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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Out for Blood (Blood Vice Book 8) Chapter 1 Preview

At some point in nearly every girl’s youth, she fantasizes about being a princess. She dresses up as Cinderella for Halloween or has a royally-themed birthday party. She beams at pet names like Daddy’s little princess. Longs for a regal homecoming crown in high school.
Sure, it’s a tired cliché. But that doesn’t seem to matter to millions of girls the world over. The animated princess movies keep rolling out, and the costumes and tiaras continue to sell. If they knew what being a princess was really like, I was sure it would reduce most of them to tears. If they knew what being a vampire princess was like, they’d run screaming.
Vampire princess. Before my rude initiation into undead society, I imagined the only place I would have found such a title acceptable was on a cheap, all-in-one costume kit. The kind that filled the seasonal isles of grocery stores around Halloween. I never expected the title to apply to me, or that it would weigh so heavily on my heart.
I stood as still as a gargoyle in the BATC war room, doing my best to pay attention to Dante’s discussion with the Blood Vice generals and council representatives seated around the massive table. Ursula had excused herself hours ago. I was beginning to regret not slipping out with her. I was too invested now. Too curious and equally terrified.
Dante sat at the head of the table. I had a perfect view of him from my corner behind Ursula’s empty seat. Even as the new unofficial Princess of House Lilith, I did not feel right about sitting with and discussing war with centuries-old vampires. A vampling’s input would mean nothing to them. Less than nothing. 
Tonight, I was here to listen and learn. To be an extra pair of eyes and ears for Dante. We had far more questions than answers, and after Kassandra’s betrayal, it was hard not to suspect that our enemies had infiltrated the Vampiric High Council, as well. What other households had the Freeblooders wormed their way into?
Notah Álvarez, alpha of the largest pack in St. Louis and the Midwest representative of the American Alpha Association, sat to Dante’s left. I’d never met the man before, but Mandy had helped find his daughter last year after the girl had been abducted and buried alive. 
Notah was twice Dante’s size with long, dark hair and proud features that spoke to his Mexican and Navajo heritage. He wore a necklace of animal teeth and turquois over his suede dress shirt.
“The Moreau Pack have always been outliers,” he said, addressing the council’s concerns regarding which werewolves could be trusted to assist Blood Vice. “When Marcel began attending alpha conferences, I knew he was up to no good.”
“And yet you did nothing,” Lord McCoy injected. I couldn’t decide if the statement was more question or accusation. Notah didn’t seem to take offense. We’d mostly moved beyond the blame game and were well into brainstorming counterattack strategies.
“I kept a careful eye on the Midwest packs Marcel attempted to endear himself to,” Notah said. “The Raymores in Kansas City and the Rosco Pack in Denver are among those I’ve maintained tabs on—though given Marcel’s recent attacks, I fear he relies on covert agents to carry out the worst of his dirty work.”
“Yes,” Dante agreed. “His public associates are sloppy henchmen, serving only to distract from larger threats.”
Sloppy or not, there was power in numbers. The firefight that went down at the Hearty Harem warehouse proved that much. And the threat had felt significant enough when the building caved in on top of Mandy and me. Still, I tried not to take Dante’s words too personally.
Lili and Alexander were dead. Really dead. The attack that had claimed their immortal lives and destroyed the queen’s manor in Evergreen was clearly the larger threat.
Dante had felt the prince’s death the night of Laura’s wedding, when he’d inherited the Eye of Blood. Then the captain of the Blood Vice division in Denver had called with the rest of the horrific news. What was left of the queen’s harem and staff were crowded inside the base infirmary and spare barracks.
All the pride and prestige that had inflated my ego after uncovering Arnie Moreau’s harem food service bomb scheme was gone. Sucked straight out of my soul until only the bitter throb of failure remained. The evidence had been there plain as day. And like every day since my death, I had missed it entirely. 
Bart Haulette, the patsy Arnie had used to conduct his terrorist plans through, had human roots in Denver but no pack ties. Yet he’d been making regular trips to the Mile High City, confirmed by his girlfriend who’d worked at the Nightfall Opera House.
Instead of another harem food service, Haulette had set up a housekeeping business front in Denver under a stolen vampiric identity. He established employment with the royal family months prior to the incident in St. Louis, and by the time the attack on the queen’s manor went down, Haulette’s people were long gone, their base of operations vacated and bleached clean.
We had nothing. And this tired meeting in the war room was getting us nowhere.
Notah’s brow creased. “However trivial a role the other packs play, Marcel’s drafting methods are…troubling. I have it on good authority that he was a catalyst to the Raymore alpha’s death. It’s how Marcel assumed full control of their pack—”
“That’s hardly surprising,” Lord Sorano said. “But we are not here to discuss retribution for a slain traitor.” 
Vanessa’s grandsire looked down his bony nose at Notah as if he hated sharing the table with a werewolf even more than sharing the room with a vampling. Any time he spoke, my pulse quivered in my throat. He’d spared me a fleeting scowl upon his arrival but had avoided making eye contact since. I was glad for it.
“No, of course not.” Notah ignored Lord Sorano’s sour expression and directed his reply to Dante. “But it may be useful to know Marcel’s intentions. You’re familiar with Spero Heights?”
Dante nodded but then took notice of the confused faces scattered around the table. “A small, supernatural community in the Ozarks,” he explained.
