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He had not expected much to happen at the soiree. A lot of useless chatter, a few pointed expressions, one or two sycophants angling for more connection but he could ignore them. All of them.

The pieces were in place. The game had commenced and whatever else one might say about him, he was a player without peer.

Standing on the open second floor landing of the Nissim de Camondo Museum, he sipped champagne from a fluted glass, watching the arriving guests below. Tonight one of them would not leave and the game would begin in earnest.

With a smile he hid with another sip, he noted five of the Council of Seven members, blending seamlessly with the bankers, power brokers, politicians and society elite of Paris. Philippe
Cheverill was half-listening to Mme. Bonheaur who was a bore of a woman but very well-connected. The dress designer Bran had just arrived, looking impatient and not happy to be here. Wouldn’t he be surprised at what was in store for him?

The Council members had been invited as individuals, each not necessarily knowing the others would be in attendance. Nor did they all know they were in Paris at the same time. That took some maneuvering but not as much as one would expect. Preternaturals were nothing if not predictable, once one knew which strings to pull, which inducements to use. Jebediah Noziak was the most unpredictable, but even he had been brought to town via his Achilles Heel; his loyalty and trust.

The fool.

Noziak did not need to be at the soiree though it would have been enjoyable to see his expression when the events unfolded.

Patience. The game always went to the one who dared and the one who was resolute enough to see it through till the end.

He was just turning away from the gilded wrought iron railing when a commotion at the front door arrested his attention. Three women and a man. Two of the women he dismissed as attractive and preternatural, at another time and place he would have been interested, but it was the third woman that intrigued him now.

She had come. Here? But why?

Then he caught her looking around, seeking someone and not impressed by the private residence-turned-a-frozen-monument to the
Belle Epoche
décor. A shame because it was quite good. Most were only able to enjoy the place as a museum with grubby-fingered urchins whining as their parents trudged them through the expansive mansion or Japanese tourists snapping photos at every turn, as if one only succeeded by the sheer volume of images taken while abroad. How pedestrian.

But there was nothing pedestrian about the woman standing in the black and white hallway below. He leaned a little closer to the rail, following her line of sight but only paying attention when her expression shifted from restive to engaged.

Ah, of course,

He had stepped in to help her earlier but without a clear motivation. Though one look at her now and the motivation might be simple.

She was stunning, in a gold strapless gown that glowed against her caramel skin, in part because of the revealing slit that opened thigh length as she shifted. Her hair was pulled away from a sculpted face but when she leaned over to speak to the blonde man at her side a rope of thick dark hair was visible down her back.

He’d been told she was attractive but that paled in seeing her in person. The banked vibrancy, the raw energy simmering within her. She was a woman dressed to capture the eye, particularly the male eye, but in spite of the several very interested looks cast her way, her focus was only on one man.

A complication or a bonus?

Tightening his fingers around his empty glass, he weighed the probability factors, the pros and cons of tweaking his original plan, and only when sure he could still accomplish his goals did he set his glass aside.

The game had just become more stimulating.





“I see him,” I whispered to
François who was hovering at my side like a parental hawk. “I’ll be back.”

But leave it to François to have his own agenda as he placed my arm over his, a gesture that looked refined but made a very effective deterrent to my walking away. Not without tugging him along like a reluctant barge.

And he wasn’t budging.

I flipped my hair which I’d tied in a braid over my shoulder and leaned in close to him, a smile plastered on my face, my whisper for his ears alone. “You want to tell me what you’re doing? We’re here to talk with Bran.”

,” he murmured, nodding his head at a couple strolling past us. “It will be better if he comes to us.”

But he wouldn’t. Not after this morning. Bran was nothing if not stubborn and difficult.

I eyed François, the first part of his words seeping into my awareness
. This time I didn’t keep my voice low. “What did you just call me?”

It was Mandy who answered. “He called you a cabbage.”

She was still chuckling as she walked away, until stopped by a very attractive man introducing himself to her. An older man but familiar looking, though there should be no reason I’d know anyone in France. Except Bran who had his back to me across the room. A very tense back.

Another man was approaching François. A younger one who looked like he belonged on an American magazine cover, such as
. Fit, assured, almost cocky. Not Frank kind of cocky but that same the-world-is-my-oyster-look.

Not what I wanted to be doing, chit chatting with a bunch of strangers. But the other man did act as a distraction as Frank slipped into his role as François Dupris, urbane, charming, and cultured.

The second François turned his head to talk to the newcomer, I kissed him on the cheek, surprising him enough to loosen his grip. “I’ll be right back,
,” I murmured. Two could play the false endearment game as I flashed a smile at the other man. It must have been one hell of a grin as he looked as taken off guard as Frank.

I didn’t hang around but pulled away and crossed the crowded room, reaching Bran just about the time he turned around and spied me. Thunderstorms looked more warm and friendly.

“What are you doing here?” he snarled, grabbing my upper arm and tugging me toward an oasis of quiet in the curve of the circular stairway leading to an open second floor. Tara had nothing on this place. “Don’t you realize how dangerous this is?”

What was he talking about?

With my back against a marble wall he had me effectively caged, not that I was planning to escape; I’d worked too hard to get to him.

