If I hadn’t been exhausted, I might’ve knocked before I entered the study. 

As it was, I just wanted to get the interaction over with and go to bed. So instead of being polite, I turned the knob and walked right in.

The scene was almost exactly what I expected.

Mateo, his artificially salt-and-peppered hair slicked back, was at the huge desk that made him look half his actual size. He wasn’t a small man, his frame thick and solid from a human life of manual labor, but he enjoyed the way people underestimated him based on the way they perceived his size. The silver-gray dress shirt he wore made his skin an even deeper shade of brown, the top buttons parted enough to show off the tattoos that were visible just below his collarbone.

At the moment, he was standing with his palms flat on the desk, leaning forward, his lips curled and fangs bared. His eyes were narrowed and focused on his guest even as I walked in. I knew he knew I was there, but he didn’t spare me so much as a blink.

Salma, however, had whirled around to see me, her mortified expression giving way to surprise and then pleasure. Her pitch-black hair was gathered into a complicated plait atop her head, but she looked like she was about to start pulling it out from distress. Despite the fact that Salma had been born in the 1960s, she insisted on dressing like she’d lived her human life as a soldadera during the Mexican Revolution. The black tunic she wore, tucked in, was embellished with bright floral embroidery, a theme that continued down the panels of her black skirt.

The only nod to the fact that she wasn’t from the 1910s were the chola bands that decorated her wrists and hands like black webbing.

“Bunny, míje!” Her skirts billowed as she crossed to me, her arms held out to embrace me. “I’m so glad you’re here. I need you to talk some sense into your papi.”

Burying the instinctual flinch in the curve of her shoulder, I didn’t correct her. I’d had a papi once, and as much as I adored Mateo, he wasn’t my father. Props to him, he’d never tried to be. But Salma was set in her ways, and I’d never been able to successfully break her of the habit. As far as she was concerned, he’d made me a vampire so he was my father, and thus, had every right to be referred to as such.

Pulling out of her arms, I gave her a small smile.

“When has Mateo ever listened to my advice?” I asked, pointedly not looking at the additional person in the room. I could feel his eyes on me, and I had little desire to meet his gaze.

She huffed, throwing up her hands in annoyance. “Well, he certainly won’t listen to me!”

“Cállate, Salma,” Mateo said. His gaze didn’t waver from his guest.

Sniffing, she took a seat in the leather chair across from the desk. I turned, and looked at him.

Bastien Thibault hadn’t gotten any prettier, which was good because even I could admit the man was too handsome for anyone’s own good. Being half fae might have given him a touch of the appeal that oozed from his pores and the sharp line of his jaw, but his Cajun mother gave him that beautiful bronzed skin and dark blue eyes. A couple lifetimes of working on fishing boats had given him the muscle that was damn near busting out of his t-shirt and faded blue jeans. He certainly wasn’t skipping leg day.

He was standing in front of the desk, his arms crossed, staring back at Mateo.

“Bastien,” I greeted him, nodding, as I took up position next to Salma. I considered standing beside Mateo, but that would’ve given a different impression than the one I wanted. I wanted Bastien to know I wasn’t worried about him, and didn’t feel the need to posture at him.

I’d gotten off on the wrong foot with the man a long time ago, and neither of us had bothered with attempting reconciliation. You go feral and try to eat a man one time, and he holds it against you forever.

“Bunny,” he responded without looking at me.

I sighed, rolling my eyes. “None of us are shifters, can you two stop with the headlights?”

Bastien and Mateo both blinked at the same time, turning to me with insulted glares.

I raised a brow at them, tilting my head curiously.

“I’ve had a long night. I’d like to go rest. So, quit the bullshit and tell me what’s going on,” I said.

A muscle jumped in Bastien’s jaw as he took a step backwards and sat down. He reached up, and rubbed a hand over his face before he spoke.

“There’ve been deaths,” he said. “Not just among the Fae, but also among the shifters. Hell, even the witches have lost someone.”

I looked to Mateo, and he finally met my gaze. His eyes had lost their ferocity, and revealed a hint of nerves to me. If I hadn’t known him as long as I had, I wouldn’t have noticed it. But I had, and I did.

“How many total?” I asked. “Any details about the bodies you can share?”

“Eight, so far. Three Fae, four shifters, and a witch. As I told Mateo, there was nothing left but bones, picked clean as if long-dead. But we’ve asked around, each one of them had been seen within hours of their apparent death. These are new kills. Sato Miyako was able to confirm this is one creature, responsible for all of them.”

