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Midnight's Kiss

By:Thea Harrison

One


Something happened to Julian as he stood in the San Francisco alleyway, looking down at his progeny and longtime friend.

Xavier lay curled on his side on the ambulance stretcher, the lines of his poison-wracked body rigid. Blood was everywhere — the stretcher, the concrete underneath. It had poured like a river out of him and had run in a thin red line down the gutter. The EMTs had had to drain out the poison and infuse him with as much fresh, untainted blood as quickly as they could.

Julian didn’t know what it was, the thing that had happened to him. He wasn’t like Xavier. He wasn’t especially introspective or philosophical. He was most comfortable with taking action.

Whatever it was, his reaction ran deep. It felt like something essential had broken inside him.

His patience, maybe.

Yeah, that was pretty much broken all to hell and back.

Xavier gazed up at him, his young-looking face drawn with pain. His eyes still leaked crimson at the corners. While he had passed the danger point, or “magic hour” as the EMTs called it, the brodifacoum would make every joint and muscle in his body ache for the next three weeks, as his immune system worked to rid itself of any remnant of the poison.

Mindful of that, Julian kept his hand gentle as he touched Xavier’s shoulder, when all he really wanted to do was grab the other man and clench him in a bear hug.

No, he wasn’t ready to live in a world without Xavier in it. For too many decades to count, Xavier had been his Jiminy Cricket and the one example Julian could always look to whenever he wondered what it meant to be a fine man.

He spared a quick glance for Tess, the human woman who hovered so protectively near Xavier’s dark head. When Julian had first seen Tess at the Vampyre’s Ball, she had been rigid with terror and antipathy. Now as she gazed at Xavier, her expression was filled with so much love, Julian felt as if he was witnessing something naked and profound.

Cynically, he wondered just how long that would last. Weeks, or months?

Even if her feelings lasted for a few years, what concerned him most was that Xavier looked at Tess with the same expression.

Xavier didn’t fall in love lightly or as a passing fancy. He would not stop loving Tess after a few fleeting years, and she had made no secret of the fact that she had serious issues with Vampyres.

However, any potential outcome of their liaison was an issue to be confronted on another day. Right now, Tess looked more than happy to look after Xavier, which was all that mattered, because Julian had a traitor to hunt down, and he needed to focus all his attention on the task.

And he planned on enjoying every minute of it.

Justine, the woman behind the assassination attempt, was an old, Powerful Vampyre and a member of the Nightkind council. For years, Justine had been undermining him, quietly and sometimes not so quietly sabotaging all of his attempts to genuinely unite the council members. Trying to kill Xavier was just her latest gambit — but this time, with her attacking a Nightkind government official, Julian was fiercely glad she had finally gone too far.

This time, he thought, I’m going to destroy you, and every one of your co-conspirators, even if they sit on the Nightkind council too.

It was time for him to clean house, and if his hands got a little dirty in the process, why then, so be it. The Roman politician and philosopher Cicero, who had lived and died two hundred years before Julian, had once said, “Laws are silent in times of war.”

If that was true, so too was Julian’s threadbare, incomplete conscience.

As he strode toward his black Jaguar, he ran through the names of the twelve who sat on the council. Of all the members, he trusted Dominic the most.

The other Vampyre had been a Norman lord under William the Conqueror, and had run one of the most successful mercenary companies in Europe during the Middle Ages.

He was calculating, calm in a crisis, and along with another council member, Marged, he was also the most neutral of all the council members. Unlike Marged, whose main abilities lay in commerce, Dominic knew how to respond when situations escalated to violence.

Pulling out his cell phone, Julian dialed Dominic’s number.

Just when he thought the call would roll to voicemail, the ringing stopped and Dominic’s deep baritone voice sounded. “Good evening, Julian.”

“Where are you?” Julian asked.

Despite his terseness, the other Vampyre’s voice remained courteous and neutral. “At home. Why?”

Sliding into the driver’s seat of his car, Julian did some quick calculations. Dominic’s estate lay in Napa Valley, a couple of hours’ drive away, but the other Vampyre had a helicopter and could make the trip to Evenfall much quicker if necessary. That, however, was assuming Dominic would be willing and able to drop everything and come at a moment’s notice.

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