“Do you mean the Council?” I whispered, looking around to make sure no one else could hear us. Of course they couldn’t, they were too caught up in their own chatter to pay attention to us. Except for Frank and the other man who still seemed off kilter. As if no one had walked away from them before. And any vampires in the room. Or Weres. Come to think about it there could be a lot of eavesdroppers.

Bran towered over me, all pent up emotion, dark looks and flashing eyes. Which as the old Franco would have said was a very good look for the warlock. Very hot. “What do you know about the Council?”

Shaking my head to get back on task I was pleased my voice didn’t betray my distractions. “They summoned you. Didn’t they?”

Unless Ling Mai made up a threat against Bran to make me jump higher and faster.

“How do you know?”

I shrugged. I doubted Ling Mai wanted me to blab agency secrets. “What does it matter? You’re in danger if you go.”

The sound he uttered was a cross between a snort and a choked laugh. “I have no choice.”

That word again. But he was right. One didn’t ignore a Council summons without dire consequences.

Suddenly I wanted to soothe the deep lines along his brow, the weariness around his eyes
. He was seriously worried and, if my guess was right, on the razor’s edge of losing his warlock control.

“When do you have to appear?” I asked, no longer just on my mission.

“Tomorrow at one.”


“You don’t know?”

The way he said it you would have thought I’d been the one to turn him in, not his cousin’s actions. Damn her anyway. But that was the way it’d always been between us. He’d protect psycho Dominique till his dying breath even if she’d already bit the dust. What would it be like to have that kind of loyalty?

Didn’t matter.

“I heard that there might be another synthetic drug still out there.” It was petty of me to add, “One Dominique knew about.”

I watched him take the blow and flinch. Not noticeable except to someone looking for the response.

He said nothing for a moment but he averted his gaze as I felt the beat of my heart slow. He was pulling in and away.

Wasn’t this what I’d asked him to do earlier? Have nothing to do with me?

Be careful of your wishes, little one
, my father had told me more than once. Wishes create intentions and intentions create actions, and actions create your results. So what did I want now?

My brother’s safety of course. Could I achieve that without harming Bran more? I didn’t know. But maybe he did.

“Bran?” His gaze rose to mine and I forgot my next words as I felt the free fall created just by looking at him. His eyes were open, vulnerable, unsure. Not the arrogant warlock I knew too well but a man at war with himself.

I raised one hand to brush it against his cheek, just one touch like the ones we’d shared before.

As if he read my desire, his eyes darkened, became opaque and unreadable, as his own hand caught and banded around my wrist.

“What do you want, Alex?”

And that fast I fell to earth. Splat.

I shook my head to make sure there was no stardust in my own gaze, no remnants of hope. It was to be business, and only business between us
. Fine. The boundaries were drawn as clearly as any Berlin Wall.

“I need to know what you know to find my brother.” I was proud how controlled and smooth my words were, given the disappointment racing through me.

“Always the mission,” he said and I swore I could hear the echo of regret in his tone. Or maybe that was wishful thinking.

“Yes.” I looked around, shaking his hold off of me, seeking a few seconds to gather my shredded what-might-have-beens. That’s when I noticed the silver- haired man who’d been speaking to Mandy earlier. He was standing across the room from me but we could see one another easily. Before I’d noticed his good looks, now I noticed his paleness as he stared at me. As if he’d seen a ghost.

He raised one hand to his throat as the other hand gestured to me. A one-finger admonishment as if shouting no, no, though he was making no noise. No noise at all.

Until he fell to the floor and the room erupted into movement.

A fit? A stroke? What did it matter; I only knew that I had to get to him, against the tide of people shuffling away from him.

I didn’t say a word to Bran, just pushed against the people, not caring who I knocked against though I was aware there were a fair number of preternaturals in the room. Not an unusual amount given the wealthy and powerful at this gathering. Give yourself a few centuries to get your act together and many preternaturals, those who gravitated toward possessiveness, tended to acquire enough material wealth to reach the higher rungs of a material society.

But that’s not what I was thinking about right then. I was focused on reaching this stranger’s side. Which I did, my breath short as I knelt beside him, a man I took to be a doctor on the other side, searching for a pulse.

I didn’t expect him to find one until the man who’d collapsed flashed his eyes open. He clawed at my hand. “Alex?”

How did he know my name? Who was he?

I leaned closer, aware of his need to tell me something. “Yes?”

“Seekers,” he whispered, his words more breath than substance. “Beware.” He coughed and his lids fluttered closed.

I grabbed his palm, feeling its coolness between my hands as I glanced at the doctor who was shouting directions in French
. I doubt he knew the answers to the questions I had roaring through me.

“Don’t die,” I murmured over the man, “Please don’t die.”

He knew information I needed. Desperately.

His eyes quivered open. Hope tap-danced through me. “Help is coming. Just hold on.” 

A sad smile touched his lips as if his pale blue eyes could already see more than I could. He crooked one finger, gesturing me closer.

I leaned near enough it looked like I was about to kiss him. But he was fading so fast I had to hear what he fought to tell me.

Just as I was ready to pull back, let others with more experience at saving lives help, he muttered in a low chant. “Beware. Beware . . . beware.”

“Yes, I know to be careful.” I was aware of how hard he was struggling to say the pitiful amount he was. “But beware of what? Or who?”

He smiled then, a real smile that showed me the attractive man I’d noticed earlier.

Then he coughed out a single word
. “Jebediah.”

My father? Someone else?

But it was too late. He was gone.

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