A Place to Stand

PROLOGUE (Zacchaeus)


I clicked play on the laptop, which started the video stream through my conference call with the other two oldest vampires in the world. On my screen—and presumably on theirs—a white werewolf and a grey one ran through the woods, their breaths coming out in little puffs of fog. As the tear gas canisters from the vampires of my coterie hit the ground in the video, I watched the faces of the other two elders in anticipation. The delay was hell thanks to the multiple layers of security bouncing our signals all across the globe, but it was necessary to keep our locations secret from one another. Elsewise, we’d be putting ourselves in danger of assassination.


Kitashihime’s arms were folded into the opposite sleeves of her kimono, her posture as rigid and unyielding as she was. Her black hair was pulled into a smooth bun held in place with hair sticks, though her perfectly manicured bangs brushed her forehead and framed her face. Her shrewd almond-shaped dark eyes watched her screen, her lips pressed into an impassive line.


Vsevolod, on the other hand, sat almost lazily in his leather wingback chair, his relaxed expression belying the violence he was more than capable of. His sharp, icy blue eyes had crow’s feet in the corners. He wore a black turtleneck under his brown leather coat, his grey-black beard brushing the sherpa-lined collar. The beard softened his severely squared jawline, and his hair was cropped short this time. Last I had seen him, his hair had been longer, pulled into a tail that ran down his back.


Neither seemed particularly interested in the video.


And then, they blinked shortly after the first vampire dusted. Damn delay. I was almost surprised they reacted at all. Kitashihime was a few centuries younger than myself—too young to remember the last purgatum. But Vsevolod was at least a century older than me. He watched the carnage back then as our already small numbers nearly died out altogether, coterie by coterie.


The yelps and snarls and scrabbling of the vampire-versus-werewolf fight in the video continued. I clicked pause just after the white wolf sank her teeth into the thigh of the last vampire. He had been mid-swing, and his axe buried itself in the nearest tree as he turned to ash.


I switched to the camera on my laptop. “Only one vampire walked away from this fight,” I told them. “A coward who ran early on. As you can see, this she-wolf is quite formidable.” I pulled up the paused video. “Her ability is… problematic.”


“True,” Vsevolod said, rolling the ‘R’ ever so slightly. “But she is one girl. Wolf she may be, but young she is, easy problem.”


His English was never particularly great.


I let them drink in the sight of her a moment longer before switching to the camera again. “The pack here did us a favor when they had her kill Frederick. He was quite the thorn in our side. Though I must admit that for a vampire who used to be a werewolf, his research provided a great distraction, at least locally.”


I crossed my hands behind my back.


Vsevolod and Kitashihime’s eyes narrowed, almost in sync.


“He was a wolf first?” Kitashihime’s clipped voice was dark and gravel-torn—an old voice in the face of a woman who could easily pass for thirty. I had nearly forgotten her voice was so deep.


“How is possible?”


Poor Vsevolod. His English would likely improve if he could simply be bothered to surround himself with more diverse company.


I smiled—bared my teeth at them, really. “Oh, didn’t you know? Frederick DuBois kept meticulously detailed records of his experiments. He dropped his files directly to me, of course, but what he used to be is the entire reason he was performing his experiments in the first place.”


I studied the two of them for a moment before continuing. Their careful masks of neutrality were now back in place.


“Anyway, we will need to keep these local wolves occupied, too busy to send their she-wolf our way.” I spread my hands. “In fact, we’ll have to assume that as of now, all the North American packs know of this she-wolf’s ability, and the rest of the world’s packs will know in short order—as will the church, who will scramble to get their hands on her.  And since we must make such an assumption, it is time to force the werewolves out of hiding.”


“Distract the wolves." Vsevolod leaned back lazily, waving a hand. “Capture her.”


“Make her our weapon,” Kitashihime added.


I cracked my neck and pulled my lips even further from my teeth. “I am so glad you could anticipate such a decision. Of course I will bring her into my coterie, and I’ll wipe out her pack when I do.”


“Good.” Vsevolod’s video feed went black.


“Be careful not to kill her,” Kitashihime warned. “The wolves grow far too confident in your territory. You will need her to crush them.”


I nodded once. “Of course.”


Her feed went black, and I closed the program. A handful of keystrokes later, the hard drive in the laptop was reformatting, erasing the video and any connection I had made with the other two elders.


As I left my office, my assistant Ally, a young vampire who was positively eager to rise through the ranks, stood to greet me.


I handed the laptop to her. “Take this to Denver and pawn it. Have a new one on my desk tomorrow.”


“Sure.” She tossed her sleek brown hair over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes over her big brown eyes. “Everyone’s out for dinner, Zee. Wanna make use of that conference table?”


She shrugged her cardigan off her shoulders. She wore only a black bra underneath. And it perfectly matched her black pencil skirt. As she bent to place the laptop in her bag, I couldn’t help but notice the tantalizingly delicious things her sky high heels did for her ass.


Oh yes, she was a very good assistant.

I smiled at her as I loosened my tie. It was almost a shame she’d never make it to a hundred.


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