“All warfare is based on deception.”
—Sun Tzu, THE ART OF WAR
THE LETTER ARRIVED by Federal Express, just one of many delivered to the gates of Raphael Enterprises on a cool spring afternoon. As with all such packages, it was left unopened until after sunset when the vampires woke for the night. It was then taken to the security headquarters beneath an eighteenth century French mansion set well back among the trees of Raphael’s estate. That mansion had once been the home of his sister, Alexandra, but no longer.
The package was first turned over to a small team of highly trained vampires. It was x-rayed, and then examined for tampering. Vampires were hard to kill, especially one as powerful as Raphael, but his people took no risks with his safety, just as he took no risks with theirs.
Finally, after it was determined to be nothing more than it seemed, the package was carefully opened and the contents revealed—it was an envelope with Raphael’s name on it, handwritten in an elaborate calligraphic style. The vampire tech examining it frowned, his nostrils flaring at the familiar scent. Blood. Raphael’s name had been written in blood. The tech inhaled deeply and realized it was very likely that there was even more blood inside, that the letter itself had been scribed in the same ink.
His frown intensified, but he was old enough to remember when such things were customary among powerful vampires. He didn’t like what such a letter might mean for his master, but he recognized its significance. Standing from his station, he picked up the envelope and walked down the hall to the office of Raphael’s security chief, Juro. Finding the room empty, he placed the envelope on Juro’s desk, along with a form noting the date, time, and method of its arrival, as well as the security precautions already taken.
And there it sat until Juro found it hours later, the letter that would change everything . . .
CYNTHIA LEIGHTON stood in the darkened room, unmoving, barely breathing, as she watched her lover slowly destroy another being, a vampire, in the next room. This was Raphael at his most cruel. He was often ruthless, relentless in his determination to get to the truth, to tear an individual’s deepest secrets from his screaming throat. But he rarely toyed with his victims like this. He was rarely this cruel. It took a special kind of offense to bring that out in him. But the vampire who was currently the unwilling focus of Raphael’s attention had brought it on himself. He’d killed Raphael’s sister, and he’d done it without a second thought, because she’d become a nuisance, because she was of no more use to him.
Cyn bet he regretted it now, although, privately she was relieved Alexandra was dead. The bitch had deserved what she got. She’d betrayed Raphael over and over again, and, had she lived, she’d no doubt have figured out a way to do it again.
But despite all of that, Raphael had loved her, and her death had grieved him deeply. As far as Cyn was concerned, that alone was enough to earn the vampire in the next room a lifetime of suffering. Not that Raphael had consulted Cyn or anyone else about the justification for what he was doing. And no one had dared offer an opinion . . . although she was pretty sure his closest vamp advisors all agreed with his methods of interrogation. In fact, judging by their gleaming fangs and straining muscles, it looked to her as if Jared and Juro would have liked to join the mayhem. The two of them—Juro and Raphael’s lieutenant, Jared—were in the interrogation room with him. Ostensibly it was to protect him against the prisoner, although Raphael hardly needed their protection. But one never knew. The prisoner’s name was Damien, and his European masters were both old and powerful, some of them centuries older than Raphael, with knowledge of things long forgotten by most of the world. For all Raphael or his people knew, Damien might have some sort of vampiric time bomb hidden in his brain.
Cyn had no doubt that both Jared and Juro would willingly throw themselves on an exploding bomb, or an exploding prisoner, to save Raphael’s life. But she also suspected they simply liked to watch the so-called interrogation up close and personal. Vamps were a bloodthirsty lot.
For all of Damien’s obvious suffering, though, Cyn had to admit that Raphael had shown great restraint in deferring his personal revenge until after he’d extracted every bit of information the vamp had about his European masters and their plans for invading North America.
Damien Casimir. That was the vamp’s full name, and he’d announced it with great pride and pomposity when Juro had first ushered him into the interrogation cell. He’d been so confident in his power, so certain that no one could best him and that he’d soon be on his way back to France.
What an idiot. Even Cyn, a human and therefore not sensitized to the strength of a vampire’s power, knew that Raphael had let Damien win their initial test of wills back in Mexico City. And he’d done it to elicit just that sort of response from the French vamp. Raphael had wanted his prisoner to be arrogant and self-assured, wanted to see the shock in his eyes when Raphael broke him like a toothpick.
Cyn stepped up to the glass. There was no arrogance left in the creature who sat in the room beyond. He was exhausted and beaten, his skin glistening with bloody sweat. Dull eyes followed Raphael’s tiniest move. He trembled when the vampire lord drew too close, an animal whine rising from a throat that had been ruined hours ago by his screams.
Cyn listened closely as Raphael repeated a question he’d already asked several times, a question he already knew the answer to and which served only one purpose at this point—and that was forcing the prisoner to sign his own death warrant.
“Tell me again,” Raphael crooned in his deep, velvet voice. “Why did you murder Alexandra?”
Damien sobbed, his body shaking so hard he could barely force out the words between shredded lips. “She betrayed you, my lord,” he whined. “She told me everything she knew.”
Cyn shook her head. Did the fool think this would save him? That Raphael didn’t already know the depth of his sister’s perfidy? Reminding him of it would hardly earn his mercy.
“Ah,” Raphael said, his lips drawn back in a friendly smile, toying with his prey. “So you killed her to avenge me, is that what you’re saying?”
Damien appeared confused for a moment, as if actually considering what Raphael was saying. But then he blinked and his eyes filled with fear once more. “No, no,” he stuttered. “I, please, my lord . . .” He sobbed openly, knowing that more pain would follow no matter what he said.