"You do realize that the purpose of terrorism is theater," Tobias Strahan said to the Clan leaders. "It's not so much what our enemies have done to hurt us that they care about, but how we react to it that they're counting on."
Francesca Reynard turned from the door at the Prime's superior tone. She couldn't help but smile, and wonder if the Matri Council were going to let him get away with lecturing them, or if the commander of the Dark Angels was about to get his ears boxed. Either way, she waited in the council room to see what happened next. It wasn't where she was supposed to be and not a conversation she was supposed to hear. A small rebellion, but she'd take any kind she could get.
Petty, aren't you?
The telepathic voice in her head was Strahan's, only even more arrogant speaking to her than to the respected clan leaders.
Primes were supposed to be arrogant, and she normally found them easy to ignore.
But not this one.
It's a hobby, she thought back at him.
Along with petulance and pride, but then everyone knows Flare Reynard's hobbies.
She'd learned to accept the nickname and had earned the reputation that went with it. I am a bitch, she answered, then raised the mental shields that kept polite vampires out of each other's heads.
She was aware of the faintest of shrugs from him. She could ignore his mind, but the tiny movement caught her. She was female, which meant she couldn't help but run her gaze appreciatively over Strahan, fine figure of an overgrown Prime that he was. He certainly was a big boy. Big hands, big feet, very tall. Muscular, but with a flat ass and narrow waist perfectly proportioned to his extra-wide shoulders. She knew he was considered the best looking Prime of his generation, but liked that the perfection was slightly marred by ears which stuck out slightly from a back view.
Their mental conversation had taken far less than a second. Long enough for the Matris to bridle and glare at the Prime standing before them. Most were as offended as he intended for them to be.
But Lady Juanita Wolf laughed. "We've been involved in deadly games with the hunters for generations," she reminded Strahan.
"But they've never publicly attacked us before," Lady Angelica Reynard said. "Never set us up to be found out by the media."
Strahan nodded. "We can't afford to react in the classic manner. They're counting on it. They want to be able to post videos of your people on YouTube, to get news crews camped outside your homes. They've decided that outing us is the best way to destroy us."
"I can almost understand mortal vampire hunters attacking like this," Lady Cassandra Crowe said. "But you haven't convinced me that one of our own could be a traitor. That information is being passed from inside our own community. There is absolutely no reason."
"I think I know the reasons," Strahan said.
"I think we've heard enough on the subject already," Lady Serisa Shagal said firmly. Los Angeles was Shagal territory, this was her Citadel and defending against the threat to her Clan should be hers to handle. But she had agreed to Strahan's demand to cede emergency powers to the Dark Angels since the attacks were on all supernatural groups, not just Clan vampires. There had been fires and bombings on vampires and werefolk all over Southern California, including trouble at the medical clinic here in Los Angeles. The Angels were a multi-species special forces group who answered only to Strahan. Tobias Strahan had formed his unit in anticipation of the sort of attack they were under now.
He certainly looked and acted like he knew what he was doing. Francesca admired his confidence in the face of so many Clan Matris. He'd walked into their meeting, taken over and convinced everyone to do things his way.
Francesca admired his ability to bully Matri, but resented that he'd interrupted her own effort to save the day when her friend Sidonie Wolf faced execution for bonding with a werewolf member of the Dark Angels. Francesca and other vampire females had been attempting to start their own revolution as well as save Sid, but now Strahan's power play had forced that effort to the sidelines. She did not admire him at all for interrupting her bid for freedom, even if he had achieved her objective of saving Sid.
He turned his head slightly, giving Francesca a view of his sharp profile and hard expression. A woman couldn't help but think of a male like that as tasty, even a woman like herself who hated the vanity and total jerkhood of the males of her own species. It was a good thing she'd had years of practice at ignoring the instincts that reared up in her as she watched this Prime. She'd paused to watch him lecture the Matri, not to get all tingly and warm.
It also helped that a squad of Primes came pouring in from the door behind her. There wasn't an ugly one in this bunch of bodyguards. She stepped aside to give them plenty of room to get past her to go to their various Matri.
