Authors: Gina Rosavin
He sighed and stood, offering his hand to help her up. "Very well. I will not force you."
She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. "I'm sorry, it's just not…right. Not now."
He nodded, but the warmth was gone from his eyes. He said nothing as he escorted her downstairs. As hard as she tried, she couldn't find any words to make him understand. Giving in to him was the one thing she couldn't do.
He was stiff as iron, his whole manner unyielding. How quickly he could change, and she saw the predator in him now. A lump filled her throat and she swallowed. He said nothing, yet watched her with his cold steel gaze piercing her.
To her surprise, he led her to the door. She looked at him curiously.
"I think we had better end our evening now. Some pressing matters need my attention."
"Among other things."
She didn't know how it happened, but the next moment she was in the limousine, racing back down the mountain. Her thoughts whirled. Something had changed and she knew it was her fault. Her stomach knotted as she replayed her rejection of his advances. She'd angered him. Would he seek retribution? She prayed not.
"Machiavelli used to have a residence in Rome. Start there." Adrian handed the file to one of the two soldiers seated in his office. As soon as Kat left him, he'd immediately set about finding out what Machiavelli had been up to recently. The meeting begun by telephone last night continued now, and he had discovered nothing.
"What about the other task?" one of his minions asked. "Yes, Edgar, we'll get to that in a moment. First, I want to…" The intercom buzzed and he picked up the receiver.
Before he could speak, a man shouted over the line, "Intruders! By the lab!"
"Bring them up immediately," Adrian said. He slammed the phone back down and turned to Edgar. "We have some trouble."
A loud crash and a scream broke the stillness in his office. Adrian stood, as the doors burst open and two figures tumbled to the floor. Two more hulking retainers stepped into the office behind them.
"What the hell is this?" he demanded, staring at the two people huddled before him. Their audacity astonished him. He folded his arms as Joshua rose.
As the younger man reached his feet, one of Adrian's aids clamped a meaty hand onto his shoulder. He tried to shrug it off, but failed.
"Found them lurking near the lab. They were trying to log onto the network when we caught them. Checked them out. They're clean."
"Thank you, William." Adrian kept his gaze locked with the young vampire hunter's. "My day started badly, but it's quickly improving. Finally the chance to rid myself of troubling annoyances."
"Damn you, du Lac, you won't get away with this," Joshua spat.
"And what's going to stop me?"
"I know you can't attack us during the day. Neither can they."
Adrian shrugged. "Perhaps not, but we can still overpower you. And from the looks of it," Adrian let his gaze fall on each of his loyal servants, "I'd say you're outnumbered."
"Not quite." Sophie had also regained her footing and pulled a large crucifix from her jacket. While the other vampires around him cowered and backed away, Adrian remained unaffected. He took the opportunity to study her now that he hadn't had last night. She was not what he expected.
He had kept up on the events of her life, just to ensure she wasn't encroaching upon his, but nothing more than phone calls and emails conveyed the information. Petite, with a slim, firm body, he hadn't known she'd grown so lovely. Her bright blue eyes dominated her face and her dark hair was cut into a flattering bob.
"You can do better than that, Sophie." He stepped closer, pleased when she backed away. He reached out, plucked the cross out of her hand and tossed it aside, where it fell out of sight under a bookcase. Immediately, his men stopped spitting and regained their composure. "You were saying?"
Sophie swallowed visibly and took one step back. She reached out and grabbed Joshua's hand.
"Tell me why I shouldn't just kill you now for your attempt on my life last night?" He grabbed Sophie's arm and dragged her against him, breaking her hold on the younger man. Joshua lunged, but the two men who had brought him quickly restrained him.
"We can help you find Machiavelli," Sophie cried.
Surprise eased Adrian's tightening grip. He chuckled. "Really? You. Help me?"
"She's right," Joshua said. "I can tell you where he's living."
Intrigued, Adrian decided to hear them out. They had no chance of escaping him now. He nodded to his men, who released their hold on the younger man. He pulled Sophie over to his own chair behind the desk and shoved her into it. He stood behind her, one hand firmly on her shoulder. She was tense, and he could hear her heart pounding in fear. He anticipated tasting her blood, and pondered what he would do once he had what he needed. He knew instantly. What a triumph it would be to turn Klaus Mannfried's granddaughter into a vampire. The ultimate victory, to bring across the final member of the family who had plagued him for centuries. It was a temptation he didn't want to resist.
"Now, Joshua, tell me what you know."
"Let Sophie go first."
Adrian shook his head. "The information, or you both die. I don't need my vampire powers to do that."
Joshua visibly pondered his options, then heaved a sigh and nodded. "All right. He's got two residences in the United States. One in Los Angeles, the other in Chicago. Also a place in France, and one nearby in Luxembourg."
Adrian turned to William. "Go, both of you. Find out if he's telling the truth."
William nodded as he and his partner left the office.
"So Joshua, tell me what else you know."
Joshua shrugged. "That's it. He's been globe-trotting a lot this year, buying out a lot of businesses around the world."
Although Joshua apparently didn't think Machiavelli's business plan significant, Adrian sensed this information was crucial.
"I don't know. I don't have my files with me. But I can go get them, and…"
Adrian smiled and shook his head. "I don't think so. You and Sophie will be my guests. Until I can entertain you properly. Tonight."
"Damn you, du Lac, let Sophie go." Without his two guards, Joshua stepped closer, warily watching the remaining two men as they moved to surround him. Adrian held them off with a slight hand motion.
