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“I wouldn’t think of it, Goddess,” Lynette said quickly.

“Oh, my dear, you have thought of it. You just realized how unwise that thought was.”

Lynette bowed her head. “Touché, Goddess.”

“Now, I leave my subjects in your capable hands, Lynette. I am going to retire to my penthouse to prepare the—”

Neferet’s departure was interrupted by the tall bellman, Judson, calling from where he stood in front of the chained and locked front doors of the Mayo. “Goddess! The police are here!”

CHAPTER FIVE

Lynette

“Help! Police! She’s keeping us trapped in here!” A girl Lynette recognized as the maid of honor from last night’s spectacularly expensive wedding screamed and, slipping around a snake-possessed staff member, began pounding on the thick glass of the front doors.

“Why must I always do everything myself? Staff, all of you except Judson take these humans to the basement!” Neferet’s voice was filled with venom and the hotel staff reacted as if she had shot an electric current into them. As one, they began roughly prodding the group of terrified people toward a rear emergency exit. The vampyre floated down the staircase and drifted across the ballroom floor, passing so closely by Lynette that the train of her purple robe brushed over her feet. Lynette backed away, trying to blend inconspicuously with the shadows and avoid being culled with the rest of the herd, but Neferet snapped at her, “You, come with me. I wouldn’t want you to miss the event I am planning.”

“As you wish, Goddess.” Lynette straightened her back, kept a tight hold on her fear, and followed Neferet. No matter what, she was not going to end like those poor staff schmucks who had the vampyre’s disgusting snakes peeking out of their mouths. Nor was she going to do something stupid and get her head cut off. She’d survived an alcoholic mother and an abusive, white trash childhood to build an empire of her own. She had money and social status. She drove a Mercedes-Benz S-Class and owned a six-thousand-square-foot home in Eight Acres, the most exclusive, expensive gated community in midtown Tulsa. She vacationed in France and she only flew first class. She’d damn well survive a power-crazed vampyre who had delusions of immortality, and she’d figure out a way to profit from the situation.

Neferet had reached the shrieking girl. “You are not a proper supplicant!” With unnatural strength, she took a fist full of the girl’s over-processed blond hair and pulled her head back until Lynette was sure her neck would snap. Then she pointed at the screaming girl’s mouth. “Possess her!”

Lynette wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. The black snake burrowed into the girl’s mouth. Her eyes rolled in her head so that only the whites showed and her body went completely limp. Only Neferet’s hold on her hair kept her upright. “I am going to name you Mabel. When I command, you will come willingly to me,” Neferet snarled, lifting the unconscious girl’s face so that it was only a finger’s length from hers. The sightless eyes blinked. As if the vampyre had thrown a switch, the terror on the girl’s face was gone, leaving only a wooden but attentive expression in her blank eyes.

“Yes, Goddess,” she intoned emotionlessly.

Those horrid snakes are in complete control of whomever they possess, Lynette thought. Not me, she promised herself. It will not be me. I’d rather die than end up like that!

Neferet let loose her hold on the girl. She staggered, as if unbalanced, but remained standing. The vampyre smoothed her perfect hair and brushed an invisible speck of something from the shoulder of her robe. Then she glared at Lynette. “You know what will happen if you disappoint me and it turns out you aren’t a proper supplicant.”

Lynette did not look away from Neferet’s emerald eyes. She did drop down in the deep curtsy the vampyre had appreciated earlier. “I will not disappoint you, Goddess.”

She felt the sick slide of Neferet touching her mind and focused her thoughts on the truth—no damn way did she intend on doing anything that would cause the vampyre to turn against her.

“Soon, Lynette, you will believe that I am Goddess, and that your destiny is to serve me.” Before Lynette could comment, Neferet had turned her back to her, commanding, “Judson, unchain the front doors. Lynette, you will join me. Children, do not allow yourselves to be seen, but attend me!”

With a swoosh that had long reminded Lynette of old money and opulence, the austere brass and glass double doors opened and Neferet strode out, with Lynette close on her heels, so close she could feel an awful chill that radiated from the invisible snakes.