"The arrangements are all made," Barak Shagal told his Matri and bondmate. "Everyone's cars are waiting. Guards are placed, and the pilots of your private planes have been alerted."
"It's time to go," a Reynard Clan Prime addressed Francesca's mother.
It certainly is, Francesca thought.
The plan was for all vampire females in California to be whisked away to safety elsewhere. She had no intention of going back to the Clan Citadel in Idaho with her mother. She'd come to California with a purpose and wasn't leaving until she'd accomplished it. She was glad she'd kept quiet and in the shadows. It made it easier for her to slip out the door before she could be noticed and called back.
Where do you think you're going? Tobias wondered as he watched from the corner of his eye while Flare Reynard sneaked away. Watching the sway of her hips as she walked was a joy. But the stiffness of her spine and proud lift of her head told him she wasn't heading for her mother's limo. She obviously had plans of her own, but he was in charge here. The notion of letting her know it brought a brief smile to the hard line of his mouth.
"Brat," he muttered under his breath.
He knew he should mention Flare's leaving to Lady Anjelica, let the proper people take care of it, but he couldn't resist the impulse to track Flare down himself. If anyone needed a public lesson in discipline, it was the Clans' most adored and spoiled female.
Finding Flare shouldn't have been difficult for a Prime of his skills. Even with her shields tightly drawn around her, he thought he ought to be able to pick up the unique scent of her perfume, which had permeated his senses from the moment he walked into the tense meeting. Or at least he should be able to track her by the stunned looks she tended to leave on the faces of any Primes she encountered.
Tobias's cellphone rang and he paused in the mansion's entrance hallway to answer it. Personally, he preferred telepathy to telephony but not every member of his Crew had the ability to communicate mind to mind, not to mention the regular mortals who needed to get hold of him. So, he carried a phone, an elaborate device of multiple functions -- which interrupted him at inconvenient times and places, such as now. He stepped outdoors and to the side of a wide staircase at the front of the house as he put the phone to his ear.
"How's Joe?" was Dee McCoy's first question.
"You could have called him and asked," Tobias responded to the mortal witch.
She snorted. "I can picture him standing in front of a firing squad as his phone rings and him saying, wait a moment while I take--BANG!"
"Vampires don't use firing squads. The Joe problem is settled, and his lady Sid will be joining the Crew. Set up orientation for her."
"You got us a girl vampire?" It took a lot to impress Dee McCoy, and Tobias smiled at the awe in her voice.
"Yes, I'm good," he said. "Also, the L.A. op has been authorized. The locals will be staying out of our way, and all is right in my world."
Tobias looked around as he waited for Dee to go on. Joe and Sid were standing near the bottom of the stairs. He moved closer so he could talk to these Dark Angels once he was off the phone. After a significant silence, Dee told him, "I've gotten a couple of sips from her that give me the impression she's having some trouble at school."
This wasn't the time or place to ask for details, but he was grateful as always for the witch's reminders that he had more important things to deal with than saving the world. "I'll call Saffie as soon as I get the chance," he said.
"Tonight," Dee answered.
Tobias grunted and ended the call.
In time to overhear Sidonie Wolf say to Joe, "And there's the Prime responsible for setting this whole mess in motion."
She was talking about him. He gave her an acknowledging nod and walked past the couple, all the while shamelessly listening to the female vampire explaining to the werewolf the deeper game Tobias played by reuniting the two of them.
I put their lives at risk in an effort to help the cause of female liberation, he thought. The supernatural world had to change before it was destroyed and he'd do whatever he had to to save everybody -- vampire, werefolk, faefolk, the creatures even immortals had trouble accepting. Every sentient being deserved freedom and equality -- except maybe ghosts, but they were ex-humans and not really any of his concern.
While his thoughts circled around the problems of his peoples, he circled alertly around the front of the mansion, aware of all movement. He took careful note of the evacuation of Matris and other females by their concerned Primes, identifying who occupied each limo and the direction each car took as it left the gate. Neither Reynard female were among the exiting groups.
It occurred to Tobias that Lady Angelica was perfectly capable of taking her difficult daughter in hand and dragging Flare home with her. An argument between them was probably the cause of the current holdup. It wasn't something he needed to concern himself with.
