August 20, 1994, Paris, France
A vision in white, the Grand Mistress of the Vampire Assembly drifts into the room. She moves so gracefully she appears to float above the marble tiles.
The moment he sees her, Kellan Lahaine extinguishes his cigarette and gives her his undivided attention. Though he's been waiting for a while, he's not irritated by her tardiness. The truth is he cannot take his eyes off her. Lillabeta is perfection in stark hues of white, black, and red. White is most prominent, from the snug white gown that flows out below her waist, gleaming snowy hair in a long braid draped over one shoulder, and, of course, that flawless alabaster skin. Her kohl-rimmed eyes meet his as she takes a seat across from him. They are nearly identical to his own: jet black with red pupils, unlike any other vampire he's ever met. He has no idea why, has never asked, nor particularly cared. And her lips…Kellan's gaze darts to those plump, ruby-red lips. He's been at Lillabeta's side for over four hundred years and in all this time she's never once failed to captivate him.
No human could ever fascinate him the way she does. He'd grow bored of them before even a single month passed. But Lillabeta is as far from human as a vampire can get. It's not just her ethereal beauty, although no human could compare to that, either. She may be cold and ruthless, but Kellan knows the real her, the side she shows only to him. He'd do anything she asked of him to stay in her favor. He has, in fact, done pretty much everything, and he does not regret a single moment.
They're on the upper floor of a neoclassical apartment block. Former apartment block, to be precise—the Assembly has owned this building for the past sixty years. It's now a walled-off and guarded compound, and what suites haven't been converted to conference rooms are no longer rented to humans. A High Council meeting is about to begin two floors below, but, as often happens, the Grand Mistress had wished to speak privately with him beforehand. High Council meetings, which are comprised of Lillabeta and her six most trusted advisors, used to be an uncommon thing. Lately they seem to happen several times a month.
"My source has heard rumblings," she says by way of a greeting. Her voice is high and clear as her strange eyes hold his. "The immortals are up to something. I believe they may be preparing to strike."
This is not the topic Kellan had assumed she'd wanted to discuss. He snorts. "What source? Our inside man now rots away in their prison. Or dead. You told them to do as they wished with him."
At his scoffing, her face hardens. "True," she replies, her tone a degree cooler. "Losing René Levoyant was unfortunate, but it could not be helped. However, as you are aware, he was not my sole informant."
Although Kellan will always defer to Lillabeta's decisions, he's confident enough to speak frankly to her without fear of repercussions, a privilege granted only to one other. "An attack on us seems doubtful. They have no true slayers left, which means we both outskill and outnumber them. Such an aggression would be suicide."
She doesn't look appeased. "The Bourreau girl took out Darius, and she was trained by a non-slayer." One pale eyebrow arches. "Or have you forgotten?"
"I have not. She did not do it on her own, though. She had help from Sinclair." Kellan scowls. "Filthy turncoats, both Sinclair and Veld. I admit I did not foresee that. I cannot imagine how she managed to sway them." There is nothing special about Geneviève Bourreau. She's just a regular immortal human, perhaps a bit more defiant than some, reasonably attractive, sure, but otherwise rather ordinary in Kellan's far from humble opinion. No reason he can see for them to put their eternal lives at risk for her. Except there clearly is one. And he intends to find out what it is.
"Ah yes. The traitors. You have taken care of them." Lillabeta says this as if it's an understood fact. Cassandra Veld and Quinn Sinclair betrayed the Assembly. Therefore they exist no more.
"I've actually been meaning to discuss that with you." Kellan tents his fingers on the table in front of him. "I'm sure you'll agree that, as they are confidants of the Bourreau girls, allowing them to live—for now—could be to our advantage."
Lillabeta's eyes narrow a few millimeters in the merest hint of a frown.
