Acting was far more difficult than directing. I quite enjoyed ordering others to do my bidding, forcing them to change this or that to meet my every demand and recreate the vision I saw so clearly with my mind’s eye. It was something else entirely to inhabit the skin of a being so different from myself; I had never found much use for empathy.
A king longing for his queen…I didn’t know what it was like to long for anything for very long. My kings–and every other grand persona I had inhabited over the years–had always gotten what they wanted.
“I was hoping to see you again.”
“I did wonder about the flowers.”
“They’re your favorite, aren’t they?”
“They’re your favorite.” She was so beautiful when she sighed. “I prefer roses. Red ones. With thorns.”
“Come with me,” I whispered. “To my castle. I shall make you my queen–and shower you with all the roses and riches you deserve.”
She rose to her feet. “How many girls have you made that very same promise to?”
“None like you, lovely Bee.”
“Must you keep calling me that?”
“Shall I come up with a new name for every time we meet?”
“What if I never want to meet you again?”
“We’re destined to meet,” I said, pressing my lips to her forehead. “Again and again, until our paths unite for the rest of eternity.”
“You’re a very silly man. I don’t like silly men.”
“Don’t you like to laugh?”
“I don’t enjoy being laughed at,” she sighed. “If I were your queen, I know I’d be subjected to endless ridicule.”
I took her in both arms and brought her closer. “I’ll behead anyone who dares to so much as chortle in your presence.”
She stepped away before my lips could meet hers. “You’d soon have no kingdom to speak of.”
I grabbed her by the hand before she could venture too far. “I’ll conquer another one.”
“You can’t control the entire world, Your Majesty.” Only she could make the loftiest title in the land sound so very much like an insult.
“Can’t I?” I didn’t care what it took; I would have her.
“You wouldn’t want me if you knew the truth,” she murmured.
“The truth of your curse?”
“The truth of my family.”
“I can have them beheaded as well.” I had a very efficient executioner.
“You truly don’t understand at all.” She looked at me then–a look that gripped my heart like one of my favorite torture devices. “We don’t suit each other in the least. But I do hope you find the queen you’re looking for, Your Majesty.”
I couldn’t stop her from walking away from me.
I never could.
“That look is perfect. I think I’m actually impressed.”
My surroundings swirled in my mind. “Hm?”
“You can let go of my hand now, thank you. If I weren’t fae, I think you would’ve crushed a few bones.”
“…It would seem I lost myself in my character.”
“Maybe there’s hope for you yet. And you still haven’t let go.”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t.”
Someone coughed in the distance. “Am I interrupting something here? Because I really don’t feel like coming back later.”
My gaze was drawn to the source of the voice. “Ah. I hadn’t noticed you.”
“Yeah,” Saul muttered. “Thinking that’s safer. Hey, can I toss that dog shit yet?”
“Not yet. I hope you’re keeping it properly cooled and stored.”
“I’d really like to eat a frozen pizza again in my lifetime, damn it.”
Isla shot me a piercing glance. “Dare I ask why Shane is apparently storing excrement in his freezer?”
“Saul. And who the hell knows why he does anything. Who the hell knows why anybody does anything. Maybe vampires just don’t know what the fuck they want in general.”
“You’re in a foul mood today, my friend,” I said.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Isla said. “My wig itches–and clearly you have important matters to discuss.”
I raised an eyebrow at Saul. “Are you going to insist upon hiding down there?”
“Suits me just fine.”
“So there must be a reason you sought me out, after you were so terribly traumatized during our last encounter. I don’t understand what’s so off-putting about two friends sharing a woman.”
“You’re my boss, not my friend.”
“Can’t we be friends as well?”
“Found out the hard way that bosses and employees shouldn’t fraternize.” He looked distinctly uncomfortable despite the plush seating in the theater. “I only came here to follow up on a job anyhow. An old one–you still looking for a Thaddeus Lyons?”
Thaddeus Lyons. For a moment, I couldn’t place the name. Lyons…the same surname as her newly minted fiancé. “…Bee’s former butler. The one who vanished without a trace.” The one who’d drained her. The one who’d taken a gift so precious that she’d never seen fit to bestow it upon anyone in almost four centuries. The one who stole her haughty smile and left her more badly shaken than I’d ever seen her. Had she done it only to please her groom-to-be?
“He’s a vampire, and I ain’t going near another one of those if I can help it. A man’s gotta know his weaknesses.”
“Clever of you–I’ll take care of it. Thank you, my friend.”
He made a face as though I’d never thanked him before in his life. Well, perhaps I hadn’t.
I wasted no time in flying to the seedy motel where Thaddeus Lyons was apparently holed up in. I took some delight in knowing that he was clearly struggling after fleeing Bee’s side.
He would offer even less resistance than the door to his room.
An older vampire would’ve heard my approach, but he was only a fledgling.
A pity. I would’ve enjoyed a good fight. Or perhaps merely rending him limb from limb for the pleasure of it.
But although that might have proved painful enough, it would’ve been over far too quickly. I preferred to extend his suffering, to multiply every agonizing instant Bee had experienced by a thousandfold. Perhaps for eternity.
Fortunately, vampires were immortal. He’d likely go mad by the time I was through with him, but I was intimately familiar with madness. The unfinished, long-abandoned top floor of the Sugarplum Theater held a number of forgotten spaces in which to store a future madman.
Pathetic creature. Had a formerly human butler really managed to hurt her so badly? His sorry carcass hardly looked worth the trouble of dragging across the city.
Garlic hung in wreaths and bunches across the walls. It was hardly enough to trouble a vampire as old and powerful as I, but it would wreak havoc on a newly turned, badly weakened one.
He awoke sooner than I expected. I wasn’t sure if I was pleased or not.
“If only immortality had come with a younger man’s joints,” he said.
“I think you’ve gained more than enough from Bianca Blackwell.”
“She’s been kinder than I deserve.” His admission only stoked the fires of my rage.
“Far, far kinder. But you won’t be afforded much kindness for a very long time, my friend.”
“…Would it be too much to ask for you to pass along a note to my children telling them I’ll be indisposed for the foreseeable future? I don’t want either of them to believe I’ve voluntarily let them down yet again.” His voice held a sort of weary humor that irritated me. “Lysander and Lissette Lyons–Penny Lyons, rather. They’re staying in the city as well.”
The door opened then–despite being locked.
“Penny’s father?” Of course she would find a way in. Perhaps that made her more interesting to me.
“Must you ruin a perfectly good torture session before it’s even begun?” I muttered.
“It isn’t right to kidnap innocent people and imprison them for no reason, Straud. And this is my theater. I deserve to have a say in what goes on here.”
“The theater that I gave you.”
“Every time you remind me, it feels less like a gift.”
“Pardon me, miss,” Thaddeus began. “Would you happen to know my daughter? I suppose it’s too much to hope for in a city of this size…”
“She has your eyes,” Isla murmured. “She and her brother both.”
“You know Lysander as well?”
“I…may have met him once. Briefly. The circumstances were…less than ideal, but I’ll spare you the details.”
“Enough of this damnable chatter,” I said. “Leave a man to his work, Isla.”
“You seriously can’t be planning to torture the father of someone who’s like a sister to me.”
“I can’t seem to recall you speaking of this sister.”
“I know better than to let you know what I treasure most.”
“You say that as if I care.”
She sighed. “I apologize for this barbaric mistreatment,” she said to Thaddeus. “Why don’t we leave this awful little room? I’d love to hear any news of Penny.”
Thaddeus bowed his head in acquiescence. “I would be delighted, miss.”
I never got what I wanted. Not in the end.