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Cranking open the heavy front door, he entered the vestibule and put his mug into the security camera. Fritz did the duty on the other side, the butler’s wrinkly face stretching into a wide smile.

“Sire, welcome back!”

Okay, so, V hated cheerful people. Spunky people. Folks that would be described as “happy,” “chirpy,” “perky,” and/or “peppy.”

Especially those peppy fuckers.

But Fritz, the Brotherhood’s head of household, was another story. The old butler was just so unreservedly delighted by all the people around him. He lived to serve the needs of his masters and mistresses, and how could anyone, even a misanthropic motherf ’er like Vishous, not love the guy? After all, just because 99 percent of the mansion’s occupants could not tolerate sunlight, that didn’t mean the place couldn’t use a little sunshine. And all Fritz had to do was walk into a room, and the doggen brought that kind of warmth and optimism with him.

“How you doin’, my man?” V said as he shut the vestibule door behind himself.

“May I get for you some Grey Goose, sire?”

“Nah, that’s okay. I’ll . . .”

As the doggen’s face drooped into total, abject sorrow, V’s voice dried up. Jesus Christ, it was like he’d kicked a puppy.

“Ah, that’d be great. Thank you, I’ll take a double.”

Cue the return of that brilliant smile and the bounce in that step. “I shall make you the most perfect tumbler! Right away!”

Fritz took off for the billiards room like a winning lottery ticket had been left out on the bar, and V could only shake his head. He really didn’t want to be waited on, but for all the S&M he had enjoyed over the course of his lifetime, he couldn’t stand the pain of disappointing that doggen.

The butler was like kryptonite.

On the other side of the majestic, multicolored foyer, Last Meal was in full swing in the dining room, the members of the household sitting around that long-ass table, all kinds of doggen serving food and drink, the loud voices and raucous laughter the kind of thing that emanated outward and filled every room in the house, no matter how remote. Ordinarily, V would have headed in there, but he took out his phone and checked his texts. Yup. Jane was wrapping things up in the training center’s clinic, and then they were going to have a dinner just the two of them in the Pit.

Nice and private.


And no, he wasn’t talking about the expertly prepared food or the good wine. Not even the peach cobbler he’d requested for dessert.

Nah. He was thinking of another kind of . . . peach.

Courtesy of his impatient nature—which had just had its blade sharpened with a molar-grinding dose of sexual need, fuck him very much—

V turned to the ornate staircase that led to the second floor. He wanted to be on the ascent already. He wanted to be in front of his King, making his report. He wanted to be heading back to the Pit to see his shellan get very, very, very naked—

“Here we are, sire!”

Fritz held out a silver tray. In the center of it, a tall glass filled with ice was sporting about six inches of Grey Goose. There was also a lemon wedge broken over the rim and a monogrammed cocktail napkin underneath the production like a little area rug.

“Thanks, my man.”

V took the glass and the napkin. With his gloved hand, he dropped the wedge in, took a test sip . . . and the long sigh he let out was not a lie. The shit was perfect. Just the way he liked it, and prepared with the kind of love and devotion he would never understand, but had certainly come to appreciate.

Not that he would be sharing that sappy fact with anyone anytime soon.

“This is amazing.”

Fritz beamed like a kid who’d gotten a gold star for perfect attendance, and you had to admit that the reaction was a heart-warmer. But even if V had been a hugger, and he wasn’t—unless it was to strangle someone from behind—you couldn’t so much as shake the butler’s hand. The last person who had actually embraced the doggen, assuming the story was true, was Beth back before they’d all moved in here, before she’d learned the protocol. Fritz had nearly needed life support from shock. Yes, he was delighted to be valued, but if you actually told him how much he meant to you or the household? Or, God forbid, showed him affection? He went fainting-goat on you.

“Thanks again,” V murmured.

Fritz bowed so low it was a wonder his jowls didn’t brush the carpet. “It is my most sincere pleasure to serve you.”

Hitting the stairs, V finished his Goose by the time he got to the second-floor landing. The doors to the study were wide-open and the great Blind King, Wrath, son of Wrath, sire of Wrath, was sitting on his father’s throne. Behind an ancient desk the size of an SUV.

“More good news, huh.” The King rolled his shoulder and it cracked like a stick. “Can’t wait.”

Yup, even though Wrath was fully blind behind those wraparounds, there was nothing wrong with his hearing or sense of smell.