"I've sent a couple of my men to Toronto to keep an eye on them," he continues. "From a discreet distance, of course. Veld is a skilled tracker, so they have been warned not to get close. I receive reports of what they're up to, which for the record is very little. Of note, Geneviève is no longer training with the Levoyants. Instead, she now trains with the vampires."
The Grand Mistress is displeased, which Kellan had expected. "Treason is an act punishable by death. The traitors know this. Why did they not go into hiding? Why stay where they know we can find them? It is suspicious."
"You're correct, and I've considered that. It is odd, and something I intend to find out. For now, knowing their movements could prove useful. Let them sit there in fear, constantly looking over their shoulders. They can't even use magic to hide—all their mages are long dead. So it doesn't matter if they stay or flee. They are mere fruit for the picking whenever we choose."
Squaring her shoulders, she says, "That may be, but I still do not like it." There's a note of petulance to her tone. Sometimes in moments like this Kellan thinks he still sees hints of the human girl she'd once been so long ago. Such glimpses are rare, and he locks each one away in his memory banks for later consideration.
"Then why didn't we kill the Bourreau girls a few weeks ago when we had the chance?" he asks.
"Make no mistake, they will both die. As you well know, there were more pressing issues that needed our attention."
He does well know, because those issues are not yet fully resolved. They concern an enemy far more worrisome than the two surviving Bourreau girls. But Lillabeta seems to consider both threats equally problematic, so he listens calmly to her concerns.
"You're correct," she declares suddenly, surprising him. "The girls are untrained and not a true risk at the moment. Geneviève Bourreau can spar with her vampires all she wants. When the time comes, she will pose no threat to us." The expression on Lillabeta's face says that by us she means herself. She intends to personally destroy the last of the Bourreaus. And Kellan will be by her side to witness their deaths with grim satisfaction.
"Not yet," he ventures. "Perhaps someday she might."
"We shall ensure they do not live long enough for that day to come. For now, do your job and dispose of the traitors, as is their due. I don't care how. Just see that it is done."
"As you wish," he concedes, dipping his chin in supplication.
"It is the law. They betrayed me. They die. You should have had them executed weeks ago." He bristles inside at the disapproval in her voice, but his face remains impassive.
"Of course. I wanted—" Kellan's words are cut short by a cool hand covering his mouth and the simultaneous press of a curved blade to his throat. A scimitar. Fuck.
Lillabeta offers an amused smile as she looks up at the woman standing behind him. "Hello Juliette."
The blade vanishes and Kellan spins to face the dark assassin. "Bloody hell! Was that really necessary?" Juliette and Lillabeta are the only two creatures on this planet who are capable of sneaking up on him. He doesn't mind when Lillabeta deliberately startles him—it usually amuses him—but he's always found Juliette unsettling. The assassin has an uncanny talent for making herself disappear into the background. When she chooses, she's unseen, unheard—a virtual ghost. And her skill with weaponry is absolutely unmatched. It's no wonder Lillabeta keeps her happy. Juliette has the well-earned reputation as the most dangerous vampire on earth.
The burst of laughter that erupts from Lillabeta at his irritation is child-like at best, venturing into unhinged territory at worst.
"Grand Mistress." Juliette bows. She is dressed in tight-fitting black leather and her black curls are cropped close to her scalp. Glancing at him with eyes as dark as her ebony skin, she simply says, "Kellan."
He frowns. She should refer to him by rank, not by his given name. It's disrespectful, as had been the pantomime of the knife to his throat. Yet Kellan does not correct her. Juliette's message is clear. She answers to the Grand Mistress and the Grand Mistress alone.
"I didn't realize you would be joining us," he says. Inside he adds, you complete and utter freak.
"I summoned her," Lillabeta tells him coolly.
"Did you now?" Kellan wonders why she hadn't mentioned it. Perhaps she enjoys the rare chance to witness her General and longtime companion caught off guard? Then he reconsiders. No perhaps about it.
"I did." Lillabeta gestures with one lily-white hand toward an empty chair. "Please have a seat, Juliette. I have a mission for you."