I whistled. Feeling impressed seemed crass, but there didn’t seem to be a better word. I was familiar with Miyako and her work, and if she said it was one creature, you could trust that she was correct. She wasn’t the leader of the witches per se, but she’d been around long enough that her reputation held weight.

“Y tu papi won’t even consider leaving!” Salma interjected, her hands gesturing sharply towards Mateo. My sire opened his mouth to respond, but I shook my head, reached out and rested my hand on her shoulder.

“What do you mean? Why would we leave?” I asked, confused.

“They think we are next,” Mateo explained. “The pattern seems to be getting closer to the city, and it is our home that they believe will be hit.”

“Ah,” I said, nodding. That made sense. It also explained Salma’s frantic desire to leave. As much as she loved to interject herself into the problems of her family, she was the first to vote for removing ourselves from issues that she felt didn’t concern us.

“We can go visit Shiloh, and stay out of whatever nonsense is going on,” Salma said. She leaned forward in her seat, staring up at her brother, all but pleading. “We don’t have to stay for this.”

“I won’t hide out of fear that we might be targeted, Salma. If you don’t want to stay, I won’t force you to. Ollie can take you to Shiloh, and you can stay as long as you like. I’m sure she would be thrilled to have you.”

His face gave away nothing, but I knew he was hoping she’d take him up on the idea. I imagined Ollie and Salma arriving on Shiloh’s doorstep, and the look on my sister’s face. Amusement made my lips twitch.

“I don’t appreciate the implication that I’m afraid,” she snapped back. “But whatever troubles are plaguing the others have nothing to do with us, and I won’t have them place us in danger.”

“And if you leave, there’s no telling who the next target will be!” Bastien replied, pointing at her. “It’s your home that sits closest to the most recent death, and directly in the trajectory we’ve mapped out.”

“It’s not like we’re the only vampires in town,” I said. “Even if we did leave, there are plenty here that would be happy to work with you.”

Bastien scoffed. “Solitary creatures. Not a loyal one among them. More likely to tuck tail and disappear in the middle of a fight, leaving the rest of us to perish.”

“Oh, for fucks’ sake. Being solitary doesn’t mean they lack loyalty, Bastien,” I said, shaking my head. “Don’t be an old man about it.”

Across the house, Salma’s beloved grandfather clock rang, echoing through the building, quickly followed by a ripple of magic that vibrated under my skin. I shivered, my shoulders jerking upward. Mateo and Salma both did the same, though to a lesser degree.

It took me a moment to recover, but as the sensation faded, I looked up to find Bastien staring at us.

“Sunrise,” I said, answering his unspoken question. Time to die, whether we liked it or not. Around the house, automated blinds began closing over the windows, locking to protect us from any light that might have leaked through, while simultaneously acting as solar panels to soak up the sun.

“This will have to wait, Bastien. You’re welcome to return this evening, and we’ll discuss the matter further,” Mateo said. He held up his hand, palm facing Salma, as she opened her mouth to protest.

“I’ll walk you out,” I offered.

He shook Mateo’s hand, and followed me out of the study. Ollie was nowhere to be found, but she didn’t care for Bastien’s company any more than I did. In the foyer, he retrieved his hoodie and threw it on before turning to me.

Heavy shadows under his eyes told me exactly how little sleep he’d been getting over the whole situation. Anyone else, and I might have felt sorry for him.

“Bunny, this isn’t something that can be hidden from. If anyone could have, it would’ve been the witches, and they’ve already lost one of their people. If the vampires are next, your best bet is to stand with the rest of us. Together, we can hunt this thing down and kill it before it kills us.”

I shook my head. “You say that like it’s all my decision. Even if I agreed with you --which I’m not saying I do -- it’s not up to me. The family will talk it over, and Mateo will tell you what our decision is.”

Bastien growled, slashing a hand in the air. His eyes had begun to glow with primal magic. “This isn’t the time to let your pride dictate your actions!”

I wasn’t impressed.

I took a step into his personal space, lifting my chin, and scowling up at him.

“Don’t get pissy with me, pendejo,” I snapped, baring my teeth. I glanced at his neck, and licked one fang. “I still don’t know what a half fae tastes like, but if you linger … I might be tempted to find out once and for all.”

He looked at my mouth, and I knew he was remembering the last time my fangs got near his neck. I’d been young, still a baby vamp, and Mateo and Ollie had needed their combined strength to pull me away.

Without another word, he left, slamming the door behind him.

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