“Small in numbers, perhaps,” Notah said. “When Devin Raymore’s pregnant mate sought asylum in Spero Heights, Marcel hired witches to assist him in retrieving her.”
“Witches?” Sergeant Carmichael’s nose crinkled. She and Notah were the only wolves in the war room—along with eight vampires and two half-sired humans—though being a fellow shifter didn’t appear to earn the alpha any brownie points with her. “You expect us to squirm over a few magic dabblers?”
Notah opened his hands and laid them palms-up on the table. “I expect you to examine this information and consider the possibility that if Marcel is willing to work with witches, he might also be consorting with other shifters—or worse—the fay. We must exercise caution.”
“We are not without our own wild cards.” Dante’s eyes flicked to me.
I could guess who he had in mind. But Dr. Delph, Spero Heights’ psychic therapist, wasn’t exactly what I would’ve called a wild anything. He was more of a faded, dog-eared tarot card. If we brought someone like him into this battle, sure, he’d be able to read the enemy’s mind—right before they bashed in his.
“These witches killed Raymore’s mate,” Notah said. “Then they carved the pups out of her.” He paused at Carmichael’s sharp intake of breath before going on. “Word is, Spero Heights’ new pack showed up to even the score. They’re very loyal to those they offer refuge.”
“And the pups?” Carmichael asked.
“Unaccounted for, though some suspect one of the Raymore deserters delivered them to Spero Heights for their own safety. The pack has yet to announce a new leader,” Notah added. “The Raymore namesake is nearly extinct, but Marcel has promised to help them…reclaim Devin’s twin heirs in exchange for the pack’s allegiance to the Freeblooders. Whether their intentions are to groom one of the pups to become alpha or to tie up loose ends before assigning a new head family is still unclear.”
At the mention of twins, I thought of Selena Chase and the pair of car seats I’d spotted in her truck. If I had babies in need of serious protection, I could think of no one better for the job than the she-wolf Roman and I had met in Spero Heights. She was fierce. Just the memory of her intimidating gaze sent a tremor up my spine. 
Now she was a wild card. Not that she’d give two shits about our cause. And I was certain she wouldn’t abandon her post in Spero Heights or the babes in her care. If only Marcel had promised the Raymores he’d tangle with her first instead of us. Maybe we’d be spared the trouble of dealing with him at all.
Lord Sorano cleared his throat, drawing the table’s attention once again. “We should seek out these lost heirs ourselves in order to buy back the Raymore’s loyalty.”
“For shame, William.” Lady Peyroux shook her head. “You would have us stoop to their level? We, the ambassadors of order and civility among our people?”
“What do you know of war, Louise?” Lord Sorano’s hateful gaze found her at the opposite end of the table. “Your toxic flowers notwithstanding, perhaps these unsavory endeavors are best left for those with the stomachs to carry them out.”
“Tread carefully, my lord.” Lady Peyroux’s dark eyes narrowed. “Your empire relies upon my toxic flowers.”
Dante ended the spat with a slash of his hand. “The pups will remain wherever they may be. If the Raymore’s loyalty is so easily shifted, it is not worth our time or energy. Besides, we have Marcel’s brother.”
After news of the attack in Evergreen reached the council representatives escorting Arnie Moreau to Denver, they’d gone straight to the BATC hidden under the airport. It was the most secure location for a prisoner who could communicate telepathically with his sinister alpha brother. 
The bat cave was also the safest place for House Lilith now that the Freeblooders had gotten a taste for our blood. Regardless, being here made me feel like a coward. I was just thankful it had been the council who’d requested the meeting venue. Apparently, being in the same building as a member of the royal family right now wasn’t considered good for one’s health.
“We are back to the drawing board then.” Lord Sorano scoffed. 
As much as he unnerved me, I found his frustration relatable. I was ready to get out of here and do something useful. And if there was nothing constructive to be done, I was happy to take up space somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Dr. Marquis, the half-sired dean of Renfield Academy, folded his hands over the table. “If I may, Your Highness?” he asked Dante. 
The new title of prince wasn’t yet official, but everyone had adopted it as if to win Dante over. Except for me. I could see how much the idea of taking his sire’s place wounded him. The way the lines in his face deepened at every reminder.
“Yes, Dr. Marquis,” Dante said, nodding his approval.
“Every werewolf at Renfield Academy has taken leave from training in order to join the Cadaver Dogs in their search of St. Louis,” Dr. Marquis announced.
“Same for the werewolf cadets here,” said Sergeant Carmichael. “They’re assisting in the Denver sweep.”
“So what?” Lord Sorano threw his hands up. “You expect us to sit and stay like good little dogs? You forget who you are dealing with.”
“We will carry on, as is expected of us,” Dante said. “Beginning with the Imbolc celebration tomorrow night.”
“Do you think that is wise, Your Highness?” Lady Peyroux asked, a gentle note entering her voice.
I’d posed the same question to Dante before the meeting. His reply had not changed, but he delivered it with less venom and conviction this time.  
“We must present a strong front and not let our enemies take more from us than they already have.”
“This attack must be countered,” Lord Sorano insisted.
“And it will be.” Dante pressed his lips together and took a slow breath. “But as Lady Peyroux said, we are the ambassadors of order and civility. Our traditions and ceremonies are the cornerstones of that order. We will not sacrifice them on the altar of wrath.”
But it was wrath that boiled in all our veins, and no amount of pomp and circumstance would quell our desire for vengeance. I just hoped the time Dante was buying us would be enough to yield something useful.

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