But he stomped back up the staircase toward the door anyway. "Someone needs to shake some sense into that spoiled princess--"
Tobias paused to laugh at his response. I've already got one teenager to deal with, he reminded himself. Besides, Flare Reynard was no child. She was a dangerously beautiful female, and more than the scent of her perfume called to him. But she does that to any Prime with a hot blood in his veins, he told himself. I want that glorious body beneath me in a bed and the taste of her blood on my tongue. But I won't let lust make me stupid like it has every other Prime that's ever gone after her.
Gone after her?
Except that if I want her, I'll have her.
He shook his head. Oh, no--
Awareness made him turn, and he caught furtive movement out of the corner of his eye. He was standing in front of her before she reached the side door of the mansion's multi-car garage.
"Flare, my dear," he said with a totally false smile. "What are you doing here?" He leaned against the side door, arms crossed, his intention to keep her out clear.
He expected an imperious order to get out of her way. Instead she looked puzzled. "Dear?" She crossed her arms. He appreciated what this did for her breasts. And she knew it. Primes were far too easy to seduce. Which was why they were taught self-control, and the lessons from creche were reinforced by the Angels' discipline and training. Which Tobias momentarily thought was a shame, because, damn! Flare was one fine female.
Francesca was more pleased with where Strahan focused his gaze than she normally was. She knew he wouldn't fall for it for long, but she enjoyed the flutter of warmth caused by this Prime's sexual interest.
She looked into his big brown eyes and said, "The Bat Signal is flashing behind you. You need to go save Gotham now."
"I appreciate the comparison to my favorite vigilante, but you can't insult me and you're not going anywhere but back to Idaho."
She couldn't stop the grin at this challenge. "I think I can manage to say something sufficiently insulting to you at some point. Except we won't be seeing each other after later. And I don't take orders from you."
"The Matri would disagree. I am in charge of this territory."
"I have an appointment at a secure facility."
"You're using this young Prime for tongue sharpening practice, I see," her mother said, standing suddenly behind her.
Francesca was totally frustrated. She'd tried to leave the Citadel quietly and privately, and somehow she'd ended up the center of attention of the people she was trying most to avoid.
"Lady Francesca and I were merely exchanging pleasantries, Matri," Strahan said to her mother.
"Yes. I know how pleasant she can be."
"She's witty, ma'am, and sharply direct. As is proper for a vampire female."
"What are you talking about, Strahan?" Francesca asked suspiciously.
"Don't you have somewhere you're supposed to be?" Lady Angelica went on.
Francesca wasn't sure who her mother was talking too, but Strahan picked up the conversational ball. "We all do. Let me escort both of you to your car."
"That's a good idea," Angelica said. She looped an arm through both of theirs and led them out of the shadow of the garage.
"I'm not going to the airport," Francesca said when they reached her mother's car. She threw an annoyed look at Strahan. She would have avoided the coming argument if he hadn't sneaked up on her by the garage. He stepped back to let the Reynard Matri handle her daughter while the driver politely swung open the passenger door.
Go ahead, wash your hands of me. She was annoyed at her resentment of the Prime's attitude. Of course he was going to leave her to deal with her mother. He wanted her out of town and she couldn't blame him for that. Shouldn't, at least. She shook her head and made herself stop looking at tall, muscular, gorgeous, over-confident Tobias Strahan. Something about him brought out the most petulant part of her. She didn't want to ignore him the way she normally did Primes. She wanted to-- Provoke the hell out of me until I kiss you senseless?
Francesca pretended not to have heard that thought even as she fought down the urge to laugh. Laugh. Not turn on him in scathing fury? Now, there was a new reaction to Primal arrogance.
I only deal in facts, ma'am. Arrogance is for the unsure.
Oh, do be quiet, Strahan. I've got more pressing business than dealing with you.
But you would like to be kissed.
Who wouldn't? By the right person. I'm not dead, but I am picky.
This telepathic conversation went on with intensity, but without any real passage of time.
By the time the driver finished opening the car door her mother replied to her statement, "You most certainly are not going to the airport with me."
Copyright © 2010 by Susan Sizemore