Fiona was slower-moving in the morning. She snoozed her alarm and came right back to me, stretching lazily.
I slid a hand down her back as she curled in close to my body. She sighed and nuzzled her face against my neck.
“Can’t wait for the weekend,” she said quietly.
When Fiona had asked, the night before, how my day was… my mind went flying through a flipbook of the day’s events. The morning had started with news of one looming threat and the evening ended with
I was awake, lying in bed with her for a good portion of the night. The wheels were turning in my mind.
The vampires were a bigger problem than the Hellhounds, of course. But the pack feud was actually the more urgent of the two.
Fiona didn’t need to know about any of that, though.
It did occur to me that she would probably be great advisor, if someday she wanted to assume that role for me. Be my Luna Queen, in a real way. Provide me counsel for matters that threatened our kingdom.
Fiona was smart and savvy, insightful and shrewd.
But we weren’t married yet. And she was also pregnant and already stressed from long hours at a demanding job. She didn’t need the burden of
I made her a small breakfast and brewed some coffee while she got ready for work, and she joined me at our little table when her morning routine was complete.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked. I liked the natural pink I was seeing on her cheeks. She looked well-rested and relaxed.
“Great.” She gave me a knowing, closed-mouth smile.
She slathered a croissant with raspberry jam and took a big bite, saying, “mmm…” while she chewed. It was good to see her with a healthy appetite.
“Some good news, work-related,” she announced after washing down her breakfast with a sip of coffee.
“Conrad told me to hire an assistant.” Her voice was crisp, confident and proud. “HR already posted the position.”
“Nice. I’m glad to hear it. I’m sure it’ll help a lot with your workload.”
Good news was something that I needed this morning. And this was definitely good. It meant I got more time with my fiancée. I sent a message of gratitude to Conrad in my mind.
I walked Fiona to the door and swept her into a lingering full-body hug before I let her leave. I just
“Gotta go,” she said, a hint of a frown on her soft pink lips.
I wanted so badly to kiss those lips. But I gave her a kiss on the cheek instead. She took the opportunity to kiss my cheek, too… we were so, so close to the real thing.
But then she was gone, her high heels clacking rhythmically on the marble floors as she hurried off to a waiting car.
I jumped into a cold shower to force a quick change in my mental state.
“You might not like the advice I’m about to offer.”
I sat down with my father in his study. He nodded, looking down into the steaming cup of coffee in his hand. I’d just watched him dose it with a splash of brandy.
He didn’t reply. Just waited for me to lay it on him.
“As much as I would love to board a train today, head south and go hunting for those bloodsuckers…” I shook my head. “It’s the wrong move. We can’t send anyone down there. Not yet. And we need to make sure the villagers keep quiet about the sightings, too.
The very best situation to maintain until we have more intelligence is to let them believe we haven’t caught onto them yet.”
My father crossed one leg over the other and sipped his coffee. “They’re not safe,” he said flatly.
“These kinds of sightings can only mean one thing,” I explained. “If the vampires felt safe, they’d already be hunting. We’d have disappearances at the least. Or even be finding bodies already. But they’re only stalking right now. They’re scouting, looking for a place to nest. They won’t attack until they’ve found cover.”
“What’s the ideal place,” he asked slowly, “for a nest?
Can you pin down the most likely locations?”
“I can try. They’ll be looking for a place where they can spend their days in total darkness.”
I shook my head. “They like being underground, but they don’t like digging. Leaves too much evidence behind for us to track. A few years ago, they took to nesting in caves. Deep ones, with big enough passages that they can drag victims into. It’s why they send troops in from the south. The rocky forests in the mountain foothills are full of caves like that.”
“As of this morning,” I continued, “we don’t have enough information to take any action. If we roll into that village to investigate and those vampires are still there? You can bet your life they will take the advantage. Going in blind and trying to capture a couple vampires loose in the forest is a suicide mission. They’d kill our troops the second they saw us coming, and then get word back to their superiors.
The tip-off could make them panic. Could push them to accelerate plans for an invasion. If that is what they are planning.”
“And so, what now? We do nothing?”
“I told you you weren’t going to like it.”
My coffee had gone cold. I threw it down my throat in one gulp, then set the cup down on the table beside me.
“Give me a little time,” I said. “I’ll look at the map. See if I can figure out what they are up to down there. I’ll need the exact locations of both sightings.”
My father nodded stiffly. “What if they’ve already talked?”
I understood that he meant the witnesses.
“What’s done is done. But…” If he hadn’t liked my advice of withholding military action to protect the
village, he was going to like this bit even less. “We should put them into quarantine. The witnesses and anyone else they’ll confess they told. That’s the only way to keep word from spreading any further.”
My father was a stoic man. He did not feel emotions over this… but he felt something else.
The Alpha King’s sense of responsibility to protect his people was a deep-set drive. A whole entity that lived inside him, with a mind and heart of its own. That drive had been instilled into me as well, and just as completely.
I just understood this situation better than he did.
Inaction of any kind made my father feel impotent. But restraint and patience was what we needed to defeat this kind of enemy.
We needed to find their nest before doing absolutely anything else. That would set us up to take the spies out in a blindside. Attack them during daylight when they were, in every way that mattered, already dead and almost completely defenseless.
Hunting vampires this way… Yes, it was a brutal way to conduct war. It amounted to massacre.
A vivid memory flashed through my mind’s eye. A scene of one such slaughter.
The bloodletting involved in taking out a nest was massive. We’d walk out of those caves drenched in black from head to toe.
Vampires were almost all liquid on the inside. They were like mosquitos. Full of blood.
Staking them at close range, often the only option in