Dark Hunger


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN



My wife and my sister-in-law fell off the world and I could not stop them.

To my shame, I did not try. I stood like a weakling child and watched. And then I went away inside myself because, at my core, in my essential self, there was always the weakling child who could not prevent the deaths of those he loved, and who lacked the courage to follow them on their journey.

I spent decades not following them; I expected to spend centuries. And for the first time since I met my queen, I realized anew that immortality could be a curse to the cowardly.

". . . my king? Sir? Sir?" A familiar voice, one I had loved long. "Eric? Eric?" Ah. This is where I am. This is what we are doing. Following her foray into familiarity, Christina Caresse Chavelle would now bite her lip and do something she hated. I was comforted by a routine that had begun when I was four and recovering from rubella. The uproar over the consequence

(ah... consequence... such a familiar word today... my queen would say it is the word of the week)

of my illness had hit my parents hard. I did not know it at the time, but the stress caused me to sleepwalk. If not for Tina's timely slap, I should have blundered into one of the ponds and drowned. She woke me, she comforted me, and the next day she began teaching me to swim. It would not be the first time, or the last, I was saved by a quick-thinking woman who loved me.

Father, you thought my rubella-rendered sterility would put an end to the Sinclair name; you thought having no grandchildren by your son was the worst thing that could happen to our family. You made us believe it with you. Oh, my father, you were correct in many things; why not this one?

I caught Tina's hand an inch from my face. "I am fine," I said distinctly. "You may restrain yourself, however tempting your impulse."

She gifted me with the ghost of a smile, gone so quickly it might never have been on her sweet face at all. Beyond hers was a ring of others, all wide-eyed and fretful.

I stood (when did I lie down?) and apologized. I noted the dining room table had been shoved across the room and there was a sizeable mess of broken plates and spilled drinks everywhere.

I apologized again.

"That's okay," Jessica said at once. From behind Detective Berry, I could not help but note. At some point in the last-I glanced at my watch-four minutes, he had seized her elbow and tugged her behind him. This was wise, if ultimately useless. "Listen, it'll be okay. You know we'll get her back."

I did not.

"I think she'll have to get herself back." My mother-in-law reached for my hand. "But she can, I'm sure. And if not, you'll think of something. Just-don't worry. Okay? You'll figure it out. Ah-we'll all figure it out." Her small warm hand squeezed mine even as her expression told me the former was truer than the latter.

I appreciated the sentiments, but had no time for them. "Words are wind," as Mr. Martin had written many times. (I had read and reread the Song of Ice and Fire books because Elizabeth refused; they were delightful and astonishing. But I refused to watch the televised series, no offense meant to Mssrs. Bean and Dinklage.)

Words, in fact, were worthless; wind could at least be channeled for power. For I had no idea how Elizabeth would "get herself back." Nor did I know how I could go to her. And that only if she-I gritted my teeth and forced the thought to its logical conclusion-only if my dear one was yet alive.

I could not feel her within me. Our fragile telepathic bond, so new, had quickly become invaluable, something we wondered how we had ever done without. As luscious in body and charming in mind as Elizabeth was, it was as humbling as it was arousing to show a woman the most dreadful places in your mind, and have her embrace when all others would shrink back. The loss of our priceless link was nothing less than devastating. Priceless as the dictionary defined it: "of inestimable worth." There was nothing; probing for her spark was like feeling the bloody hole left behind when a tooth was yanked.

"We must go to Laura's new home."

Tina nodded, her furrowed brow smoothing.

"New home?" Dr. Spangler asked. He had kept back; he had not rushed to comfort me when I was back to myself. I would wager he'd endured my paroxysm by distancing himself until my foolish indulgence had burned itself out. A wise man in death as well as life. "She's moved?"

"Yes, as she is now an adult." I could not keep the scorn from my tone; I did not try. "A thwarted, angry child with delusions of maturity and the power of a god." My fingers actually twitched, I wanted them around her neck so, so badly. Ah, sweet sister-in-law, your mother's well-deserved murder was not the worst thing that could happen to you; no, indeed. I will show you. I will.

If I could get my hands on her, that is.

"I don't think she'll stay in Hell for long," Tina ventured.

"Nor do I, and so we must be ready."

My oldest friend nodded once again. "We will be, my king." She did not waste words on comfort or predictions she had no way of knowing would come to pass. She never had, and it would be a poor time to begin. Tina knew what the others did not: if the queen was dead, so was the Antichrist. If I had to burn every vampire on the planet to bring that about, I would. Including myself.

Tina knew that, too.

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