Suddenly the squad began to drop to the ground, one by one. Instinctively, I brought my shield up and extended it around Jared before the woman could place her focus on him – which appeared to agitate the hell out of Orrin. “What did you do to them?” I demanded.

“Don’t be alarmed, they’re merely in a very deep sleep. After a few hours – it differs from person to person – they’ll wake again. It’s a useful gift to have when you’re caring for babies.” He signalled to Moira to return inside. A nervous Blake went with her.

Jared asked the very question that was bugging me. “Why didn’t you get her to do that at the beginning?”

“I wanted to see what Samantha was capable of. And it’s not often you get the chance to observe the Heir and his own personal squad in action.” Orrin gave me what I guessed was supposed to be a reassuring smile. “I had considered plucking you out of harm’s way so that we could leave a little sooner, but I was confident that you would escape it unscathed. And I was right, wasn’t I?”

I had to have heard him wrong. “Excuse me, but it sounds like you have the impression that I’m going somewhere with you.”

“Well of course you are. You think I don’t know what the brothers did to you? You think I didn’t play some part in what happened?”

“What do you mean?” growled Jared. Yeah, it had been dumb of Orrin to admit that in front of a very protective Jared.

Orrin sighed. “The brothers are what you might call…I guess sociopaths, is probably the best term.” And wasn’t that the pot calling the kettle black. “They know what’s right and wrong, they just think the rules don’t apply to them. It’s what makes them such good scientists − no guilt or ethics to interfere.

“They’re both obsessed with the idea of glory, of making a discovery or an achievement that no one else can match. Their goal is to create the ultimate vampire − a blend of all three. Unfortunately, the brothers can be a little eccentric and unpredictable, but the right amount of motivation and the right amount of adoration from me had them focusing on the task.”

He looked as though he actually expected us to praise him for that. Snort.

“Unfortunately, none of their experiments turned out well. I admit, I didn’t actually think they would be successful.” He tilted his head as if in thought. “Maybe they can find a way to amplify my gift so that it’s strong enough that I can manipulate the density of other peoples’ bodies, too.” He shrugged.

That gave me an idea. Call Reuben, I told Jared.

Baby, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s in dreamland right now.

So wake him up using your telepathy.

I don’t think that’ll work.

Try, I growled.

Hey, don’t get pissy with me.

I can’t just – You know what, we can argue later. Just try to wake Reuben, and tell him what to do. I addressed Orrin then, hoping to keep him talking. “I can understand why the brothers would want to create a hybrid – it’s all about glory, all in the name of science. But what’s in it for you?”

His smile was creepily wide. “Tell me, Samantha, what vampire out there wouldn’t pay – and pay very well – to become as powerful as you?”

“So this is about money?”

“Isn’t that what makes the world go around? Come on, you’re a Sventé. Or, should I say, you were a Sventé. You know what it’s like to be seen as the weaker breed, to feel the weaker breed, to be dismissed, and to be targeted. If someone had offered to make you stronger, given you the opportunity to help yourself, wouldn’t you have jumped at their offer?”

I did kind of get his point. After all, that was exactly what I had done. Sebastian had appeared with his offer to get me out of my shitty situation and find something better, and I’d taken it. But this…this was a little different. “I’m surprised at you, Orrin – and not in a good way.”

“Surprised, how?”

“See, it’s not a shock that the brothers haven’t looked beyond their goal – they have tunnel vision. But you…I would have thought you’d have been able to see the bigger picture. How can you not see the complications and possible consequences of what you’ve done?”

He narrowed his eyes. “I don’t follow.”

“That’s my point. Let’s say I was to Turn a human. They’re not going to become a Sventé, they’re going to become just like me. So will other humans I Turn, and any humans that they turn. The same applies to any vampires that the brothers work their magic on. Before you know it, you have a new breed of vampire. That’s not good.”

Orrin inhaled deeply as he considered that. “I don’t see why it would be a huge problem. Sventés, Kejas, and Pagoris have co-existed well enough. Why would the introduction of a new breed be such a bad thing?”

“Because this new breed will be stronger. A lot stronger. That’s a threat to the status quo. Although it chafes most, they do accept that Pagoris are the most powerful of the three breeds, they accept that Kejas are a close second, and that Sventés are the weakest. They accept that that’s the way of things. Introducing a stronger breed will unsettle everyone. Sventés will worry that they’re now easy pickings. Kejas won’t like that they’ve gone a step down in the hierarchy, now being in the place that Sventés once had. And Pagoris, so used to sitting on the throne, won’t like that they’ve lost that throne. They’ll all want to react, and it won’t be pretty.”

Uncertainty briefly flashed on his face. “The point may be moot since, for all I know, you’re no longer able to Turn humans. I will take you to the brothers and let them look at you. They can tell us more.”

The bloke lived in another reality if he thought that would happen. “Here’s the thing…I don’t have any intention of leaving Jared or the squad to go anywhere, let alone with you. Shame, isn’t it.”

He was quiet for a moment, studying Jared intently. “We could take him with us, I suppose. But not conscious. Jared is too powerful for us to take any risks with him.”

“Jared is right here,” snapped my fiancé. “And Jared isn’t going to let you take him or Sam anywhere. It’s really that simple.”

“I didn’t come this far to allow you or anyone else to be a hindrance. Samantha comes with me. I assure you, she’ll come to no harm.”

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