Chapter One, Part 3
Rafael’s earlier joy had changed to cool wariness by the time he watched his helicopter land on his private helipad. The raven-haired Madame Celeste emerged first, bedecked in an emperor’s ransom of rubies and diamonds blazing above gold brocade that blatantly displayed her full breasts. Georges Devol followed her closely in funereal black, nervous as a sinner in a room full of priests.
Rafael’s eyes narrowed. Both Madame Celeste and Devol were so gorged with blood and emotion they were almost sluggish. It was the surest guarantee of good conduct any vampiro could provide. His mouth tightened at what must have happened, during the airplane flight from New Orleans to Austin, in order to satisfy that pair’s horrific tastes before they took the helicopter here.
Rafael’s head came up as an elder lightly touched his mind. A younger vampiro wouldn’t have noticed the probe but Rafael recognized it immediately.
Diego. Madre de Dios. And close enough that he could kill the bastard at last.
Rafael’s mental shields held of course, as they always had against Diego. Two centuries of every imaginable torture had taught him much, including how to protect his mind from everyone except The Syrian who’d raped him and forced El Abrazo on him. In contrast, The Syrian had pampered Diego and never forced him to learn complex skills, like how to shred a man’s mind as easily as his body.
A memory welled up unbidden: Diego’s face the last time they’d met, roaring with triumph as he raised his sword high above him lying broken at his feet. His soul long since commended to God, Rafael had growled defiance as he waited for Diego to finally send him through death’s door.
Then The Syrian’s voice had snapped across the arena. “Do not kill the unbeliever. We have not broken him yet.”
Now Diego Sanchez, dressed in the gaudy attire of a boy toy, looked up at Rafael. He deliberately bit his lip and licked the drop away: He was even more sated with blood than Madame Celeste or Devol.
“Who did you bring with you?” Rafael’s voice was harsh and cold, hardly hospitable. Por Dios, he would not have that snake on his land, where he might study his defenses – and prey on his people.
His men stiffened, weapons rustling.
Diego dripped acid across their mind link, the one shared by all hijos of the same creador. Rafael ignored him, locking down his old shields.
Madame Celeste drew herself up, playing the affronted empress to the hilt. “My enforcer, Georges Devol, whom you know.”
Rafael didn’t favor Devol with so much as a glance. “The terms of the meeting, madame, were that you could bring Devol with you and no one else. The other man must leave my land immediately.”
“What?!” she shrieked. “This is outrageous! You cannot expect me –”
“Otherwise, the entire meeting ends here and now. Your juguete has no place in this. Your choice, madame.”
Diego’s thoughts battered at him angrily but he ignored them with an effort.
She considered him, while his snipers kept their rifles at the ready.
Desire me, she thought at him, using her greatest weapon.
Seven centuries as a vampiro, including two centuries of brutal training, allowed him to withstand the carnal hungers she poured over him. A younger vampiro, certainly any compañero or prosaico, would have crawled to her feet begging to serve her in any way.
“Madame?” he prodded, careful not to show his gritted teeth.
“Oh, very well.” She gave in with a Gallic shrug. “I had hoped for a little extra amusement. Perhaps the three of us together. . .” She let her voice trail off.
He regarded her stonily.
“Back on the helicopter, mon cher Beau. Next time will be better, I promise you.”
Is that his new name?
She kissed Beau on the cheek, sending him back to the helicopter with a pat. He lingered in the door for a moment, glaring at Rafael.
You’re living on borrowed time. The words hung in the air like a cloud of acid on the ancient channel used by The Syrian and his hijos. I swore I’d take my revenge five hundred years ago.
I’m surprised your form of evil still breathes, Rafael responded with all his old venom.
I was biding my time, letting you build a good esfera for me.
Besides, it’s been a plush life, Diego went on. First Russia, now screwing this bitch.
Whoring and killing. You killed for money in Russia and broke every law of chivalry, both Christian and Muslim.
And it felt good too. All that emotion to feed on… Until the damn Wall fell and the new government kicked me out. It was time to hunt you down, even if it meant sleeping with sluts like this one.
