The King’s Audience House, Caldwell, NY
Some graduations happened in private.
Some of these important markers of the next stage of life had no caps and gowns, no orchestras playing the humans’ “Pomp and Circumstance.” There was no stage to walk across or diploma to hang on your wall. No witnesses, either.
Some graduations were marked by the simple and the everyday, the nothing-special—like a person reaching out to a Dell monitor and hitting the little blue button on the lower right corner of the computer screen. Such a mundane action, done many times in a week, a month, a year—but nonetheless, for one particular instance, a great division between before and after occurred.
As Paradise, blooded daughter of Abalone, First Adviser to Wrath, son of Wrath, sire of Wrath, King of all vampires, sat back in her office chair, she stared at the now-black screen in front of her. Amazing. The night she had been waiting for was almost here.
For most of the last eight weeks, time had been going at a crawl, but in these final couple of evenings it had switched things up and flipped into catapult mode. Suddenly, after having suffered through seven-thousand-hour waits for the moon to rise, she felt like she wanted to slow it all down again.
Her first job was now a thing of the past.
Looking across the desk, she moved the office phone over an inch—then switched the AT&T whatever it was back to where it had been. She straightened the stained-glass dragonfly shade on the Tiffany lamp. Made sure the blue pens were in one holder and the red ones in another. Smoothed her palm over the dust-free blotter and the top of the monitor.
The waiting room was empty, the silk chairs unoccupied, the magazines put in order on the side tables, the drinks that had been served by doggen to those who had come all cleaned up.
The last civilian had left about thirty minutes ago. Dawn was about two hours off. All in all, it was the normal end to a night of hard work, the time when she and her father would head back to the family estate to enjoy a meal full of talk and plans and mutual respect.
Paradise leaned forward and looked around the archway of the parlor. Across the foyer, the double doors that led into what had previously been the mansion’s formal dining room were closed.
Yup, just a normal night except for the very un-normal meeting that was taking place in there: Right after the final appointment had left, her father had been called into the audience chamber and those doors had shut tight.
He was in there with the King, and two members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
“Don’t you do this to me,” she said. “Don’t you take this away from me.”
Paradise got up and walked around, re-straightening magazines, re-plumping throw pillows, stopping in front of the oil painting of a French king.
Heading back to the archway, she stared at the closed panels of the dining room and listened to the pounding of her heart.
Lifting her hands, she prodded the calluses on her palms. They hadn’t come from working here for her father and the Brotherhood for the last couple of months, organizing the schedule and tracking issues, resolutions and follow-ups. No, for the first time in her life she had been hitting the gym. Pumping iron. Running on treadmills. Working the StairMaster. Pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups. Erg machine.
Before now, she hadn’t even known what an erg machine was.
And it was all in preparation for tomorrow night.
Assuming that group of males in the King’s audience room wasn’t taking it all away from her.
Tomorrow, at midnight, she was supposed to join the Scribe Virgin only knew how many males and females at a secret location—where she was going to try to make the cut for the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s training program for soldiers.
It was a good plan—something she had decided to pursue, a chance to be independent and kick some ass and prove to herself she was more than her pedigree. The problem? Fully blooded daughters from the glymera, from one of the Founding Families no less, did not train to become soldiers. They didn’t handle guns or knives. They didn’t learn to fight or defend themselves. They didn’t even know what a lesser was.
They didn’t even associate with soldiers.
Daughters like her were trained in needlepoint, classical music and singing, manners, and running vast households filled with doggen. They were expected to know the complicated social calendar and the festival cycles, keep up with the wardrobe requirements of all of that, and know the difference between Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Cartier. They were cloistered, protected, and cherished as all jewels were.
The only dangerous thing they were permitted to do? Breed. With a hellren chosen by their family to ensure the sanctity of their bloodlines.
It was a miracle her father was letting her do this.
He had certainly not been on board when she’d first shown him the application—but he’d had a change of heart and let her apply to the program: The raids of a couple of years ago, when so many vampires had been killed by the Lessening Society, had proved what a dangerous place Caldwell, New York, could be. And she’d told him that she didn’t want to go out and fight in the war. She just wanted to learn to defend herself.
Once she’d framed it in terms of her safety? That was when her father had changed his tune.
The real truth was that she just wanted something that was hers. An identity that came from a place other than what her birthright had forced on her.
Plus Peyton had told her she couldn’t do it.
Because she was female.
Paradise checked those closed doors again. “Come on…”
Pacing around, she eventually wandered out into the foyer, but she didn’t want to get too close to where the males were meeting—as if that might jinx things.
God, what were they talking about in there?
Usually the King left right after the last audience of the night. If he and the Brotherhood had any private business or stuff about the war to deal with, it was handled back at the First Family’s residence, a place so secret that not even her father had been invited to go there.
So yeah, this had to be about her.
Back in the waiting area, she went to the desk and counted the hours she had sat at it. She’d only had the job a couple of months, but she’d liked the work—to a point. In her absence, assuming she stayed in the BDB training program, a cousin of hers was taking over, and she’d spent the last seven nights showing the girl the ropes, clarifying the procedures Paradise had put into place, making sure that the transition was going to go smoothly.
Sitting back down in her chair, she opened the middle drawer and took out her application—as if that could somehow reassure her that this was all going to still happen.
As she held the paperwork in her hands, she wondered who else was going to be at the orientation tomorrow … and thought of the male who’d shown up here at the audience house, looking for a printed-out version of the application.
Tall, big shoulders, deep voiced. Wearing a Syracuse baseball cap, and jeans that had been worn out from what looked like actual work.
The community of vampires was a small one, and she’d never seen him before—but maybe he was just a civilian? That was another change in the training program. Before now, only males from the aristocracy were invited to work with the Brotherhood.
He had given her his name, but refused to shake her hand.