"What were you looking for down in my lab?"
"Anything I could find. What are you doing down there?" Adrian chuckled and released his hold on Sophie.
"Do you really think I'd tell you? It's a shame you won't live long enough to find out."
"You think so? Don't be so sure." With a sudden move, Joshua slipped a long, narrow wooden spear from his pocket and flung it towards Edgar, his aim true as the point sank deeply into the vampire's chest. With an agonizing scream, Edgar collapsed, falling forward to the floor. His dark hair grayed, then his body shriveled as it caught up with his true age, and he disintegrated, leaving a moldering pile of ashes beneath his clothes.
"Sophie, run, now!" Joshua pulled out another spear as Sophie broke free from Adrian's reach. Joshua turned toward the other vampire, flinging the second stake.
Shock left Adrian briefly motionless as he watched his other soldier destroyed. Apparently William had not searched Joshua closely enough. Fury welled within him, released in a roar that shattered the windows. He moved toward the hunter, as Joshua reached into his jacket once more, but came up empty handed. Adrian smiled. The hunter was helpless now. But Joshua's speed again surprised him as the young man disappeared through the doors.
Enraged he'd let the perfect opportunity elude him, he picked up the crystal sculpture from the desk and heaved it against the wall. An ashtray and another sculpture soon followed. Why hadn't he locked them up when they'd first been brought in? Because he'd been too greedy for information about Machiavelli. Because he knew if anyone had information on the Italian, it was Joshua Taylor.
His anger at being thwarted intensified his hunger, until it gnawed at him, winding its way through his veins and reaching his heart with a sharp ache. He fell into his chair, surprised his rage also made his legs feel strangely weak. Yanking open a drawer, he removed a flask and unscrewed the top. The lukewarm blood was not as appetizing as he would have liked, but the taste soothed him as the red liquid re-energized him.
Greta appeared in the doorway. "How can I help, sir?"
"Notify security to seal off the building entrances. Then send up Michael Herring. I want him to explain how this happened. I also need Jacques Kaufmann and Alberto Denuzio. They're due for a promotion."
"Right away." She turned.
"Oh, and Greta? Send maintenance up to take care of this mess." He waved a hand toward the two piles of ash and clothes.
Greta nodded and set off to complete the tasks. Adrian leaned his head against the back of his chair. Several hours would pass before his new assistants could be fully promoted. He would use the time to prepare them for their new roles. Damn those interfering fools. He didn't have the patience to train new staff, not now. He needed to get rid of Joshua and Sophie once and for all.
Recalling what he planned for Sophie calmed all the other racing thoughts. Wouldn't it be just the perfect way to make sure he wouldn't have to deal with their repeated attempts to destroy him?
Besides, he liked Joshua. The boy had the tenacity of a wolf, an admirable trait. And Sophie, well, the thought was too delightful to pass up. With planning, he could bring both of them to his side. Neither would be surprised easily. Though they had certainly managed to surprise him the other night. He had seen to the little slip-up in security immediately. Now he needed two more servants at the castle. The breach was unacceptable and would never happen again. He cursed the hunters. They had cost him too many good servants.
For all his impetuousness and noble intents, Joshua would make a delightful vampire. Perhaps his long-held fascination for vampire powers and immortality was a weakness, one Adrian could exploit. He would do well to seek the best opportunities for conversion and be ready for just such an instance.
What truly intrigued Adrian, was the small bit of information Joshua had provided. There was definitely more there. Machiavelli was shrewd, but he was also flamboyant. Adrian had to learn what his former protégé was up to. Buying businesses wasn't necessarily cause for alarm, but somehow Adrian knew Machiavelli planned something big. He would need to be ready.
He picked up the phone and punched in some numbers. "I need you. Now."
Within moments, the door opened and Dimitri stepped into the office. "What can I do for you today?"
Adrian picked up a file and motioned to a chair. When the enchanter was seated, he opened the folder. "I need you to do some checking for me. An old…acquaintance has been making some interesting business deals, and I'd like to find out exactly what he's up to."
Dimitri took the folder and perused the handful of papers inside. He lifted his surprised gaze. "Niccolo Machiavelli?"
Adrian nodded. "He's up to something, I'm sure of it. But I won't be able to tell what until I know exactly what dealings he's had recently."
"Do you think he's a threat to du Lac Enterprises?"
"Possibly. He's holding a grudge, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were looking for revenge."
"I'll get right to it."
"Before you go, there's something else I need to discuss with you." Dimitri's brow furrowed. Adrian smiled in reassurance. "I wanted to ask you about Kat."
He cocked his head to one side, as if he didn't understand. "Katerina? Is there some problem?"
"No, no problems. I'm sure you know I've been seeing her socially."
Dimitri nodded, but his gaze remained wary. "Yes, Olga told me. Is there anything wrong? Has she…"
Adrian shook his head. "No, everything has been delightful. Your daughter is very beautiful, and intelligent. Brave, too. I might be able to persuade her to join the company."
Dimitri swallowed. "In what way, sir?"
"As many as possible." Adrian leaned forward and folded his hands together on the desk. "Your daughter will be very powerful."
"Yes, it's been foretold. Her powers are greater than any in our families."
Adrian nodded. He knew precisely how powerful Kat would be. He wanted her magic. "Yes, I am aware. I would like to arrange her training. Her powers need to be freed for that to begin."
"Adrian, I don't know if now is the right time. Olga is not strong enough…"
"I will see to her training. But I want you to help me convince your daughter."