink his blood."
His seneschal set aside the letter he was reading. "Three nights past, when you became angry over Burke spilling a little wine while serving you—"
"That was very good wine," Lucan pointed out.
"—you did speculate aloud on how difficult it would be to drown a human in a bathtub filled with his own urine." Rafael's bland expression shifted one degree toward disapproving. "Burke was frightened."
"Burke is an idiot. Obviously it would take far too long for him to fill a tub with enough urine to drown in." He yawned. "Better to use the excess mucus he is always blowing out or coughing up."
"I would beg you be more tolerant, my lord." Rafael opened an envelope and removed a long contract form. "He has never actively served a Darkyn suzerain. He does not know you are merely jesting with him. You are, in fact, making him more nervous by the day."
"Indeed?" He allowed a little of the irritation he felt to color his voice. "How fortunate I am to have you as my seneschal, Rafael. I might never understand my servants, or any damned thing that comes out of my mouth."
Bored, Lucan turned back to the window to watch the night. Rafael silently finished reviewing the interminable amount of mail.
"Here is a list of the local bands that are available for Friday and Saturday nights, and papers you must sign for the new contractor, my lord, on the lines where I have placed an X." The seneschal handed him a folder containing the information. "The construction manager has written to request a meeting with you."
Lucan stroked his jaw. "Should we risk it? After all, some careless word of mine may make him believe that I have abominable intentions toward his liver."
The broad shoulders moved. "Perhaps he will work faster."
"Don't develop a sense of humor now, Rafael. It would be the undoing of me." He removed a gold-and-platinum fountain pen given to him by the grateful suzerain of Monte Carlo and uncapped it. It took a moment for him to remember how he had been signing this name—he had used so many over the centuries that he routinely forgot—and then scrawled his signature across each paper. "There." He thrust the contract back at his seneschal. "What other absurdity must I attend to?"
Rafael nodded toward the window. "A woman was found dead near the beach this morning. Drowned, one of the waitresses said."
"I didn't kill her." Lucan looked at his second with renewed interest. "Did you?"
"No, my lord. But the woman"—Rafael's gaze shifted toward the titanic bed in the adjoining bedchamber—"was one of the humans that you used several weeks ago."
He occasionally indulged himself by taking a female patron from the club, but they rarely lasted more than a day or two. He made sure of that. "The blonde or the redhead?"
"Neither." His seneschal checked his watch. "She was brunette. Very pretty, and quite elegant."
"The actress. I remember. God, what a waste." She had been a well-tended beauty, and as avaricious as a Venetian noblewoman bent on bettering her family fortune. Her scheming had amused him so much he had taken her for three consecutive nights. "She didn't strike me as suicidal." She had wanted to kill him, though, after he had ended their tête-à-tête. "Find out what happened to her."
"Yes, my lord." Rafael turned and headed for the door of the suite.
"One more thing." He enjoyed seeing his seneschal stop and stiffen his shoulders. "Call Alisa and send her to my office when she arrives. As soon as she arrives."
"As you wish, my lord." Rafael left the suite, closing the door silently behind him.
His seneschal didn't approve of his appetites, Lucan decided. Doubtless Rafael's idea of the proper suzerain for this collection of misfits was one who played the role of vicar and made the rounds of the jardin every night, holding hands, listening to troubles, and doling out sage advice. Strong but benign leadership that would keep them sane and united through the difficult centuries ahead.
For this they had Lucan, who was as benign as blood rot and ten times as lethal.
The nightclub had worried the members of Lucan's jardin, but they had spent two hundred years ingratiating themselves into the landscape of South Florida, trying to appear as just another group of immigrants. Anything that called attention to what they really were was to be avoided at all costs, so they had become business owners, community leaders, and other pillars of respectability.
Lucan saw Infusion as more appropriate camouflage. What better way for the new Darkyn suzerain in town to blend in than to open a gothic-themed tavern and dance hall that catered to the young and self-absorbed? He didn't, even have to invest in a new wardrobe.
The drama of his new setting suited him. If one was to be a fiend, Lucan thought, one might as well flaunt it. His private suite might resemble a guest room at the White House, but downstairs the atmosphere was crimson blood and black midnight from ceiling to floor.
Many of his young patrons came dressed as characters from the horror novels they loved to read, and he encouraged this by having his employees hand out free drink coupons and gift certificates to local costume shops. Specialty Bloody Mother Marys were a nightly special, served in black glasses decorated with pairs of plastic fangs and sipped through IV tubing instead of straws. Every other drink on the menu was named for a famous creator of dark fantasy, from the Stephen King Kahlua and Cream to the Straub Berry Margaritas.