Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(13)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(13)
Author: K.F. Breene

The vampires above me, which had been right at the edge of the platform to watch my fight, turned almost as one and began clearing out. The minions around me continued to dog my steps, irritatingly close.

“While I have your ear,” I said conversationally, trying to keep my rage at bay. I really wanted to go on a vampire-killing spree. “Am I going the right way?”

“For a while longer,” someone mumbled. He grunted a moment later, probably from an elbow to his ribs.

I sneaked a glance behind me and saw a very attractive guy about my age. “Resisting the swamp-thing look, huh? Are you new to all this?”

He nodded before scowling, clearly annoyed he’d answered again.

We continued on, all my new friends and me, until the air smelled heavy and moist. We were deep underground, probably amidst the oldest vampires who had ever walked the Realm or the Brink.

The surroundings had become almost catacomb-like those last few hundred feet, but they opened up again and spread out into a huge chamber fit for a king. At the far wall was a massive table with ornate chairs seated around it. A beautiful chandelier made of crystal, gold, and probably diamonds hung down in the middle. Nothing was on the table at the moment, but it made me wonder what typically adorned it when the vampires met. I knew they didn’t have to eat food, but had no idea if they did it anyway as sort of an homage to their former life.

The flock of newbie vamps shifted their flight pattern to the right. I dutifully stayed within the haphazard circle, just to keep everything moving, until we came to a throne-like chair against a heavily decorated wall. Gold and precious gems adorned the stately seat, and beside it were two lesser chairs with a smidgen less finery.

“Wow,” I muttered. “Who gets the little chairs? And don’t say wives, because that’s just messed up.”

“Wait here,” one of the newbies said. My new friends drifted to the side of the chamber.

I continued to look around, noticing a crown sitting on a cushioned stool against the far wall. I wasn’t great at Brink history, but I’d bet that was real. Next to it was a chest filled to the brim with gold coins and large hunks of precious gems. It looked like pirate treasure, but it had probably been taken from some monarch. Along with that crown.

“You guys are way better thieves than I am,” I whispered in awe.

My eyes ate up all the jewels and regalia around me. It was endless, staged in clusters that were designed for flaunting. I noticed the newbies staring at it, too, with wide eyes and sometimes gaping mouths. They seemed just as impressed as I was. Newbies clearly weren’t often allowed down in the spacious room. It made sense, then, why all the finery was on display. Vampires did love to show off.

“Miss Somerset,” came a deep voice I recognized.

The vampire from last night stalked into the chamber. His wide shoulders swung with each confident step. Behind him came two other vampires, their faces vaguely familiar, which meant they’d probably made an appearance last night as well.

“May I call you Reagan?” He took the throne-like chair, and I couldn’t help a smirk, the words compensating for something? on the tip of my tongue.

“Yes,” I said instead, trying to regain control of my expression.

“What happened to your face?”

“My eyebrows melted off from the warm welcomes you guys gave me.” My response was met with a blank stare. “That was sarcasm…”

He continued to look at me, his gaze rooted to mine.

“Now it’s getting awkward,” I mumbled.

“As you probably know, I am Darius. I summoned you here.” A slippered foot swung up and braced on his silk-clad knee. He leaned back in relaxation, but his eyes didn’t soften as he took me in, his gaze traveling from my head down to my toes. He noticed my weapons and the way I held myself, and even paused on parts he had no business checking out.

Preventing myself from shifting uncomfortably, I waited him out. Finally, when every creature in the room was inhumanly still, he said, “Your smell is abnormal.”

“Wow. You’re a real lady-killer, huh? Mr. Charming.”

“I have never had an issue attracting members of the opposite sex,” he said before returning to his assessment.

Clearly he’d been handsome before being changed. That explained the confidence, and certainly the arrogance.

Turning into a vampire enhanced a person’s appearance, so an eight on a one-to-ten scale would be bumped up to near perfect. Not everyone started out hot, though, like Meat-grinder Face. No one had probably warned him a three would only get bumped up to a five. That was probably the reason for all the roaring. Always being the ugly guy, no matter how strong, had to gall.

“You are deformed,” Darius said, his gaze on my cheek.

“And you’re an asshole. Now that we’ve pointed out each other’s flaws, can we move on?”

His brow furrowed as a figure strolled out from the side of the room. I hadn’t noticed a body in that location a moment before, nor had I seen the flip of a camouflaged sheet. This vampire was sneaky, and that usually meant dangerous things.

He walked toward the trio of thrones. Slowly. Purposefully.

His eyes didn’t sweep my body like Darius’s had. Instead, his intense black gaze stayed rooted to mine, glimmering with intelligence and humor.

My jaw dropped.

Whereas Darius was super handsome with the natural ability to melt panties, this new guy was…

There were no words.

No words.

He was absolutely the most attractive person I had seen in my entire life. Ever. In his human life, he must’ve been a ten, hands down. Now, off the hotness scale. They didn’t make numbers for how gorgeous this former person was.

If I hadn’t been rendered simultaneously on fire and mute, I would’ve sidled toward him and slapped him a high five. Then sketched a selfie (since he wouldn’t show up in a picture).

“Hello, Reagan,” he said in that lovely, musical, and cultivated voice that had instructed me to fight to the death a few minutes ago. “I’ve heard so much about you. Please, will you have a seat?”

Newbies walked forward with a large chair inlaid with gold. It had to weigh a ton, given how the vampires were struggling. They set it down right behind me, bowed, and backed away quickly.

I had no idea who the new vampire was, but there was something regal about him. Something so old world that I felt like I should probably bow, too.

“It seems you’ve found yourself between a rock and a hard place,” he said. And smiled knowingly.

Chapter Six

Adrenaline surged through my body. Those words, teamed with his knowing smile, were not doing kind things to my fight-or-flight reflex.

“You are depleted of funds and my associate has taken your recent mark,” the vampire went on. “We’ve put you in a tight spot, as they say.”

The breath left me in a relieved gush. I quickly regrouped. “Yes, it seems you have.”

“What luck, that we find ourselves in need of a bounty hunter such as yourself. I’ve been told that you not only move quickly and with great skill, but you have a working knowledge of magic. Is this true?”

I frowned, because they wouldn’t have seen much of my powers on display last night. I didn’t like the idea of vampires spying on me, even if they’d just looked at my records from the office. “Yes.”

“Might I also assume that you work entirely for yourself, and do not sell information to third parties?”

“To be honest, I’ve never been in the position to sell information, so I really have no idea.”

“Ah, but you have.” He smiled again, a thing of perfection. It almost made Darius look plain.

I squinted, trying to parse his remark. I’d dealt with a lot of sensitive cases, but none of them had imparted useful information. Often, the marks babbled about how they could enrich my life until I knocked them unconscious for some peace and quiet. I delivered them, signed some papers, and went about my day.

“I see,” he said, taking my silence as an answer. The vampire took a few graceful steps and lowered himself into one of the secondary thrones. His choice of a seat of lesser height and grandeur did nothing to diminish his regal appearance. Darius was sitting higher physically, but for reasons I couldn’t pinpoint, I knew he was lower in hierarchy. “We have a sensitive matter you might be able to help us with. But first, I must know. What is the smell, Reagan Somerset, which reaches many of the vampires in this vast chamber?” He looked around those gathered. “Strangely, the young ones are not affected similarly. Those of us who are older, however…” His gaze flicked into the shadows. I followed his look, but saw only empty space.

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