made him suffer. Anticipation. It was the oldest aphrodisiac in the book.
“We’ll see who crawls first,” I said.
Ash smiled. “Yes, we will. Won’t we?”
Bibi had no memory of the past twelve hours, for which I was profoundly grateful, and for which I owed Ash, no doubt. Just as I had no doubt he would seek to extract his own form of payment when we met the following night.
I got Bibi home, put her to bed, then sat by her bedside until I knew she was well and truly asleep. Much as I hated the thought of vampire mojo messing with her brain, I sincerely hoped she never regained her memory of last night. Never knew how close she had come to disaster.
Never knew how close I had let her come.
When I had watched her quiet breathing for almost half an hour, I got up and let myself out of the house. It was only when I went to drive away that I realized her silk scarf was still on the front seat of my car. I reached for it, and Ash’s scent rose up. Unable to help myself, I pressed the silk to my face, inhaled deeply.
He wants me
, I thought. Enough to use any means at his disposal just to have me for one night. I was so accustomed to thinking of Ash as the one with all the power, the control. But in spite of the way he had trapped me within it, I wasn’t the one who had been compelled to drive this devil’s bargain. Perhaps he was more vulnerable than he appeared. In which case, I would have to be stronger.
I folded the scarf and tucked it into the glove compartment. Starting now, I was not going to spend the next twenty-four hours brooding over Ash. He could wait until tomorrow.
, two years earlier
The moon was a silver disc, floating in a cloudless sky. When I looked up, I could see it through the skylight in the study of my house. In just a few moments the Board would summon me to the Nigredo , the test of the dark. And on this night, as I had one month ago, I would triumph.
There could be no other option.
I had not been idle in the month since the meeting with the Board. As the Chairman himself had suggested, I had done my best to use my time well. And so, or so it seemed, had my competitor, my fellow supplicant, Sloane. The inquiries he had been making about me had reached my ears.
If he hoped I would feel threatened, he was doomed to disappointment
, I thought. If anything, I was flattered. I hadn’t bothered with Sloane. But the fact that he felt obliged to dig into my background confirmed what I already knew: I was the stronger.
, I thought. I have nothing to hide. I had even continued and deepened my relationship, with the human woman I had met on the same night as my first encounter with the Board. I delved into the history of the Board hoping to find any advantage that would help me triumph. And as I studied and thought about the Chairman, and his absolute authority and power, I began to feel that I belonged on the Board. My entire past, my fascination with antiquities, my long, isolated years as a vampire, and now my relationship with this woman—all had been building to this moment. Yes, the woman was somehow a part of it. The fact that she and the Board and I had all come together on the same night could not be coincidence.
I stood for a moment, gazing up at the moon.
What are you doing right now, my sweet
? I wondered. And then there was no more time for questions, no more time for reflection. I saw a single wisp of blood-red cloud move across the moon and knew the summons from the Board had come.
Moments later, I stood in the Board’s great chamber, clad in the simple linen garment I had worn before. Once more, Sloane was at my side.
“You are about to undergo the first of three trials,” the Chairman informed us. “Three, to correspond with the objects that comprise our great quest: the Emblems of Thoth . For centuries we have sought them. Only when the Emblems are once again united can the god’s curse upon us be undone.
“The first is