“Just keeping the trend going.” Stepping into the study, V shut the double doors. “You know, ’cuz I follow fashion like that.”

The room, with its pale blue walls and French furniture, was a total mismatch for the last pure-bred vampire on the planet, but it was what it was. This was where the Brotherhood and the fighters in the household met after hours, all twenty tons of male crammed in here, trying to only put one butt cheek down on the delicate Louis XIV bergère chairs and settees. At this point, though, the absurdity had worn off, habit had set in, and now it would be weird to congregate anywhere else.

“So the dead female wasn’t a false report?” Wrath said as V came over and parked it by the fire.

“No.” He swirled the melting ice in his glass and took another drink. “It was legit.”

“Did you get an ID off her?”

“No. She was naked. Clothes were gone from the scene.”

Under the desk, George, the King’s golden retriever, thumped his flagged tail in greeting, but the dog didn’t leave the feet of his master.

“How messy was it?” Wrath asked.

“Very. We contained things and I removed the body with the help of Zypher and Balthazar. It’s at Havers’s across the river. The only thing we can do is wait for a missing persons call or for someone to post something in one of the social media groups. No one at the clinic recognized her, but somebody has got to know her and be missing her.”

“Such a goddamn waste. Are we looking at a human perpetrator?”

“I don’t know. Lot of scents down there, of both species. In the storage room where she was hanging, too.”

“This is the third body at Pyre.” Wrath cracked his knuckles one by one. “The third female, right?”

“Yup, but one was a human. It’s pretty much the same M.O. as far as I can tell. At that club, after sex, everything taken, body left to bleed out. I think we’ve got a serial predator. I also think we need to bring in a professional on this.”

“Agreed. I want to find the SOB who’s playing with knives. And I want you to put out a warning on social media. I’m tempted to even shut that club down the old-fashioned way.”

By the term “old-fashioned way,” V knew damn well the King wasn’t talking about petitioning the human mayor of Caldwell to throw a padlock on the front door of that shitty old factory. It was more a case of a hundred ounces of C4, a gas tank’s worth of accelerant, two matches, and some popcorn.

And you know, it might be nice to make some s’mores.

“I’ll post the warnings online,” V said. “And we should make sure the Audience House has flyers. The word will get out fast.”

“I want someone monitoring that place. If it is a serial killer, they’ll want to go back to their hunting grounds. We can catch him that way even if he’s left no clues to his identity behind.”

“Or hers.”

“It can’t be a female.”

“Says who.”

“Good point.”

As V considered the staffing requirements, he mostly hid a curse. They were shorthanded already, and after the altercation with those shadows earlier tonight? Things were going to be extra tight as they tried to pin down exactly what had happened at that glymera party.

But, whatever, someone’s off-rotation was just going to have to be spent rubbing elbows with fake vampires because the King was right. They needed somebody on-site to catch the motherfucker.

“We’ll take care of everything,” he vowed.

The King dropped his chin and stared out over the top of his wraparounds, his pale green eyes lit with an unholy light. He might have been unable to see, but he could still send a message and a half with those peepers.

“You find this murderer,” Wrath said in a deep growl, “and deal with it, do you understand me.”

Vishous nodded once. “I’ll handle the endgame personally.”

Humans had jails for this kind of thing. Vampires, on the other hand, believed in an eye for an eye. And whether the perp could handle sunlight or not, this was going to be taken care of the “old-fashioned way.”

You pick off members of the race, whether or not you knew what they were? You were knocking on a door that was going to be answered.

“I’ll keep you posted.”

“You do that, V,” Wrath growled.

The following evening, Boone dematerialized to the rear driveway of the King’s Audience House, re-forming back by the detached garage. Following a shoveled pathway, he entered through a reinforced door, and as he went through the kitchen, he raised a hand in greeting to the various doggen who were preparing fresh pastries for the waiting room. The scents of baking sweet dough and homemade cherry and strawberry preserves reminded him he had not had First Meal, but as soon as he was out the flap door and away from the triggers, he forgot all about his stomach.

With long strides, he headed for the front of the mansion, zeroing in on the deep voices that percolated out of the open doors of the dining room. And as he went along, he practiced his speech: 1) his shoulder had fully healed, and he was willing to let Dr. Manello examine said healing; 2) he’d had all day to process his father and stepmahmen’s deaths; 3) the Fade Ceremony could wait until he was off rotation in two days; 4) there was nothing in the trainee handbook that required a mourning period following the passing of any family members.