Jovana was beautiful. Xenides hated her. If not for a command given by his now-deceased sire, Xenides would have killed her long ago. Instead, Saxom had instructed his eldest to keep Jovana alive and hidden, as she might be useful in Xenides' war against the Vampire Council.
"You should do this for me—in our sire's memory and with no compensation," Xenides growled. Xenides sat on a Louis XVI sofa in Jovana's private quarters. Jovana's Paris apartment was tastefully decorated in antiques, many of which Saxom had given her. He'd collected many things throughout his lengthy life and now Jovana had enough to keep her into the next century. She wasn't satisfied with that, however. She had expensive tastes and only wore the best in designer clothing. Therefore, she often agreed to the odd assignment for Xenides. For a healthy fee, of course.
"Our sire is dead and compulsion is merely a joke to me," Jovana murmured, rising to gaze out a window. Evenings in Paris appealed to her and were the deciding factor in her choice of living quarters. Lucius had taken her for his lover long ago, and he'd never informed anyone that Jovana wasn't susceptible to compulsion. Saxom had known it anyway, and together he and Jovana had killed Lucius before Saxom made her vampire. She'd agreed willingly to the turn—after all, her beauty was fading away and she worried that Lucius would leave her behind. She'd risen a Queen Vampire, just as Saxom knew she would, and she'd created havoc at Saxom's bidding for more than two hundred years.
"Jovana, our sire left me in charge of his wealth for a reason," Xenides pointed out maliciously.
"So you could keep me under your thumb," Jovana snorted, turning back to her vampire sibling. "He knew I would walk away from you and your foolishness if he didn't."
"You could sell what you own and keep yourself for a very long time," Xenides snapped.
"Of course I will not sell my things. This is mine," Jovana swept out a hand. "And I deserved a fair share of our sire's wealth when he died. You refused to give it to me."
"I will pay for your services as always, Jovana," Xenides sighed. "How much this time for your assistance in capturing the little princess?"
"You should be glad I have no feelings for you, Xenides," Jovana huffed. "Else I would be quite jealous. You talk of her too often."
"You have no reason to be jealous. I only wish to utilize her talents, as you are so reluctant to do so."
"Of course I am reluctant. You fail to see the ignorance in this quest. You should allow me to kill the little bitch and be done with it."
"You will not kill her, and avenging our sire's death is not ignorance," Xenides hissed, his eyes turning so deep a red they were nearly black.
"No need to be angry, Xenides. I will do this for you." Jovana inspected a well-manicured hand. "Six million will suffice until the next assignment."
"Then I suggest you don't spend it in one place, Jovana. As soon as I have the little female under compulsion, you and I will part ways."
"Where and when?" Jovana ignored Xenides' threat.
"Don't worry; I'll bring her to you. You won't have to leave your precious city behind."
"What about the Council?" Jovana didn't bother to hide the contempt in her voice. After all, Wlodek always treated her coldly and ignored her advances.
"I have my own plans where they're concerned," Xenides replied. "I intend to kill Wlodek and then watch the others scatter like the frightened vermin they are. I will only contact you again if the situation becomes dire. You are dead weight to me, Jovana, and without your particular talents, you would be completely worthless."
"Please, see yourself out," Jovana snarled, turning her back on Xenides. "I shall expect the transfer of funds in two days."
Xenides didn't bother with a farewell; he merely slammed the door so hard on his way out the wood split. Jovana cursed at his retreating back.
* * *
"She hasn't looked at that."
Griffin glanced at Merrill, who leaned back in his chair. Griffin studied the Medal of Freedom lying in his hand, his fingers tracing the contours of enameled metal. Lissa received it from the President of the United States and hadn't bothered to look at it or to read the enclosed letter the President had written. The commendation remained sealed inside an envelope and lay on a corner of Merrill's desk.
"I don't know that I blame her," Griffin sighed, settling the medal inside its case.
"She's down to half a pint of blood a day. Gavin almost refused to leave on assignment due to Lissa's depression, which angered Wlodek, of course. Wlodek is threatening to come here himself and place compulsion if she doesn't straighten up. Those are his words, not mine." Merrill picked up his new letter opener and examined it. Lissa had given it to him; it was a replica of a Roman sword and he had no idea if she'd known what an appropriate gift it was when she purchased it for him.
"Tell Wlodek he doesn't have to come," Griffin closed the velvet case and returned it to Merrill's desk with a sigh. "Let's go wake her."
* * *
I have no explanation for Griffin, or why he shows up when he does. He was there, Merrill standing right behind him, when I woke one evening. It was five weeks after I discovered that Tony had taken my blood to use in experiments, consequently giving six men a fatal disease. He'd used me as a weapon. It was like stealing a gun and going out to commit a terrible crime. Only in this instance, my blood was killing innocent people. That bothered me more than I can say and lowered me into an energy-sucking depression.
"Do you know that it's Sunday, June twenty-seventh?" Griffin smiled down at me and lifted a stray lock of hair off my forehead. That was the only thing that was going right at the moment. My hair was now more than three inches in length. If I'd been myself, I might have asked Merrill if I could go to a salon and get it cut and styled. It probably looked a bit shaggy.
Griffin's words depressed me even more. Those poor men that Tony and his research biologist experimented on had seven weeks to live. I had no idea how ill they might become before death came to claim them. How could Tony approve these experiments on humans so quickly? It made no sense to me. Now, six men lay in a hospital somewhere, fighting a disease they'd contracted with an administration of my blood. I knew they were suffering and that made me feel worse. Tony had only given a first name for the research biologist behind this debacle; he'd called him Larry. I thought of him as Larry the lizard, but that was giving lizards everywhere a bad name.