And now you will die.
The helicopter’s blades speeded up, forcing Beau to enter. But he still managed to laugh when the door slammed behind him. Didn’t two centuries of trying teach you anything? I beat you in every fight we ever had, so all you know is how to lose to me. The next time we fight, I’m going to take your magnificent esfera.
But I won’t take it yet. Not until I find out how to break you.
Rafael snarled. You tried for two centuries and never did, hijo de la gran puta!
I’ll see you crawl, yaa Himaar. You’ll beg me for death by the time I’m done with you.
No, because this time, it is I who will grind you under my heel, like the cockroach you are! Rafael snapped his fingers.
As if sensing their argument, the helicopter rapidly lifted off and headed east, flying too fast like a hare frightened by a hawk’s presence in the sky above.
Rafael glared after it. This time, he was not a young vampiro, trained by two hundred years of agony to crawl and bleed. He’d spent five hundred years preparing to kill that pendejo – and he’d do whatever it took to crush him into dust.
Madame Celeste slipped her arm through his, rubbing herself against him, as if he was standing still for her convenience.
“Mon chéri, I am delighted to finally visit your home,” Madame Celeste purred as she reached up to Rafael. It was a full kiss, of course, with all of her usual aggressiveness. She sighed into his mouth as she pressed herself against him. Her scent was full of lust, surprising for a vampira who’d fed so recently.
Rafael freed himself as soon as he politely could, following her lead and ignoring Beau’s departure.
Unfortunately, a gentleman could not wipe his mouth after a woman kissed it. “Allow me to present my men,” he began.
“Ah, chéri, forget the formalities for an instant,” Madame Celeste interrupted as she dragged a scarlet-tipped nail up his arm. “Let’s visit alone first, as patrón to patrón, before we involve anyone else in our games.”
“Certainly, madame. The guest house then,” Rafael agreed politely and offered her his arm. Not his office, of course. It would take weeks to remove her stench from his sanctum.
Rafael took a last breath of clean air and joined Madame Celeste inside the guest house. It was a small, simple dwelling place, normally used for the few cattlemen or scientists permitted to stay overnight at Compostela.
Madame Celeste cast a swift, all-encompassing look around the room, her lip curling at the longhorn steer head over the mantel and the Texas flag on the wall. Then she planted herself in the middle of the leather sofa, patted the seat beside her invitingly, and batted her eyes at him. Her gold brocade dress was cut so low he could see her nipples, a calculated frame for the great crimson ruby that dipped between her breasts.
Rafael briefly wished he could courteously decline her invitation and sit in the rocking chair. Instead, he inclined his head graciously and sat down on the sofa, as far away from her as possible.
There were no watchers present, of course. He was, after all, more than five hundred years older than Madame Celeste in the only measure that counted, when two vampiros were granted El Abrazo. He was more than capable of destroying the woman in one-on-one combat, should she be foolish enough to try it.
“Mon petit chou,” she cooed and scooted next to him, her skintight skirt sliding up her thighs.
He gritted his teeth at the endearment. Little cabbage, indeed. “Champagne, madame?” he offered. He retrieved a bottle from the ice bucket Luis had thoughtfully left on the table, behind the Remington bronze. Krug’s Clos du Mesnil, a Cuvée Prestige – the highest level of quality – and one of the most expensive in his vast wine cellars.
She pouted as he carefully popped the cork. “I’d rather talk about us, mon amour. Remember the Mardi Gras we spent together?”
“Certainement, madame.” That had been more than seventy years ago. Why did she remember that interlude?
“The best Mardi Gras I’ve ever enjoyed,” she mused. “You were magnifique, a stallion beyond compare, a god among men.” She toyed with the ruby, running her fingers over it and her breasts, as if tempting him with her wealth and desirability.
“Surely others have inspired you since then.” He handed her a crystal flute filled with the fine champagne.
“Non, you brought me pleasure like no other can,” she insisted and tossed back her wine. She must have drunk so much blood for so long that she’d forgotten the pleasure of other tastes.
