“THAT'S A NICE touch, you two,” Dad said, grinning at
me, then Lucius. “Very thoughtful!”
I smiled at Lucius too. His secret, last-minute addition to
the menu—Lentil Casserole a la Vladescu—was definitely an
inside joke, given how he’d despised my vegetarian parents’
reliance on grains and beans, and especially lentils, but it was
also just a nice thing to include for them.
“The casserole is Lucius’s idea,” I admitted, ignoring the
confusion on my vampire relatives’ faces. I was sure they all
knew what lentils were, but their significance on the menu
was lost on the other Vladescus and Dragomirs.
“You should have called and asked for my recipe, Lucius,”
Mom teased. “I would’ve shared it!”
Even from far down the table, which was being circled by
two servers filling long-stemmed glasses with red wine, I
could see the amusement in Lucius’s eyes. “Oh, I couldn’t
trouble you like that!” he joked. “Let’s see how my cook
handles this ever-so-adaptable and persistent little legume on
her own. I am always eager to taste a new variation!”
All at once, to see Lucius at the head of that huge table, in
control of the menu and the conversation, I was struck by the
magnitude and speed of the changes taking place in my life.
Less than a year ago, Mom had practically dragged Lucius by
the ear from our modest dining room table and scolded him
for being rude to Jake during our first date. I looked from
Mom to Lucius and back again, thinking that could never
happen now. Lucius was far beyond anyone’s control.
I was living independently in a new country, but was I a
real adult like that, too?
I squirmed on my chair and glanced at Mindy, who warily
eyed the dizzying array of silverware spread out before each of
us. I wasn’t sure if I knew when or how to use some of the
gleaming implements, either.
I’d wielded power with Lucius on the night that I’d
stopped the vampire war and claimed my place as leader of
the Dragomir clan. But I couldn’t help wondering: Who did
I resemble more?
Lucius, at ease and in command?
Or Mindy, smiling—but nervous?
The two servants pouring wine reached Lucius and me at
the same time, their performance choreographed to serve us
last, and I nearly placed my hand over my glass to signal that
I didn’t want—couldn’t drink—wine. Then I looked quickly
to Lucius and saw that he seemed oblivious to being served. I
glanced at my parents, too, as if for approval, before
remembering that a sip of wine was legal for me in Europe,
and I no longer needed permission. More to the point, I
would be expected to take part in the toast, even if the taste
made me cringe.
I slipped my hand back down to my side, hoping that
nobody had noticed my near mistake, and watched as the
dark liquid swirled into the glass. In the firelight, it looked a
lot like something else that I wanted much, much more.
Craved and needed, actually.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lucius rise, and
my attention shifted back to him as he raised his glass high to
toast us all.
I knew that he was enjoying himself. That I was seeing
Lucius Vladescu in his element. Yet I was also keenly aware
that part of his enjoyment stemmed from the very fact that,
given who was in the audience, something as simple as
welcoming guests could be fraught with peril. That one snub,
intended, unintended, or merely perceived, could have serious
I looked around at my Dragomir relatives—and at
Lucius’s uncle Claudiu, who sat stiffly in his seat, his long,
pale fingers gliding up and down the stem of his wineglass,
and my throat tightened.
Claudiu would probably love a fight. As a Vladescu Elder,
he’d been part of the plot to have Lucius dispose of me some
dark night in the bed that we’d share, so the Vladescus could
rule unchallenged over an empire of vampires.
I turned back to Lucius, terrified, suddenly, by my future,
and desperate for reassurance that he really could keep me
from harm. And seeing Lucius calmed me.
Still, my eyes darted back to Claudiu. What about those
times when Lucius couldn’t be at my side?
I was so preoccupied with fighting a rising panic that it
took me a second to notice that Lucius hadn’t started his toast
yet. He wasn’t looking at his guests—or even me.
His attention was drawn to the wooden door at my back,
which squeaked open on its old hinges. As the door swung
wider, ushering in a chilly draft that made the candles flicker
in the chandeliers, Lucius’s expression changed dramatically,
so I forgot all about Claudiu and secret plots.
I started to swing around in my seat, certain that whoever
was entering the room wasn’t just some servant bearing
another tray. And right as I twisted to see behind myself,
Lucius confirmed that somebody important had joined the
“Although he arrives deplorably behind schedule,” Lucius
announced as I caught my first glimpse of the last, late arriving
guest, “I ask you all to welcome my one and only
Continue to Chapter 6...