There were two TPD cars and an unmarked town car idling in the small circular drive directly in front of the hotel. Four uniformed officers were talking to a tall man in plain clothes, who was obviously in charge, which meant he was a detective of some type. At Neferet’s appearance, the group instantly shifted their attention to the beautiful vampyre. The detective nodded to the others. They fell in step behind him as, stern-faced, he began to approach Neferet.

“No, I want you to remain by your cars,” Neferet said. She’d stayed close to the doors, standing under the wrought-iron awning that was the hallmark of the Mayo’s entrance. She took a small step to the side and draped her arm around Lynette’s shoulders—and shoved her.

Lynette didn’t have to be psychic to know what the vampyre wanted her to do. Without hesitation, she stepped forward so that she was standing between Neferet and the police. Neferet’s hand rested on her shoulder, and Lynette could feel the vampyre’s hard, sharp fingernails pressing against the skin of her neck just over the artery that beat strong and fast there.

Lynette held perfectly still.

The tall man hesitated only a moment, though that moment seemed an eternity to Lynette. Then he and the officers took several steps back.

“There, that is so much better.” Lynette could hear the smile in Neferet’s voice. “Now we can chat more politely. Detective Marx, it is so nice of you to visit me. It has turned out to be a lovely afternoon, hasn’t it? It is as if the tumult of yesterday’s weather washed the city clean.” Neferet spoke affably, one hand still resting on Lynette’s shoulder.

“Neferet, I need to ask you some questions. Would you rather come down to the station than have me interview you here?”

Neferet’s sigh was one of exaggerated disappointment. “So there are to be no social niceties between us?”

“Under normal circumstances, I have no problem with social niceties, as you well know. You and I have worked amicably together before. But what happened in Tulsa yesterday was far from normal, and I don’t have time for much politeness.” He paused and gestured at Lynette. “And I think it’s pretty ironic that you’re complaining about social niceties when you’re holding a hostage in front of you.”

The pressure from Neferet’s fingernail was instantly gone, and the vampyre withdrew her hand from Lynette with an intimate caress of her cheek. “Detective, you are very mistaken. Lynette, are you my hostage?”

“No, Goddess,” she said, shaking her head and doing her best to act as if it was an everyday occurrence to be a human shield for a psychotic vampyre. “I am your willing supplicant.”

“There, you see. All is well. Lynette is simply here because she worships me. But why are you here, Detective Marx? Are the questions you are so curious about regarding Woodward Park or the Boston Avenue Church?”

Lynette saw the detective’s eyes narrow. “What do you know about the Boston Avenue Church?”

Neferet laughed. “Everything! Ask me a question, any question at all. Would you like to know how long that mewing excuse for a pastor screamed before I killed him, or why the councilman’s wife was missing her lovely white Armani suit, which was, coincidentally, just my size, when you found her drained, lifeless body outside the so-called sanctuary? You see, blood is very difficult to get out of fine linen.”

As Neferet was speaking, Lynette watched the change in the police. First, their faces registered shock, and then, as they drew their guns, revulsion and anger.

The detective’s gun pointed over Lynette’s right shoulder. “Lynette,” he called to her. “Walk directly to us. Keep your hands clear, where we can see them.”

Lynette knew it didn’t matter that Neferet wasn’t touching her. She had absolutely no choice. “No, thank you,” she said, managing somehow to keep her voice from shaking. “I’m happy staying here with the Goddess.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” one of the cops blurted. “She’s a f**king vampyre who murdered a church full of innocent people! She isn’t a goddess.”

“Lynette, I do not appreciate foul language. Do you?” Neferet asked.

Holding her breath, Lynette responded the only way she could. Shaking her head, she said, “No, I don’t.”

Neferet cocked her head to the side and studied the officer who had spoken. Lynette saw his body twitch. “Officer Jamison, does foul language fill your mind when you fantasize about your ten-year-old stepdaughter? How about when you watch her sleep and admit to yourself that you are mere days away from taking your desires for her from fantasies to reality?”

The color drained from the officer’s face. “That’s a f**king lie!” he sputtered.

“More profanity. Methinks the man doth protest too much,” Neferet said, then she spoke conspiratorially to Lynette. “It is a misquote, yet it seems to fit the situation well, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I do,” Lynette said, watching the officer closely. The man was red-faced and looked as if he could explode at any moment—and Lynette realized Neferet hadn’t been baiting him or making anything up. She’d slid into his mind and revealed his dirty little secret.

“You f**king bitch!” Officer Jamison yelled.

“That’s enough of that!” Detective Marx commanded the uniformed man, then he refocused on Lynette and Neferet, speaking in a clear, calm voice that made Lynette wish she could run from the vampyre’s insanity straight into his protection. “Lynette, if you choose to remain with Neferet, then you may also join her in a jail cell. Neferet, you are under arrest for the murder of the entire congregation of the Boston Avenue Church.”

Neferet’s laughter was humorless, cruel. “You cannot even get the charges against me correct, Detective.”

“You just confessed to those murders!” Marx said. He’d lost the professional objectivity his voice had maintained until then. With a terrible tightening in her stomach, Lynette realized the unbelievable truth—Neferet had slaughtered an entire church full of innocent people.

She had to grasp her hands together in front of her to keep them from trembling.

“You are so disappointingly narrow-minded, Detective Marx. What I did in the church wasn’t murder—it was sacrifice, and it was glorious! I do so wish you could have been there to bear witness to it, but had you been there, you wouldn’t be here to bear witness to the beginning of my reign. Oh, but I digress. Your charges are incorrect because they are incomplete. You forgot to add the little snack I made of your mayor a few nights earlier.”

Detective Marx’s face was a mask of loathing. “My gut said the House of Night vampyres were telling the truth when they said you were responsible for the mayor’s death.”

“For once, they were correct. But let me continue my confession. It is such a shame that there was no one yesterday at Woodward Park to witness my triumphant exit from my lovely, sheltering den and to watch me discover two deliciously stunned men who practically begged me to drain their blood from them.” The detective’s eyes widened and Neferet sneered. “I don’t know what is more unbelievable, that that simpering Zoey Redbird somehow deluded herself into thinking she’d killed the men, and then rushed to give her pathetic self up to you, or that you actually believed the insipid child had the will to kill. Either way, the situation doesn’t bode well for your skills of detection.”

Lynette saw that the uniformed officers, even Jamison, had all paled at Neferet’s flippant admissions of guilt, but Detective Marx’s face hardened into stubborn lines. His spoke with calm authority. “Neferet, I will allow you to make one phone call to your High Council, but you must give yourself up to me and prepare to pay the consequences for your actions.”

“The High Council has even less jurisdiction over me than do you,” Neferet said. “I am no vampyre—I am Goddess of Darkness, Queen Tsi Sgili—and I will never again bow to any authority. You, Tulsa, and even the world will worship me as is my divine right. Watch and learn. Mabel, come to me!”

The girl obeyed immediately. She walked through the front doors that Judson opened for her and went to Neferet’s side.

“More hostages won’t help you get out of this, Neferet!” Detective Marx said.

“I said, watch and learn, humans! I have no hostages, only willing supplicants. Now gaze into your future!” Neferet opened her arms to the girl she called Mabel. Lynette had to step aside as Mabel hurried willingly into her embrace. “If I am your Goddess, sacrifice yourself to me.”

Morbidly curious, Lynette watched, wondering what the girl was going to be compelled to do. She only had seconds to wonder.

“You are my Goddess,” the girl said mechanically, and then Mabel began clawing at her own neck, gouging her flesh and causing blood to weep from the wounds.

“Now that is the behavior of a proper supplicant.” Neferet bent to drink from her offering. The girl gasped and trembled, but instead of trying to escape, she cried, “Thank you, Goddess!” in a voice that was filled with ecstasy.

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