Rafael hooded his eyes as he sipped his wine. He’d learned how to survive as a sexual slave once before, including how to read his partner’s every fancy and divert them whenever necessary. He’d done so cold-bloodedly with Madame Celeste during that Mardi Gras, but his gut recoiled at the thought of doing so again.
“Merci, madame, you flatter me immensely,” he murmured. “But enlighten me please. I thought we met tonight to discuss an alliance.”
“Exactement, Don Rafael!” She turned to straddle him.
A hand on her waist stopped her. “Remain seated, madame, s’il vous plaît. Your couturier would never forgive me if anything happened to your magnificent dress.” Would she care more for her clothing than the superb champagne?
She harrumphed her disappointment but settled back against the cushions. “It’s so simple, mon amour. We unite our two esferas…”
What? He set down his glass. She wasn’t here to discuss joining their armies against the greedy vampiros of northern Mexico, who’d overthrown their long-time patrón a decade ago? They were too young to realize their reckless pursuit of drug profits would bring down a horde of prosaicos, destroying them and any other vampiro close by.
“And seal the compact with our bodies, tu comprends? We’d be gods, ruling the largest esfera in the world. We could conquer every other American esfera in an instant and rule the continent inside a year!” she finished with a snap of her fingers and eyes glowing.
No way in hell would he start a war of aggression. His mouth set hard but the bloodthirsty bitch was too caught up in her fantasies to notice.
“And the nights, ah, the hours of passion we’d share. Quelle extase!” She turned his face and leaned to kiss him. He blocked her by lifting his glass in a toast. He had seven score of vampiros and compañeros. But she had ten score, a force to reckon with, even if almost all were younger, and therefore weaker, than his vampiros. He tried turning her aside with honeyed words first.
“You flatter me, madame. Men flock to you like bees flying toward the perfect rose, drunk on your beauty. To be your consort is a heady drink, far too much for a simple man like myself.”
“Ah, mon amour, don’t you see? That’s why we’d be so magnificent together! We’d rule everything from the Atlantic to the Rockies, from the Gulf to the Ohio River. And in a year or two, we’d have all of the United States and Canada. Who could stop us?” She ran her tongue over her lips, her nipples pointed and hard against the brocade. A crimson-tipped finger ran up his thigh. “And the fucking, mon étalon. To have you between my legs again, filling my cunt with your magnificent cock. . .”
“Non, madame.” Rafael gripped her wrist hard enough to catch her attention.
“What do you mean? We would rule North America together!” She leaned forward again.
“No.” He put her aside very firmly, praying none of his men would die because of his decision. “I am honored by your high opinion, but I already have more than I ever dreamed of. I regret I must decline your generous offer; uniting Texas with any other territory is impossible.”
She stared at him, her brain finally starting to work. Her black eyes were enormous with lust. “Mais, Don Rafael, don’t you desire me?”
“Madame, please remember that immense territories have never lasted long among our kind. Content yourself with what you have.”
“But I know you want me; every man always has. Why do you keep refusing me?”
“Madame, the answer is no. Neither your great estates nor your beautiful body will take me away from Texas.”
Understanding slowly dawned in her eyes, and the birth of her notoriously foul temper. She threw her champagne in his face and sprang at him, her fingers slashing at his eyes. “Nique ta mère!”
Rafael grabbed her wrists, wishing he could break them for the insult to his mother.
She spat curses at him, hissing and scratching, slipping from his grip like an asp, as she tried to make contact with his loins. “Raclure de bidet!”
He wrestled her to the floor, barely dodging the table. A twist, a roll and they were in front of the fireplace. He finally brought her under control by lying on top of her, straddling her legs, with her wrists gripped in one of his hands. Her carnality surged against him, seeking an entry.
“Soyez tranquille, madame,” he insisted, enforcing the command telepathically as well as vocally. “Remember you are the patrón of New Orleans.”
She stretched against him, rubbing her breasts against his jacket. He lifted an eyebrow but didn’t move.
She circled her hips against him, making the sexual offering of herself more emphatic. She slammed her gift at him, demanding that he lust for her.
His cock stayed relaxed, an emphatic declaration of disinterest.
“Dardillon! You should be hard as a rock for me!” She spat at him but he dodged easily, his face calm.
He seared tranquility into her brain, wishing vampiro custom allowed him to do so permanently. But no, she’d be a worse enemy if he did so, and she’d still be unfettered once she returned to Louisiana.
“You truly don’t want me,” she hissed as she stilled under him.
He watched her warily until her breathing evened out, before releasing her. Madre de Dios, he’d rarely seen a woman so angry. But when had anyone ever refused a carnal invitation from her?
She straightened her dress with angry jerks. Rafael poured her a fresh glass of champagne, which she accepted with a sneer. She downed it in rapid gulps before she started talking again. “Haven’t you ever wondered why I took over New Orleans only after that Mardi Gras we shared?”
Ay, mierda, she can’t have taken over New Orleans and the Southeast because of something I did. Rafael inclined his head neutrally and let her speak.
“I needed that territory so you’d stick around me. Me, La Patrona d’Esfera de Nouvelle Orléans! Not just another chick good for only a few weeks,” she snarled at him. “And if I can’t have you, then by God, I’ll dance on your grave.”
“You can try, madame. But you’ll fail.”
“And I’ll succeed. My assassins have killed more than one esfera’s patrón.” She rose impatiently and began to pace.
Rafael raised an eyebrow, genuinely unworried. He took up a pose leaning against the mantel, where he could watch her. “Their tricks are well known to the least discerning vampiro. They will not succeed here.”
“Even the best vampiro assassin in the world and an vampiro mayor at that? The little golden toy who enlivens my bed in gratitude for a place to stay? He’d kill you and a hundred others, just to please me.”
A chill ran down Rafael’s spine for the first time. Diego was famous as an assassin for the Russians, legendary for sowing terror wherever they wanted. If there was chaos in Texas, the oldest and most stable esfera in North America. . .
He made sure none of those concerns showed on his face, of course, as he countered Madame Celeste’s challenge. “Texas is not like other territories, madame. Even if I die, Gray Wolf will lead the armies of Texas against you. You will regret the day you caused a painted savage to go to war.”
She paled slightly. Good; she still remembered some of her childhood’s horror stories. Then she bared her fangs at him in a travesty of a smile, the ritual start to a vampiro duel. He went on full alert, ready to shapeshift in an instant.
“Or I’ll send in my darling Georges to frighten the locals. He would make Texas so hot that los prosaicos would destroy you and all your precious vampiros and compañeros.”
Madre de Dios, she couldn’t be that reckless. A horde of terrified mortals was the only thing every vampiro feared. What they lacked in individual strength, prosaicos more than made up in numbers and determination. But if she harmed the people of Texas, he would utterly destroy her.
“Madame, do not try to alarm me with your talk of assassins and mobs. Texas is too strong for you to take down,” Rafael snapped. “Save your strength for where it can be put to better use, such as stopping the river rats that bring drugs and weapons into your great city.”
“Don’t bother me with your pretty speeches, Don Rafael. We understand each other well enough without them,” she snarled and turned for the door. She stopped when Rafael clamped his hand over her wrist.
“Do not start a war you cannot win, madame, lest you be destroyed by it,” Rafael warned, his voice hard as his revolver’s steel. “You are my guest tonight, protected by the laws of hospitality. But if you attack me, then I and my Texans will bury you.”
“Damn you, let me go!” She yanked but his grip was immovable. Her language turned as foul as New Orleans’s sewers.
“You and your entourage are leaving now, madame. If you ever step foot on Texan soil again uninvited, you will die.” He forced her to meet his eyes, fury boiling inside him. “Do you understand me, madame?”
“Oui, je comprends,” she muttered sullenly.
He released her slowly, wishing for the first time in his life that he could break the laws of hospitality and kill his guest.
She nearly spat at him but changed it into an offended snort. She stormed out, striding down the hill toward the helipad and Devol.
Excerpt from Bond of Blood by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved